Friday, April 30, 2010

Robinson Cano making early MVP case

Robinson Cano is doing it all for the New York Yankees. He's carrying the offense while sluggers Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez continue to struggle. He's playing a Gold Glove-caliber defense, as shown by an extraordinary play in last night's game. Thanks in large part to Cano, the Yankees are carrying a 14-7 record into the last game of the month and keeping pace right behind the Tampa Bay Rays. I know it's only April, but Cano is making a strong case for his first Most Valuable Player award.

The Yankee offense has been fairly anemic at times this season and almost wasted a tremendous effort by AJ Burnett. But Cano came to the rescue, blasting two home runs and scoring three of the four Yankee runs. Even his teammates are in awe, as shown during yesterday's YES Network broadcast. After congratulating Cano on both of his homers, they just sat on the bench and shook their heads in amazement.

Even more remarkable was the play he made in the third inning. To say he robbed Nolan Reimold of a hit doesn't do that play justice. Teix wasn't kidding when he said Cano is the best defensive second baseman in baseball. See it for yourself.

Cano is batting .407 with 8 homers, 17 ribbies and 21 runs scored. Project those numbers over a full season and they scream MVP. Cano is finally having the season that fulfills all the potential baseball people have been talking about all these years.

D-backs shouldn't pay for bad politics

As a Hispanic who had the good fortune to be born in the United States, I understand the outrage caused by Arizona's extremely questionable anti-immigration law, a bad response to a legitimate problem. But the anger directed at the Arizona Diamondbacks is completely misplaced.

Protesters calling for a boycott of Arizona said the D-backs are fair game because team owners supported the politicians who passed the legislation through financial contributions. But I doubt any of the owners had an inkling that this was coming. If they had, they probably would have pulled those contributions very quickly even if they personally agreed with the legislation. Baseball owners are all about making money and there is no way that they would support a law that would risk alienating a substantial portion of their fan base.

I have no problem with the boycott, including calls for Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig to move the 2011 All-Star game somewhere else. In America these days, the best way to show disapproval of something is to close your wallet. What I have a problem with is holding baseball players responsible for something that is way beyond their control. Unless we find out that the D-back players themselves supported the law, I don't think they should suffer the consequences. In fact, the team has several Hispanic players who could be subject to the inevitable racial profiling and their main concern should be trying to figure out a way to protect themselves and their families from the injustice of this law.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will note that I am scheduled to visit Phoenix in June when the New York Yankees play the D-backs in an interleague series. The trip was booked and paid for months ago. I have no intention of cancelling it. I'm going to support my Yankees and watch a couple of baseball games. I will find another way to show my disapproval.

Hal Steinbrenner the real Yankees boss

Maybe I should stop calling him Jr. Boss. It's now abundantly clear that Hal Steinbrenner is fully in control of the New York Yankees, stepping out of the large shadow of his dad George Steinbrenner to take the reins of the team.

Although he shares responsibility with his brother Hank, Hal is in charge of the day-to-day running of baseball's most formidable team and is the public face of the franchise. While Hank has more of his father's tendency to bluster, Hal seems to be the quiet, contemplative type. Long gone are the days when someone named Steinbrenner was grabbing the back pages of the New York tabloids. For the Yankees organization, it's probably a welcome change of pace.

While Hal says he still runs things past his old man, he is the one who actually makes the decisions. That was clear during the offseason when he gave general manager Brian Cashman a budget and stuck to it despite tremendous pressure to repeat as World Series champs and doubts about whether the Yankees could truly become more budget conscious. When it came to his Yankees, George never made a dollar he wasn't willing to spend. Not Hal. He wouldn’t be bullied by the media or fans into parting with one more dollar than he wanted, even for fan favorite Johnny Damon.

Hal is proving he is his own man when it comes to running his team. He definitely needs a new nickname. Any suggestions?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Girardi hypocritical on Posada plunking

Joe Girardi is still pretty angry a day after Jorge Posada was plunked by Baltimore Orioles pitcher Jeremy Guthrie. While acknowledging Guthrie is not a bad kid intentionally throwing at his batters, he is livid that Posada is unable to play tonight because of the lingering knee injury and tired of Guthrie hitting his guys: eight Yankees over the last two years, according to Girardi.

But the New York Yankees don't have a leg to stand on when it comes to getting angry about being hit by a pitch, not after Mark Teixeira responded to a plunking last week with an unnecessary take-out side that leveled Los Angeles Angels catcher Bobby Wilson and put him on the 15-day disabled list with a concussion.

Girardi defended Teix although he did acknowledge that his first baseman's frustration might have gotten the better of him. "That's the way he plays the game," Girardi told Mike Francesa. "If he starts to play timid that's when I worry about him getting hurt."

I think it's pretty hypocritical for Girardi to defend Teix and be angry with Guthrie, especially since the pitcher was genuinely apologetic after the game. Yes, his lack of control is frustrating, but as Girardi said there was no intent. The same can't be said for Teix.

Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the photo.

Good revamp of baseball All-Star game rules

Baseball's committee for on-field matters has had a busy couple of months, but so far I'm loving all the changes they have recommended, including a major revamp of the roster rules for the annual All-Star game.

From a fairness standpoint, baseball is right to allow pitchers who throw the Sunday before the Tuesday game to be recognized as all-stars without having them pitch. I always thought it was unfair that pitchers having great years were penalized and left off the roster just because their turn in the rotation came two days before the annual battle of the leagues.

Even though pitchers rarely hit in All-Star games, I was glad to see the designated hitter rule imposed for all future games, even the games in National League ballparks. It's a change I hope Major League Baseball also adopts for the World Series to avoid the possibility of an American League pitcher getting hurt.

Bud Selig is wise to listen to his baseball experts. He promised he would listen to the guys on his committee like Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa and Mike Scioscia but I had my doubts. Of course, the real test will come when the committee makes a suggestion that Selig personally disagrees with, such as expanded use of instant replay.

Thanks to Major League Baseball via Wikipedia for the photo.

SI Core Four cover interview a real bore

I arrived home last night from a four-day business trip to find my copy of Sports Illustrated waiting for me. The issue features the Core Four of the New York Yankees -- Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada -- on the cover and a transcribed interview with SI writer Tom Verducci during their first-ever group lunch date.

SI is one of my favorite magazines and I enjoy reading it from cover to cover, even the features on sports that I'm not terribly interested in such as golf. So the interview with the Core Four Yankees was disappointing to say the least and quite frankly a bit boring. Unlike an interview Kimberly Jones conducted with the four players or the Daily News Yankee Heroes series, I learned nothing remotely interesting about the Core Four. Forget about the SI cover jinx, I just wanted a fun story about my favorite Yankees that told me something I didn't know before.

What counts for a major revelation in the story is Posada's habitual lateness or Mo's firm belief in saving for a rainy day. The only comment that caught my attention was Posada's claim that he has never been angry at any of his three buddies. I find that very hard to believe, knowing what a fiery guy Posada is (nice way of saying he has a quick temper) and the fact that the four of them have spent so many years together (I've gotten angry with colleagues in a lot less time than that).

