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Apr. 24th, 2007

Moving on

I've moved! Go to www.thnt.com/tj to see the new HNT Yankees blog. All of my posts from this year are included, without the comments, however. I hope to get the rest of my posts moved over soon. Thanks to those of you who check in regularly.

Of mice and men

The Yankees lose again. Not much to talk about other than A-Rod homers again, pitching is shaky again, bullpen gets overworked again. Speaking of A-Rod, do you think that if Buddy Ryan cared about baseball (and I don't think he does) he would say about Rodriguez, "All he does is hit home runs"?

But enough about the game. The big story is the ditching of yet another Yankees "plan" with the call-up of Phil Hughes to pitch Thursday against Toronto. This comes on the heels of the planned ditching of the Mariano-only-throws-one-inning plan. (It was only a planned ditching because, as it turned out, he only pitched 2/3 of an inning Friday.) Don't be surprised if the Yankees halt work on the planned new stadium sometime this week just to keep the trend going.

Is a late April start against Toronto so important to throw out the blueprint for ensuring Hughes performs like a Francisco Liriano, Kerry Wood or Mark Prior, but without the injuries? In one loud word: NO! Let Chase Wright give up eight straight homers for all I care, just keep Hughes on the course he's headed down. Plus, he's on an inning count this season, which means there's no chance he goes more than six innings, and that's not the kind of start this team needs right now. Of course, the Bombers have been in desperate need of innings from their starters, but everyone except Joe Torre seems to have gotten the memo on that. Starts like Kei Igawa's tonight don't help ... sorry, not talking about tonight's game -- I forgot.

I'll certainly be interested in the game Thursday to see what Hughes looks like in a real big-league game, but it's something I shouldn't be seeing for another year.

Apr. 23rd, 2007

Broomtown

Apologies to the New York Daily News, who used that as their headline after the Rangers swept in the first round of the NHL Playoffs last week. But I liked it and it seems appropriate after the Sox finished off their first Fenway sweep of the Bombers in almost 17 years.

Bad signs: Andy Pettitte has pitched in relief twice this year and it's only April 22 (well, it's the 23rd now, but ...). Aside from last year's five-game sweep, Scott Proctor gets pounded repeatedly by the Red Sox and did again tonight. The Yankees have racked up the most bullpen innings pitched in the AL so far, Boston the fewest. The roster only has 25 players on it, not 27, so there's no way to carry nine pitchers in the 'pen.

Good signs: Alex Rodriguez's hitting streak is at 17 games (no, not 22 going back to last year when you consider A-Rod had a small village's fair share of hitless games in the playoffs). The Sox's starters (their best three starters) put up an ERA of 6.53 in the three games. The Yankees trotted out reliable Andy Pettitte and two rookies, and were outscored 21-17, losing by one run, two runs and one run. Starters Joe Torre trusts to go more than four innings are coming off the DL soon in Chien-Ming Wang and Mike Mussina. When A-Rod comes to the plate with the game on the line, I'm not expecting a strikeout anymore.

It's not going to take long for the Yankees to get a shot at wiping taste of this sweep out of their mouths: The Red Sox come to Yankee Stadium next weekend for three.

***

Tonight was my first look at sure-shot, first-ballot Hall of Famer Daisuke Matsuzaka. I wasn't overly impressed, as judged by his pitching line: 7 IP, 6 ER, 8 H, 1 BB, 2 HBP. He somehow managed a standing ovation from the Fenway crowd. Hapless-at-the-plate Wil Nieves slashed a few ropes off him, but right at people. He's got a good, smooth delivery, though, and made Bobby Abreu and Alex Rodriguez look confused at the plate a few times. He's definitely got big-league stuff, but has a ways to go before he approaches matching his hype.

Apr. 21st, 2007

Salvage operation

The Yankees lost the first game this weekend in unpredictable fashion, then lost the second game today in pretty predictable fashion. And Sunday night Chase Wright takes the mound against the Red Sox and Daisuke Matsuzaka trying to get at least one win out of this trip to Beantown. The Yankees have not been swept in a series of three games or more at Fenway since 1990, but the Red Sox would certainly like to do as much as they can to return the favor of last year's five-game sweep the Bombers inflicted on them in the Hub.

I read a reply on Peter Abraham's blog (link to the right) that put the series to this point in a good context, though. The Yankees are starting two rookies in the three games; Hideki Matsui missed all three games, Jorge Posada will miss two and Johnny Damon will possibly miss one (maybe two); the games were lost so far by a total of three runs; the Sox have not pitched very well; Chien-Ming Wang and Mike Mussina (34 wins last year) should be back within the next 10 days; Andy Pettitte has pitched very well so far; and it's April 21 (if the Sox win tomorrow, the Yankees will be four games back with 145 to go, plus a game in-hand). Also, one of the losses was on a Mariano Rivera blown save; unless this is the end, I'll count on Rivera to close out most of his chances the rest of the year.

On the bad side, however, Alex Rodriguez was 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI. That's right, he didn't score a run, didn't homer and one of his hits was merely a single. Luckily Matsui will be back this week to pick up the slack for A-Rod.

Apr. 20th, 2007

Uggh ...

As I wrote Sunday, a Mariano Rivera blown save is like two punches to my gut. Multiply that by two when it's the Red Sox -- it just brings up so many bad memories. Joe Torre's mismanagement of his bullpen -- not tonight, but in the season up to this point -- was a big factor in this loss. Scott Proctor's been used so much Torre didn't want to use him in the eighth inning tonight against Ortiz and Ramirez, even though he had a four-run lead. Luis Vizcaino has already seen too much action and it's starting to show. And Rivera hadn't pitched in five days and the rust showed in his lack of control. For the second time in a week the Yankees followed up an exhilarating win on a late-inning home run (Saturday at Oakland with Giambi's blast, Thursday on A-Rod's walk-off) with a loss that makes you want to slam your head against the nearest wall for five minutes (two Rivera blown saves, Sunday to Scutaro and tonight to the Green Sox). The bad news (yeah, I haven't gotten to the bad news yet) is that tonight was the best pitching matchup the Yankees had this weekend.

Two years ago Rivera blew his first two save chances of the year, both to Boston. He bounced back and put up two more Hall of Fame-caliber years. But I saw something disturbing tonight on the YES broadcast: Whenever YES has done the pitch-by-pitch replay, they've flashed the speed on each pitch. When they replayed Coco Crisp's triple, they didn't show Rivera's speed. I didn't notice the pitch speed on the live broadcast before then, so they might have shown it, but I hope the replay was an oversight and that YES isn't covering up for a problem Rivera is having with his arm.

***

At least Alex Rodriguez is still playing relatively well. OK, he's playing a lot better than that. In fact, the only stretches I can come up with in my mind that are even with this are Sammy Sosa in June 1998 (20 homers) and Barry Bonds in the 2002 playoffs (.356 BA, 8 HR, 16 RBI, 27 BB, .597 OB). If you can think of one that's as good or better, fill me in.

Yankees-Green Sox, Game 1

The series that will not end all series just got under way and the Red Sox are wearing green jerseys. It's supposedly to honor Red Auerbach, the great Celtics coach who not-so-recenlty passed away. Red died at the end of October, about six months ago. I guess the Red Sox: A. Just noticed; and 2. Figured looking like the Devil Rays was the best way to belatedly honor him.

Apr. 19th, 2007

Resurrection

I'll still maintain that the postseason is a different story, but for this regular season, the resurrection of Alex Rodriguez's Yankees career is complete. No more doubts, no more boos, no more demands for him to be traded. Down 6-2 with two outs in the ninth, Josh Phelps hit what seemed to be a harmless solo homer (OK, so it was good today that he was eventually at first base). But then hits from Jorge Posada, Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu brought A-Rod to the plate with runners at second and third in a one-run contest. The second pitch wound up over the center field wall and Alex found himself in the middle of the mosh pit at home plate. His second walk-off homer in the last two weeks, and his 10th home run and 26th RBI in 14 games.

At this point, the Yankees would likely be 5-9 or worse without Rodriguez. Instead they're 8-6.

What a win.

***

As for the Red Sox series, the pitching matchups this weekend don't look great from the Yankees' perspective, but any rush to get Chien-Ming Wang into Sunday's game, as some have suggested, would be a bad decision. If you need to take your lumps this weekend to make sure Wang is healthy this year, then you have to do it.