It's not that I don't think the Core Four deserves the ink. They are all defying the haters and having outstanding seasons. But if you're going to do a story that has been done a hundred times, it has to at least be a little interesting. Or is that too much to ask?

Verducci does a better job of conveying the tone of the lunch in an online piece with bonus excerpts from the interview, which features some interesting tidbits from the players about the current state of baseball. But the piece in the magazine is a real snooze fest.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Obama praises Yankees for right reasons

The New York Yankees were invited to the White House yesterday, ostensibly to celebrate their thrilling 2009 World Series victory. But as President Barack Obama noted, the Yankees are worthy of honor for doing things far more important than winning baseball games.

Obama, a die-hard Chicago White Sox fan, praised the Yankees as a team and individual Yankees like Jorge Posada and Mark Teixeira for their determination to make a difference in people's lives: Teix by funding a scholarship in the name of a friend who was tragically killed at a young age and Posada for ensuring that kids similar to his son suffering from a serious brain disorder have the same opportunities for quality care. Obama also applauded the team for its extraordinary community outreach efforts during HOPE week.

As thrilled as the Yankee players were to meet the president and visit the White House, they were even happier using their day off to visit wounded soldiers at nearby hospitals. Andy Pettitte talked about what a pleasure it was to be able to bring cheer to young men recovering from some devastating injuries. It's clear that the Yankees, despite their intense focus on winning, know what really matters in life.

Thanks to Pete Souza of the Obama-Biden Transition Project via Wikipedia for the photo.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Yankees must soon concede Vazquez mistake

Joe Girardi was heavily criticized, most of it self-inflicted, in the morning papers today for not trusting his gut instinct and making a pitching change that cost the New York Yankees any chance at beating the Los Angeles Angels and preserving their streak of winning series in 2010. But the real mistake was trading for Javier Vazquez, yesterday's starter and loser, in the first place, something Brian Cashman and Girardi will soon have to concede.

The loss in Anaheim was not a surprise given the Yankees history of struggles there. But they had a chance to overcome that history, thanks in large part to a dominating performance by the old man of their rotation Andy Pettitte, and probably would have if Vazquez had not been on the mound. After a decent outing last week, Vazquez was unable to build on any confidence that victory had given him.

I said back when the trade was announced in December that I wanted no part of Vazquez and nothing I've seen so far has changed my mind. At some point, the Yankees will have to acknowledge that they made a mistake bringing him back. Out of hope, desperation or sheer arrogance, they will keep sending him out to the mound every five days for a while. But you can't keep letting Vazquez interrupt the team's momentum.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Andy Pettitte making his Cy Young pitch

Yes, it's early in the season, but Andy Pettitte is laughing in the face of Father Time and making a strong case for his first Cy Young award.

With a 3-0 start and a 1.29 ERA, the New York Yankees lefty has been the team's most reliable starter this year. For a guy who's supposedly the third starter, he has pitched like the ace of the staff. He's not just winning games by the skin of his teeth. The 37-year-old Pettitte is dominating the best hitters in the game.

No doubt Pettitte has had great years before, winning 21 games twice. As a young starter in 1996, he was the runner-up in the Cy Young race to Pat Hentgen. It's amazing to me that Pettitte, in what might be his last season playing baseball, might be closing in on that elusive award. With five World Series championships, he certainly doesn’t need a Cy Young award for validation, but it would be a great way to close out his career.

It's hard to imagine that Pettitte could keep this up for the rest of the year. But just like his Core Four teammates Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada, I wouldn't put it past him to prove all the haters wrong.

Teix not a dirty player but play was reckless

Mark Teixeira is not a dirty player, but his take out of Los Angeles Angels catcher Bobby Wilson was reckless and unnecessary.

I've seen the replay of the collision and it's quite obvious that Teix lowered his shoulder and intentionally barreled over the catcher. The problem was that Wilson never had the ball and was nowhere near blocking the plate. It was too forceful a play when force wasn't required.

Perhaps the frustration of too many fruitless at-bats is starting to get to Teix. Maybe he was upset, as Ervin Santana suggested, about getting hit with a pitch. Regardless, there wasn't any need for him to take the catcher out on that play when he could have easily slid around the tag.

I genuinely believe that Teix wasn't trying to hurt the kid, just as I believe that Ken Huckaby wasn't trying to hurt Derek Jeter when he slid with all his equipment into Jeter, knocking him off the third-base bag and dislocating his shoulder to start the 2003 season. But there are some baseball plays that are so reckless that they raise all sorts of questions. This is definitely one of those times and I can't blame the Angels players for being upset and questioning his motives. I just hope this doesn't have long-term ramifications.

A couple of days ago, I wrote a post about rumor mongers owing Teix an apology for steroids implications. Now I think Teix should apologize to Wilson for his overly aggressive play. It would go a long way toward keeping the peace.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Never a dull moment with Alex Rodriguez

As much as they try, the New York Yankees will never truly be boring as long as they have Alex Rodriguez.

ARod managed to get himself into another controversy yesterday by stepping on the pitcher's mound and rubber, which infuriated Oakland Athletics pitcher Dallas Braden. The lefty yelled at ARod twice, then proceeded to rip ARod's behavior in media interviews after the game.

In terms of ARod controversies, this incident doesn't even rank in the top five. As WFAN's Sweeney Murti said today, "it's not high on the list of stupid things ARod has done." But it is a gift to a Yankees media continent starved for fresh confrontations in what has been a serene Yankees clubhouse.

Braden clearly overreacted to ARod's perceived disrespect. Or did he? He could just be a really savvy guy. If you want to draw attention to yourself in baseball, pick a fight with ARod. If you want to really get your hooks into the media, talk about ARod's lack of class compared to Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.

ARod seemed amused by the incident. But he did take a cheap shot at Braden in talking about the 26-year old pitcher's lack of victories, which only serves the prove the lefty's point about ARod's lack of class. Braden is absolutely right in the sense that ARod would have been well served following Jeter's lead in handling such situations. Captain Jeter would have found a way to deflect Braden’s condemnation without directly criticizing the kid and letting it degenerate into a media firestorm.

But this is what life is like for the Yankees with ARod. Never a dull moment.

Thanks to Gimpy56 via en.Wikipedia for the photo.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Yanks doing right with rings for former players

The New York Yankees have been the epitome of class when handing out some very special jewelry commemorating their 2009 World Series championship to their former players now on other teams.

First, they invited Jerry Hairston Jr. to participate in last week's ring ceremony on Opening Day and made sure he was the second player (after starting pitcher Andy Pettitte) to receive his ring in time to make his flight back to the West Coast. Secondly, the Yankees players and coaches showered former teammates Chad Gaudin and Edwar Ramirez with affection and rings when the team played the Oakland Athletics this week. Most recently, Brian Cashman personally delivered a ring to Xavier Nady, who was in town with the Chicago Cubs to play the New York Mets.