I was trying to figure out why this Yankees-Red Sox series doesn't seem to have as much excitement for me as others in recent years and I may have hit on it. Every year since 2003, the Yankees and Red Sox have played late-season series that were pivotal to each teams' fortunes. In 2003, Aaron Boone went deep in extra innings in Game 7 of the ALCS. In 2004, "it" happened. In 2005, the teams played a three-game set on the last weekend of the year with the possibility one would make the playoffs and the other wouldn't (both did, with the Yankees winning the division). Last year, the Sox finished third and were pretty much done after the five-game sweep in mid-August. There's no sense of one side or the other feeling injured from the year before.

I guess I would describe this series as "fun." Since it's so early in the year, it's hard to say it's "important." But fun is still good.

***

Yes, Joe Torre's predilection to take starting pitchers out too early is really starting to worry me.

CORRECTION: Damon walked in that ninth-inning sequence today, he did not get a hit as the others did.

Apr. 18th, 2007

Folly at first

Apparently my outbursts at the defensive abilities of Josh Phelps have become fodder for conversation at my office. The outburst involves fist put to desk and declarative statements of who I think should be playing at first. Anyway, I have given fair warning tonight to my co-workers and my desk -- Josh Phelps is in the lineup at first base against Cleveland. He's batting eighth in the lineup, as Doug Mientkiewicz would, so it seems the argument that he's in for his offense doesn't hold much water. If the Yankees' key to scoring enough runs hinges on Josh Phelps playing against lefty pitchers instead of Mientkiewicz, they're paying an awful lot of money to the rest of the lineup for nothing.

I want Doug Mientkiewicz playing first base.

Nice touches

Yet more evidence to back up my column April 8 about the differences between Major League Baseball and the NFL: Last night the Washington Nationals, with the blessings of the commissioner's office, wore Virginia Tech baseball hats on the field as a tribute to those killed and injured in Monday's campus massacre. Just the kind of thing, conversely, the NFL would fine a player for doing.

Another fitting tribute last night came at Yankee Stadium, where the Yankees added a plaque to the wall of Monument Park for Jackie Robinson during their remembrance of his anniversary. The Yanks are the only team in baseball yet to retire Robinson's No. 42 since Mariano Rivera is still wearing it for them. The only other non-Yankees honored in Monument Park are two popes who celebrated Mass there (with plaques) and the victims of Sept. 11 (with a monument). The plaque reads: "In becoming the first Major League player to break the color barrier, Jackie will forever be an inspiration with his grace, dignity and perseverance. His story and the stories of those who never had the same opportunity must never be forgotten." The Yankees also donated $1 million to the Jackie Robinson Foundation.

Jackie Robinson, Babe Ruth and Branch Rickey are probably the three most important figures in baseball history. Ruth saved the game's finances, while Rickey (who also created the minor-league farm system) and Robinson saved its soul.

Apr. 15th, 2007

When it rains, it pours

I had wrapped up collecting two of every animal I could find and tuned in just in time to catch Marco Scutaro hit his game-winning home run off of Mariano Rivera. Let that line sink in for a moment: "Marco Scutaro hit his game-winning home run off of Mariano Rivera." Whenever Rivera blows a save it feels like two hard punches to my gut. I fall into a depression for about an hour and don't feel like talking. By the way, Scutaro has finished his trip around the bases ... hold on, almost there ... rounding third ... almost ... now. (As a friend of mine's father once told his other son after he hit a homer in a HS game and admired it a little too long, "Get on your horse, boy!")

This is one of those losses that wipes out any good feeling you had after last night's 13-inning win. The only positive out of it is that Andy Pettitte pitched seven solid innings and the starting staff had a 1.38 ERA on the road trip. Of course, 60 percent of that staff is now on the DL, so it's hard to even feel too positive about the starters. The offense also did a good job over the last two days of chipping away at the A's lead until it was in a position to take control.

In other news, Chase Wright from Double-A Trenton will get the start Tuesday after the Ark finds some dry land again. And in the piling-on department, Brian Cashman told reporters that he expects "he whom I shall not name" to be on the DL longer than Mussina. That should give him time to find a new girlfriend to drive around Florida.

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