The Yankees went out of their way to show these guys how much their contributions meant to the organization even though they are no longer with the team. The classy gestures were appreciated by the former teammates. Well done indeed!

Rumor mongers owe Teix an apology

The Internet has been a wonderful communication and research tool, but this week we saw the ugly side of the medium when rumors started flying that New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira could possibly be suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs. It turned out that Cincinnati Reds pitcher Edinson Volquez was the one who was busted for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance in violation of Major League Baseball's drug testing program, receiving a 50-game suspension.

Teix laughed off the rumors, but he did point out that he was one of the few players pushing for a stronger testing program.

But as a journalist, Teix fan and sports aficionado highly offended by the use of PED in baseball, I find it seriously disturbing that these accusations and implications were being tossed around without anything resembling solid proof. People often feel free to say whatever they want on the Internet, but accusing a player of such behavior without any concrete evidence is the height of irresponsibility and a prime example of people taking their free speech rights one step too far.

Innocent until proven guilty is supposed to be a core part of American values. But it seems like when it comes to steroids in baseball, it's really guilty until proven innocent. And that should not be the case. As many players that have been busted for PED use, it's important to remember that the vast majority of players never tested positive for steroids or human growth hormone.

The Bleacher Report ran a column about the rumors, defending Teix as one of the few players, along with teammate Derek Jeter, that baseball fans can count on being clean. But several blogs cited the Bleacher Report as the source of a story that supposedly indicated that Teix could be suspended for steroids. The story has since been deleted. If Bleacher Report, a site I regularly look to for Yankees news, did run such a story, it owes its readers an explanation about why it ran the story and where it got the faulty information. I've reached out to the company for comment and will share whatever I hear back.

Because Teix is a famous person, he doesn't have much recourse to fight back against these false accusations. But at the very least anyone who spread these rumors owes him a sincere apology for even implying that he had anything to do with behavior that has caused so much damage to the game of baseball.

Dominant Hughes pitching like an old pro

Phil Hughes was truly brilliant last night, dominating the Oakland Athletics with high heat and knee-buckling curveballs. But it wasn't just the fact that he nearly pitched a no-hitter. It's the fact that he almost did so pitching like a five or 10-year veteran rather than the young starter he is.

The New York Yankees have to be pleased. They have long known that Hughes has the stuff to dominate big-league hitters, but to see him mixing his pitches and carrying himself like a veteran so early in his starting career has to lift their spirits. If Hughes can settle into the rotation comfortably and pitch well consistently, Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi have one less thing to worry about, not only for this year, but for the future.

He sure made his parents Dori and Phil Hughes Sr. proud. But they weren't at all surprised by his strong performance. They told YES Network reporter Kim Jones in the post-game interview that they've seen Phil Jr. dominate the competition in high school and the minor leagues.

"I could barely breathe," Dori said. "It was so exciting."

They and the Yankees were all a little worried when he got hit by the ball that broke up the no-hitter in the 8th inning. But everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief when it was obvious that Hughes was fine physically even if the youngster was a little disappointed about losing a chance at baseball history.

"If he was OK, that's good," Phil Sr. said.

He was more than OK last night. He was unhittable, pitching like the savvy old veteran he is on his way to becoming.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

NFL does right by punishing Roethlisberger

I have to give National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell credit for imposing a six-game suspension on Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The player’s appallingly bad behavior demanded punishment, but I thought Goodell & Co. might wimp out and settle for a major fine rather than barring Roethlisberger from playing the game loves so much.

The NFL and the Steelers could have easily tried to hide behind the fact that no criminal charges were filed against the quarterback. This wasn't the first time his behavior was out of line. But it seems like now there was a recognition by league and team officials that his behavior was so outrageous, inappropriate on so many levels, if not downright illegal, that they could not let him get a away with it.

Would I have liked to see a more substantial punishment? No question. But I think the league gave him the longest suspension defensible from their perspective. The punishment could increase if the quarterback shows no improvement in his behavior. The only downside is that the suspension could be reduced to four games if Roethlisberger successfully completes a counseling program. But he is going to have a high bar to climb for a reduction after the embarrassment he caused the NFL and the Steelers.

Thanks to brunkfordbraun via Wikipedia for the photo.

Javy Vazquez comes through with decent start

Javier Vazquez was far from dominant, but came through with a decent outing for the New York Yankees. And that's all the Yankees and manager Joe Girardi were hoping for.

Vazquez had some command issues and never threw the ball as hard as he has in previous years, but he was able to get key outs when he was in trouble. He managed to hold on to the lead the Yankees gave him and left the game ahead 6-3 for his first victory of the year.

He was burned by a rare communication lapse between Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano that resulted in a pop fly dropping in for a hit right before he gave up a second home run. It's often said that pitchers need to pick up their fielders when mistakes like that happen, but Vazquez isn't capable of that.

Here's hoping the victory gives him the confidence he needs to overcome his struggles. A second good outing on the road could also help him prepare for what could be a rough return to Yankee Stadium.

With the offense Vazquez has behind him, he will be a very successful pitcher most of the time if he limits the damage to three runs in five or six innings. That's the thing about being the fourth or fifth starter in the Yankees rotation. No one is expecting dominance. They just want you to pitch well or even decently on a consistent basis. If Vazquez can do that, the Yankees will be breathing a lot easier.

Thanks to chrisjnelson via en.Wikipedia for the photo.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sad day for Rockies family, baseball

Today's a sad day for the Colorado Rockies and Major League Baseball. Rockies President Keli McGregor was found dead in his hotel room, apparently from natural causes.

"Words cannot describe the level of shock and disbelief that we all are feeling this morning at the loss of Keli," Rockies Chairman & CEO Charlie Monfort said. "Our thoughts, our prayers are with Lori (his wife) and the entire family as we all try to cope and understand how such a tragic loss could occur with such a wonderful man."

Sadly, this is not the first time baseball has dealt with such a tragedy. In an eerily similar situation in the 2002 season, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Darryl Kile was found dead in his hotel room in Chicago, where the club was staying for a series against the Cubs. The 33-year old pitcher died far too young from coronary disease. I have a vivid memory of that day, particularly New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi, then a catcher with the Cubs, fighting back tears as he announced that day's game was cancelled and asked the Wrigley Field crowd to be respectful and pray for the Cardinals.

We should all pray for McGregor's family and for his Rockies family. An unexpected tragedy like this can be devastating, but can also have the effect of bringing people together in the midst of crushing grief. I hope the Rockies can find the strength to go on in his memory.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Rays giving Yankees a run for their title

The Tampa Bay Rays just swept the Boston Red Sox in a four-game series at Fenway Park. The latest Boston massacre shouldn't be a big surprise even with the Red Sox struggling with injuries and a lack of offense, especially from David Ortiz. It was up to Red Sox starter John Lackey to stop the bleeding today and he couldn't do it. But it's not entirely his fault. The Rays really are that good and are taking direct aim at the American League East title.

After losing two of three games to the New York Yankees, the Rays have come back to win seven games in a row, more impressive because those wins have all come on the road. Tampa Bay is a dynamic team with a dynamite offense, with Evan Longoria, BJ Upton and Carlos Pena bashing the ball. Their starting rotation is equally strong, led by Matt Garza, who has already won three games with a 0.75 ERA.

Joe Maddon’s guys look like they want to get back the form that took them to the World Series two years ago. But the current champs are in their way and have shown no signs they are ready to relinquish their throne. The competition will be neck and neck, which should make for a fun year.

Thanks to imagesbyferg via Wikipedia for the photo.

Mets fans shouldn't look to Davis for salvation

So a Mets team struggling for success and validation brings its can't miss prospect to the big leagues and the New York baseball world snaps to attention. Sound familiar?

The 4-8 Mets called up hotshot first baseman Ike Davis for a much needed shot of adrenaline and to keep their fan base from defecting. Davis was having a fantastic start to the season with the team's AAA affiliate, batting .364 with 2 home runs and four ribbies in 10 games. I'm sure he would have been called up to the big-league team eventually later in the year. But I'm troubled that the Mets are bringing him up now with the team on the ropes just two weeks into the season and the manager on the hottest seat in baseball.

It reminds me of the Mets bringing up a young Darryl Strawberry in 1983, with Dwight Gooden following the next year, to carry the franchise. The two young superstars were destined for the Hall of Fame, so said all the baseball experts. Both Strawberry and Gooden initially fulfilled those high expectations, winning Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Awards. But they eventually wilted under the weight of those expectations, succumbing to the enormous pressure, turning to drugs and alcohol to cope and shortchanging their once-promising careers.

I'm wishing a better fate for Davis. But for that to happen, Mets fans, the media and even the Mets themselves need to guard against looking to Davis for salvation. It's ok for the fan base to get excited about what Davis represents for the future. But don't expect him to immediately turn things around. That's way too much pressure on a young player in the big city and we have seen how badly that can turn out.

Thanks to slgckgc via Wikipedia for the photo.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Yankees heading to West Coast on high note

The New York Yankees are heading to the West Coast on a high note after winning their fourth series of the year with a sweep of the Texas Rangers.

The Yanks are now 9-3 on the year, thanks in large part to some fantastic pitching by their front three starters CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Andy Pettitte, who is proving age is just a number with another strong outing this afternoon. They've gotten some timely offense, particularly Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner at the bottom of the order, and a big bat from Robinson Cano, who looks very comfortable in the fifth hole.

The Yankees have no worries, aside from wondering if Javier Vazquez will get himself straightened out. Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira hit their first homers of the season, showing signs that they may finally be breaking out of their slumps. Even Derek Jeter getting sick and having to sit out a day didn't slow the Yanks down, with back-up Ramiro Pena stepping in with a clutch hit to put the Yanks on top for good today.

So after a day off, the Yankees will start a three-game series against the Oakland Athletics, who are surprising people with their tough play. They then head to Anaheim, where they have had trouble winning games in recent years, although this is a much different Angels team. Finally, they return to the East Coast for three games against the hapless Baltimore Orioles, who have won one game this season. With the Yankees running on all cylinders, I expect a successful road trip.

Jorge Posada making his case for the Hall

I always thought it would be tough for Jorge Posada to join his pals Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera in the Baseball Hall of Fame. But he's making a strong case for himself these days.

Posada is off to a phenomenal start this season, hitting .364 with two homers and five ribbies. More impressively, the New York Yankees catcher notched the 1,500th hit of his career, a feat all the more astounding when you consider the group of legendary Yankee catchers he joined: Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra and Thurman Munson. On Opening Day, he passed Mickey Mantle on the Yankees doubles list with 345.

His career average is .278 with 245 home runs and 969 ribbies. Despite being 38 years old, Posada shows no signs of slowing down from an offensive perspective, which could mean that he will be able to play a few more years and pad his resume even further.

His defense and relationship with pitchers has always been the weaker part of his game. But he has made progress in that area, with AJ Burnett giving him full credit for his fine start to the season. He hasn't been great at throwing out opposing base stealers, but the Yankee pitchers share some blame for that as none of them, except for Andy Pettitte, are good at holding runners on.

Are his numbers strong enough for the Hall of Fame? It will be close. He is undoubtedly one of the premier offensive catchers of his generation and those guys usually do get in the Hall. His five World Series rings should help push him in the direction of Cooperstown.

Gardner should be the everyday starter

Brett Gardner can impact a game in a way that no other player on the New York Yankees roster can. So why isn't he starting every day?

Joe Girardi has implemented an unofficial platoon with Gardner and Marcus Thames playing against lefties. Thames has done well when he's been in the lineup, batting five for 10 in the first two weeks of the season. But Thames has no home runs or ribbies and I doubt he'll be able to keep that average up for much longer. And his outfield play leaves much to be desired, with defense being a critical factor for a team so dependent on strong starting pitcher (Gardner usually relieves him later in the game).

Gardner's speed enables him to wreak havoc on the bases and the minds of opposing pitchers and infielders. Yesterday, he got three hits off balls that never left the infield and almost legged out another hit on a routine ground ball. Hitting in front of Derek Jeter, he's already scored eight runs, stolen five bases and driven in four of his own.

So why is Girardi so reluctant to play him every day? Beats me. I understand playing Thames against a really tough lefty as he did with Jon Lester and David Price. But routinely playing Thames against lefties and sitting Gardner baffles me. Why wouldn't you want to regularly use such a powerful weapon at your disposal? Maybe this is just an early season fluke and we'll see Gardner become the regular left fielder in the Yankees lineup.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Good guy Granderson fitting right in with Yankees

Curtis Granderson is known for being one of the good guys in baseball, right up there with Derek Jeter in terms of his devotion to kids. The son of teachers, Granderson knows the importance of a quality education (he is one of the few big leaguers with a college degree) and is a big advocate of ensuring kids have the chance to have a good education. For his good work, Granderson was honored today with the Man of the Year award.

I'm sure his teammates were thrilled for him. It seems like you can't find a guy in the clubhouse to say a bad thing about Curtis, as he seems to be universally liked and respected by all his teammates. Granderson is fitting right in with the New York Yankees. Picking up the slack for some of his more well-known and higher-paid teammates, Granderson is hitting over .300 and has already scored six runs and driven in seven runs and played a great center field. And the Yankees couldn’t be happier

Breaking in with the Yankees and in New York can be a daunting challenge. But Granderson hasn't broken a sweat. He is a smart, articulate and charming guy who has become a go-to-guy for the media. More importantly, he is quickly winning over Yankee fans with his hustle and timely play. Those Granderson jerseys are going to be flying off the racks soon, if they're not already.

Masterful AJ Burnett aiming for the top

AJ Burnett turned in a masterful performance at Yankee Stadium this afternoon as he continues to show signs that he is finally ready to take his place as one of the top-tier pitchers in baseball.

Burnett has the stuff of an ace and proved it today with seven innings of no-run ball against the hapless Texas Rangers. He got into a couple of jams in the latter innings with runners on base. The old AJ would have completely lost it on the mound and given up a couple of runs. But the new AJ fought back and stuffed the Rangers with strikeouts and a ground-ball double play.

AJ seems like he's feeling really good about himself these days, saying he feels strong and praising his catcher Jorge Posada for helping him things under control. The chemistry between Burnett and Posada can’t be ignored and it’s something they both deserve credit for working so hard to cultivate.

"He and Jorge had a good rhythm going and he was dominant," Alex Rodriguez said.

Yes, he was. AJ has always been an incredibly frustrating pitcher to watch, hitting and walking batters with abandon and getting himself in trouble despite his great talent. But not this year. He's well on his way to being the dominant pitcher that he is capable of being and joining the conversation about the best pitchers in baseball. If he keeps this up, the Yankees will be unbeatable.

Love the Boss but he's not getting in Hall of Fame

As a New York Yankees fan, I am incredibly grateful to George Steinbrenner for all he has done for the Yankees and baseball. I was one of those fans jumping to my feet to show my love and affection for the Boss when he was up on the video screen on Opening Day at the stadium. But even though Steinbrenner will go down as one of the most successful owners in baseball history, I don't think he's getting into the hallowed Hall of Fame.

For sure, he has many things going for him. He has owned the Yankees for 37 years during which time they won 11 American League pennants and seven World Series. In declining health, the Boss has passed on his team to his sons Hal and Hank and they have become less controversial, to the point of boredom, which could help alleviate the sting from all the years of controversies when the Boss was running the team.

Unlike with Pete Rose, Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig likely won't object if people ask him about the possibility of putting the Boss in the Hall of Fame. Steinbrenner and Selig have had their ups and downs and loud disagreements, but they've been friends for more than 30 years, which should help the Boss' chances.

But there is no question Steinbrenner has done some things that could rightfully keep him out of the Hall. He pled guilty to making illegal campaign contributions and obstruction of justice in the 1970s, leading to his first suspension from baseball. He hired a gambler to dig up dirt on one of his outfielders, Dave Winfield, leading to his second suspension. During his heyday, the Boss was a bully and a tyrant, especially to his players and employees.

As he got older, Steinbrenner appeared to learn the error of his ways, easing up on his outrageous behavior. And the Steinbrenner family is well known for its generosity, particularly in supporting youth programs in the Tampa area.

Is it enough? Yankee legends, including Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, and manager Joe Girardi think so. But I doubt it. It's easy for fans like me to forgive his indiscretions because I'm too young to remember most of them. But lifetime baseball people have long memories. Baseball executives are held to higher standards than players and it's hard for me to see enough people forgetting about Steinbrenner's past for him to get the necessary votes. I could be wrong, but I don't think so.

NY Post takes cheap shot at Ron Washington

The New York Post took a cheap shot at Ron Washington in its lead from last night's game story on the New York Yankees, saying the Texas Rangers manager may have wished he was "chemically altered" last night. Was that really necessary? No way.

By now, everyone who regularly follows baseball knows Washington flunked a drug test because of cocaine use. Washington, who is known as one of the good guys in baseball, was apologetic and confessed to using drugs before his test actually came up positive rather than keeping quiet and hoping he could get away with it or feigning ignorance or innocence when it came back positive.

Brian Costello, the reporter who wrote the Post story, doesn't have to worry about the ramifications of that type of snide comment because he doesn't regularly cover the Rangers. I'd love to see him try that kind of nonsense on one of the Yankee players or officials and see how long he keeps his job when everyone stops talking to him. (For a better story on Washington and the impact his admission had on him and his team, check out this article from the New York Times).

As a journalist, I know that the pressure to be first and colorful can be enormous. But that doesn't excuse this type of behavior. We have to hold ourselves accountable first and Costello and the Post are just flat out wrong with this lead. But who am I kidding, this is the Post we are talking about, which always takes things one step too far.

CC Sabathia every inch the ace for Yankees

As impossible as it may seem, CC Sabathia actually pitched better last night than he did Saturday in almost pitching a no-hitter.

CC dominated the Texas Rangers last night. Every time you looked up, he had an 0-2 count on a batter. The Rangers didn't have a chance, chasing balls all over the place and coming up empty. Because he was ahead on the count, he was able to put hitters away by just going after them, which kept his pitch count low.

This time around it was the rain that finished his outing rather than a pitch count and his manager Joe Girardi, who has been getting a lot of heat for insisting he would have taken his big guy out of that game despite the no-hitter.

After a rough first game of the season, CC is stepping up to be the dominant ace that the New York Yankees know and love. With a solid AJ Burnett and the indefatigable Andy Pettitte behind him, the Yanks can put their top three starters up against any team and know they can win.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Super Mo comes to save the day

For the second time in three days, Mariano Rivera had to come into the game to save the day for the New York Yankees despite the team having what should have been a solid lead.

On Tuesday, Mo came in for two outs in the 9th inning after David Robertson gave up a grand slam to make the Opening Day game a lot closer than it should have been. Last night, he came in to get one out when Joba Chamberlain got in trouble after he walked a guy with a four-run lead. Both times Mo made it look so easy, reminding Yankee fans why we love him (not that we need another reminder). Lots of other teams would have lost one or both of those baseball games. But Yankee fans know all is right in our world when we hear the opening sounds of Enter Sandman.

The Yankees have a fairly young bullpen and can only get away with that because they have the great Mariano as a safety net. Joe Girardi can push the envelope with his kids because he knows he has Mo to step in when they struggle. But the day will come when the youngsters won't have Mo to lean on for guidance, knowledge, help, saving. They will have to learn to stand on their own feet. Now is as good a time as any to start doing that.

Phil Hughes passes first test

Phil Hughes showed glimpses of why the New York Yankees have such high expectations for him, passing his first test as the fifth starter with a solid performance.

The youngster started last night's game by overpowering the first three batters, with a weak pop up sandwiched by two strikeouts. He had some problems with his command, walking five batters, but got outs when he needed them, keeping a solid Los Angeles Angels lineup at bay.

The most important thing was that he kept his nerves under control. Hughes seemed a little frustrated about giving up a home run to Hideki Matsui with a pitch right in the middle of the plate, but he settled down to get the next three outs, helped by a nice defensive play from his second baseman Robinson Cano.

After pitching Hughes walked off the mound to enthusiastic, well-deserved cheers from the home crowd.

This outing made me eager to see more of Hughes the starter. We know there will be growing pains as he learns how to be a big-league starter. We don't expect him to pitch this well every time out, but as long as he's showing that he's making progress living up to his potential, we'll be happy.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

NY Yankees salute the great Jackie Robinson

Robinson Cano's parents honored Jackie Robinson in the best way possible, naming their son after the man who made it possible for Cano and all minority players to play the game of baseball. Tonight, Cano is saluting the great Robinson in his own way.

Cano participated in a pre-game ceremony honoring Jackie Robinson for breaking the color barrier in baseball on April 15, 1947. The New York Yankees second baseman had a big hug and smile for Robinson's widow Rachel and his family. Then he honored the legend out on the baseball field in a way that the great Robinson would probably appreciate, with two home runs and a fantastic defensive play.

Curtis Granderson made a wonderful point about Jackie Robinson, saying he helped start the civil rights movement long before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr without even knowing it. He's absolutely right about that. Robinson somehow managed to rise above all the insults and racist rhetoric to become a superstar in the sport and prove that minorities could play baseball at the highest level.

Granderson also noted that Robinson made it possible for not only minorities, but foreigners to play the sport. Granderson would know, being an African-American player himself as well as Major League Baseball's ambassador. "That's pretty much what Jackie Robinson is," he said.

Mariano Rivera understands Robinson’s legacy and appreciates the fact that he will be the last major leaguer ever to wear his number 42. "I could not be more thankful to the Lord that I had the opportunity to be the one," he said.

Thanks to Bob Sandberg via Wikipedia for the photo.

Phil Hughes time is now

Phil Hughes gets his chance to start living up to all those projections of greatness as a big-league pitcher with his first start of the 2010 season. It's his time now and I’m rooting for him to make the most of it.

I'm sure Hughes is anxious to get out on the mound and show the baseball world his stuff, particularly his new changeup. He will have to keep his nerves in check, which could be a challenge. Sometimes it's easy to forget Hughes is only 23 years old. It feels like he's been around for a long time, making his big league debut with the Yankees in April 2007.

I see a lot riding on Hughes having a good season in the fifth spot because I have major doubts that Javier Vazquez will be a reliable starter for the New York Yankees this year. But unlike Vazquez, Hughes will have a honeymoon period with the media and Yankees fans, in part because he was so successful setting up Mariano Rivera during the regular season last year. For sure, he stumbled in the playoffs, but that didn't hurt the team on its way to winning a 27th World Series title.

We know he has the stuff to be a great starter in the big leagues because we’ve already seen the flashes of greatness. He just needs to have the confidence to pitch well consistently. It's definitely something he's capable of doing.

Good luck, Phil!

Soft Vazquez does not fit in New York

So Javier Vazquez thinks it's unfair for New York Yankees fans to boo him after a second bad outing to start the season. Well, I think it's unfair that Vazquez was forced on us for a second tour of duty. But Brian Cashman didn't ask Yankee fans for our opinions when deciding to trade for the righty again so both the general manager and pitcher are going to have to deal with the ramifications. And yes, that involves lots of booing when he doesn't do well.

This latest comment by Vazquez proves that he is a soft player. Yankee fans have booed almost everyone who has worn pinstripes at one point or another, including, shockingly enough, Derek Jeter when he was in the midst of a 0-32 slump during the 2004 season. If Captain Jeter can be booed, Vazquez is fair game. Someone might want to mention that to him.

But it also shows that Vazquez doesn't get how painful that 2004 American League Championship Series loss is for Yankee fans. For me, the 2001 World Series loss hurt because the Yankees were so close, but the 2004 ALCS defeat was much worse because it came against the hated Red Sox. For Vazquez to dismiss it because it happened a long time ago shows that he is completely clueless about the magnitude of the loss and feels no obligation to try to make things right for the part he played in it.

I wrote a post a few days ago about how Cashman will have to answer for his offseason baseball moves. If I were Cashman, the Vazquez trade would be the one keeping me up at night. It's only two starts, but not only has he not pitched well, he's created a controversy with the media and fans.

Some players are just too soft for New York. Yankee fans knew that about Vazquez the first time around. Too bad Cashman & Co. didn't see it themselves.

Thanks to chrisjnelson via en.Wikipedia for the photo.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

ARod and Jeter now have ring in common

For once in his life, Alex Rodriguez does not care about being cool. He's going to wear his ring no matter what his teammates or anyone else says. And why not? If I had a ring like that, I'd be rocking it all day, every day.

ARod used to tell a story about how Derek Jeter once mailed him his 1996 World Series ring just to rub in the fact that he had one and ARod didn't. But the Yankee Captain can't tease him anymore about not having a ring. ARod finally has the ring he so long wished for in his hands and knowing that he played a tremendous part in getting it must make it even sweeter.

ARod will never catch up to Jeter's number of championships. Nor will he ever match Jeter in being on the receiving end of the undying affection of New York Yankees fans. But he and Jeter do have something in common: they are both World Series champs with the jewelry to prove it. And that's something ARod will have forever, no matter how the rest of his career plays out.

I guess Jeter will have to mess with someone else now that ARod has his ring. Curtis Granderson, perhaps?

No second honeymoon for Javier Vazquez

For Javier Vazquez, there is no second honeymoon with the New York Yankees.

Any notion that Vazquez could ease into his second tenure with the Yankees by merely be a serviceable fourth starter behind CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Andy Pettitte was quickly cast aside today. Yankee fans let Vazquez know in no uncertain terms that they aren't happy with the start of his 2010 season, booing him frequently as he struggled today, giving up four runs in 5 1/3 innings.

Yankee fans are like elephants, we never forget. And it will take a tremendous performance by Vazquez throughout the year to erase the enduring memory of his first term with the Yankees, giving up the grand slam that buried the Yankees and put the Boston Red Sox into the 2004 World Series.

So far, his redemption tour is off to a bad start. If anything, the leash for Vazquez is going to be even shorter this time around because Yankee fans will have no patience for him keeping the Yankees from going on long winning streaks because of consistently bad starts.

If Vazquez really wants to get on the collective good side of the Yankee fan base, he's going to have to string together a number of strong starts and it needs to happen soon.

New Yankees have something to aim for

I wonder if Curtis Granderson is the jealous type. If he is, that could work in the New York Yankees favor.

Granderson, Randy Winn and Marcus Thames all had to sit and watch as their teammates received shiny new rings commemorating their World Series championship. Being part of that ceremony was such an honor and thrill for the players on that 2009 team that Jerry Hairston Jr. flew across the country on his day off to receive his ring in person.

But the newbies were on the outside looking in, imagining how it felt to walk out on that field with a screaming crowd chanting their names as they accepted their rings. They will experience that thrill for themselves next year if they can help the Yankees successfully defend their title.

Of the three of them, Granderson is in the best position to make an impact on the Yankees. So far, he's off to a good start, making some nice plays in centerfield and contributing with his bat in the lower half of the order, which is picking up some of the slack from slow starts by Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez.

If I were Granderson or his fellow new teammates, I’d be salivating at the opportunity to get some of that bling. Sometimes a little jealously doesn’t hurt.

Captain Derek Jeter loosens up

Maybe he was just giddy with the excitement of getting his first World Series ring in nine years, but Derek Jeter was in a wickedly funny mood yesterday and it was great to see.

The Captain usually acts so serious, but yesterday we got a glimpse of the funny and fun-loving side all his teammates talk about. He personally delivered the championship ring to George Steinbrenner, along with a joke about Ohio State (Jeter is a Michigan fan and couldn't resist bringing up one of the fiercest rivalries in college football). Later, he told Kim Jones that he was happy to see the Boss so happy.

"No question because I've been in his office when I've been in trouble too," Jeter said with a laugh.

Hideki Matsui is one of Jeter's favorite former teammates and friends, but that didn't spare him from Jeter's practical joking as the New York Yankees Captain replaced his real World Series ring with a bootleg ring from a spring training promotion. As Jones later told Jeter, "you're a funny guy, Derek."

He really is. But it's a sight we don't normally get to see. It was nice to see the captain loosen up a bit and let down his guard for at least one afternoon. We probably won't see it again, but one can hope.

George Steinbrenner a sight for sore eyes

Just seeing George Steinbrenner attending the New York Yankees home opener lifted my heart. The Boss has missed more than a few important games recently after handing over full control of the team to sons Hal and Hank. But there he was yesterday, watching over the festivities and the game and it felt like nothing really changed.

The only thing that was missing was a colorful quote from the fiery Boss to motivate his guys. But what could he possibly have to say about his team? Aside from a rough outing by Dave Robertson, they played great baseball yesterday and have had an unusually good start to the season.

When they showed the Boss on the big screen yesterday, the roar from the crowd was just amazing. Captain Derek Jeter took his time so the ovation could continue. People started screaming: "Boss, Boss, Boss." We couldn't tell from his face what he was thinking, but you have to imagine that he was pretty pleased, particularly when his boy Jeter slugged a home run.

Who knows when we'll see the Boss next at Yankee Stadium. It may be a while, it may be never again. But, for at least one afternoon, the Boss was in the house and he was a sight for sore eyes.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Core Four carries team on Opening Day

Andy Pettitte was the first player to receive his ring during today's pre-game ceremony. He quickly shook hands and thanked his manager Joe Girardi and honorary co-presenters Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford and returned to the dugout to continue prepping for the happy duty of starting the baseball game. And he pitched a helluva game, giving up no runs in six innings for a well-earned victory.

It wasn't the sharpest he's ever been, but in typical Pettitte fashion, he got out of trouble a few times with a perfectly-placed pitch for a ground ball. If there's one thing that Pettitte knows how to do, it's pitch when he's in trouble or doesn't have his best stuff, something I hope he teaches Phil Hughes as he embarks on his quest to be a good fifth starter for the New York Yankees. Of course, Pettitte had a lot of help from his catcher today, with Jorge Posada guiding the lefty through some dicey spots and backing him up with three solid hits to help the Yankees score runs late.

After happily fulfilling his captain duties by gently ribbing his Boss George Steinbrenner while delivering his ring and playing a wicked prank on his ex-teammate Hideki Matsui by switching his real ring with a fake one, Derek Jeter belted a monster home run into the bullpen and followed it up with a shot off the body of Angels starter Ervin Santana.

Going into the 9th inning with a six-run lead, I thought the only thing that sucked about the day was not getting to see Mariano Rivera run to the mound with the thundering sound of Enter Sandman playing in the background. Be careful what you wish for. Sure enough, Mo was needed, even on a day like today. Dave Robertson gave up a grand slam to former Yank Bobby Abreu after only getting one out, forcing Girardi to call in his closer to get the final two outs. And Mo quickly quashed the rally, striking out Torii Hunter and getting Matsui to pop up to end the game.

So there was the Core Four, carrying their team as usual. Things never really change that much for the Yankees.

Yankee ring ceremony inspires awe, tears

Hours after leaving Yankee Stadium following a soul-stirring Opening Day ceremony, I'm still on a high that will last for the rest of the night. There were several thrilling moments during the pre-game festivities -- here are my highlights:

Most emotional moment: No question it was Gene Monahan's introduction. I had to fight back tears as I watched Monahan get choked up by all the love he received from his players and the crowd. It was wonderful just to see him healthy enough to be at the stadium. I will be praying for a continued recovery and a quick return to the team that misses him.

Loudest ovation: New York Yankees fans know how to say good-bye and thank you for all the memories and we did that for Hideki Matsui. I think Matsui knows what he means to us, receiving thunderous ovations both when he accepted his well-deserved ring and during his first at-bat. He also knows how much his ex-teammates love him and miss him as they all went over to give him a group hug. I've never seen anything like it and don't think I will again. It was a special moment for a special man.

Most disappointing moment: Bernie Williams muffing the first pitch. Come on Bernie! You played in the World Baseball Classic last year. You can't be that rusty! But we still love you Bern.
Most powerful moment: Kristin Chenoweth belting out the national anthem in that awe-inspiring voice she possesses (I've been a die-hard fan ever since seeing Wicked), punctuated by the flyover of the jets that got our hearts pounding (my brother's favorite moment).

Best moment of redemption: You couldn't wipe the smile off of Alex Rodriguez's face. For ARod, his monster run in the playoffs helped him earn the World Series ring that validates his career and completes his redemption.

Magical opening day for triumphant Yankees

I've been bursting with excitement for weeks now in anticipation of a day that is finally here. Opening Day for the New York Yankees, the first time the new stadium will host an event that happened frequently across the street at the now in ruins old Yankee Stadium: the ring ceremony and the hoisting of the championship banner.

The Yankees return to the Bronx for one final celebration of last year's triumph and it’s guaranteed to be a fantastic party. It's always wonderful to see all the old Yankee champions come back home for one more day of festivities. Watching Bernie Williams throw out the first pitch is going to be amazing.

I'm thrilled beyond belief for the Core Four Yankees: Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte, who fought to prove that being young at heart is all that matters on their way to capturing their fifth World Series rings together.

But I'm even happier for guys like Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia, who have been waiting a long time for a moment like this. And for the young guys like Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes, who have their whole careers ahead of them, but were key contributors to the Yankees 27th World Series title. We should also be grateful to the baseball scheduling gods for one last opportunity to thank Godzilla, Hideki Matsui, for all his fantastic years in the Bronx.

It promises to be a magical day of celebration and fun. I can't wait!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Teix leaves his mark on teen, family

I admired Mark Teixeira long before he joined the New York Yankees, respecting his baseball skills and his great attitude. But my admiration for him just grew by leaps and bounds.

Attending today's home opener between the Yanks and the Los Angeles Angels will be the family of Brian Ernst, a teenager who died of cancer in March. Teix spent time with the youngster shortly before he died, bringing joy to a young man who worshipped him and to his grateful family.

Professional athletes touch so many lives. For a teenager dying too young, it was a wonderful but temporary break from reality, an opportunity for him to spend time with his hero. For Teix, it was two hours out of one day of his life that ended up having a tremendous impact on him, to the point that, inspired by the young man, he scribbled a reminder of Ernst's message of faith into his Yankees cap.

Too often we hear the stories about athletes behaving badly, like Ben Roethlisberger. It's nice to be reminded every so often that those guys are the minority, that for every guy like Roethlisberger, there are guys like Mark Teixeira doing good things for people, not because they have to, but because they want to.
Thanks to chris.ptacek via Wikipedia for the photo.

Mets, Manuel, Minaya already in big trouble

The two New York baseball teams couldn't have had more conflicting starts to the 2010 season if they tried. While the New York Yankees came home with a 4-2 record against the toughest competitors in their league, the Mets lost four of six at home to the Florida Marlins and the woeful Washington Nationals. One week into the season, the Mets are already in big trouble.

It's not so much that they had a bad week. Good teams have bad weeks all the time, including the Yankees. In fact, they had a bad first month last year on the way to winning their 27th World Series title. But after looking so good on Opening Day behind a strong Johan Santana start, the Mets closed the home stand with their ace getting slammed and the team immediately packing it in.

The Mets were so dreadful that even their manager Jerry Manuel couldn't excuse their play. He said his team looked unprepared against aging starter Livan Hernandez and that it was his responsibility. Noble of him to take the blame and he definitely deserves a share. Sure enough, Manuel and Omar Minaya will be the scapegoats if the Mets continue down this path of futility. For Omar, it's probably a bit of karma, considering the way he jettisoned Willie Randolph.

But the Mets players are the ones out on the field. They took it for granted that they would win with their ace on the mound, and couldn't fight back when he got smacked around, couldn't recover from being down only four runs in the first inning, which speaks volumes to their collective state of mind. With that kind of poor attitude, Mets fans are in for a long season.

Yet Joe West calls the Yankees and Red Sox pathetic and embarrassing. He should have to umpire a game in Queens next time.

Thanks to Wknight94 via Wikipedia for the photo.

Cool AJ Burnett trying to lose erratic rep

Two starts into the baseball season, AJ Burnett is responsible for half of the New York Yankees wins. Most importantly, he has been cool and steady on the mound, even in the midst of the bizarre, which in the past would have pushed him over the edge.

He didn't win his first start against the Boston Red Sox, but kept his team close and allowed them to pull it off in the end. In his second start, he shrugged off giving up two runs in the first inning for the victory. A hairy moment in the sixth, when a ball that hit the catwalk was improperly ruled a hit, could have derailed him. But after giving up a walk to load the bases, he promptly got a pop up to strand the runners and keep the Yankees in the lead. The AJ of old probably would have given up a hit in that situation, forcing the Yanks to mount another comeback.

It's tough to judge after only two starts, but it seems Burnett is more comfortable in his second year with the Yankees. Winning a World Series and being credited with one of the most popular changes on a team -- the pies in the face after comeback wins -- will do that for a guy. He and Jorge Posada seem to be working together quite smoothly, with AJ giving Jorge full credit for successfully helping him keep his emotions in check.

A highly dependable AJ Burnett who loses the erratic reputation could make the Yankees unbeatable. Let's hope he can keep it up.

Thanks to shortstopVM via Wikipedia for the photo.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Yankee fans Hideki loss is Angels gain

Hideki Matsui is quickly showing Los Angeles Angels fans that he is every bit the clutch player that we knew him to be in New York. Our loss is their gain.

The Halos have won two games this season courtesy of Matsui's ability to come through in big spots, including a ribbie single for a walk-off win in Saturday's game. Even better, he did it a few days after playing his first baseball game in the outfield in years, proving he isn't quite as brittle as the New York Yankees made him out to be.

The Yankees are off to a great start as well. Nick Johnson, Matsui's replacement, hasn’t hit at all, but has gotten on base a lot, much to the thrill of his manager Joe Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman. But we haven't seen if he can duplicate Matsui's success in tight situations. I'm sure he'll be tested very soon.

I'm happy to see Matsui doing so well on the West Coast. He is still a favorite player of mine and I wish him all the best. I'm beyond thrilled that he will be at Yankee Stadium to personally receive his well-deserved World Series ring on Tuesday. I'll be there too and will be part of the standing ovation Matsui will receive from Yankee fans who miss seeing him in pinstripes.

Thanks to edogisgod via Wikipedia for the photo.

Yankees pass opening test with flying colors

In their quest to repeat as World Series champions, the New York Yankees had a major hurdle to navigate with two tough road series against their archrival Boston Red Sox and the feisty Tampa Bay Rays. They passed the test with flying colors.

After losing the opening games of both series, the Yankees rebounded to take the next two games in each series. The Yankees depended on quality starting pitching, including a dominant performance on Saturday by CC Sabathia to make up for an iffy first outing, a couple of solid starts by AJ Burnett and a strong start by the godfather of the staff Andy Pettitte. Of course, Mariano Rivera came in to close out three of the team's four wins.

The Yankees offense had some timely contributions from the bottom of the order, offsetting the first-week struggles of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. Curtis Granderson has been a standout, proving that he is not at all intimidated by joining the heated Rivalry and the three-headed beast that is the American League East.

This being the Yankees, the week was not without controversy. Joe Girardi made it clear that he is the boss and was fully prepared to take CC out of Saturday's game even with a no-hitter intact. It would have been a gutsy move and as much as I would have hated it, it was the right one. There was also that nasty public spat with umpire Joe West. I doubt we've heard the last of that story.

But all in all, it was a great week for the Yankees. If a baseball team can consistently go on the road and take series by 2-1 margins, that team dramatically increases their chances for a successful season. The Yankees started the 2010 campaign on the right foot. Let's hope this is merely a sign of more great things to come.

End to April slump best birthday present for Teix

Mark Teixeira turns 30 today and the only thing the New York Yankees first baseman probably wants for this milestone birthday is an end to his annual April struggles.

Teix had a good day yesterday with three solid hits. But so far his birthday isn't going that great as he has struck out three times. Before Saturday, Teix was 0 for 17 to start the season, breaking his own personal record for futility, made during his rookie season.

The good thing is Teix still has a sense of humor about his struggles, but his inability to build on yesterday's good at-bats has got to be frustrating. At some point, the slump will start to get in his head. I hope he can fight against that.

An incident during today's game with Pat Burrell trying a strange take-out slide into first base may be just the thing that Teix needs to shake the cobwebs out. "That's terrible," Tino Martinez, calling the game for the YES Network, said. "There's no need for that."

Teix got fired up after being plunked last year, intentionally he believed, by ex-teammate Vincente Padilla. The Rays have hit Teix as well and also intentionally kept him from passing their teammate Carlos Pena for tops in homers and RBIs last year. Perhaps this is the nudge he needs to fire him up and end his April blues.

Happy birthday, Teix!

Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the photo.

Gutsy Girardi right to hook CC Sabathia

Keeping the big picture in mind, Joe Girardi said he would have pulled CC Sabathia out of yesterday's baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays even if his ace was still pitching a no-hitter. Good luck with that, Joe.

Fortunately, Girardi was spared the firestorm he would have created when Kelly Shoppach singled to left off Sabathia. (Girardi might want to send Shoppach a fruit basket). The Yankees manager was out of the dugout before the hit even landed, proving he was serious about pulling Sabathia. But Shoppach, Sabathia's former teammate, said it best when he said Girardi would have needed a lot of help to drag his big guy out of the game if the no-hitter was still intact.

I respect Girardi for having the guts to stick to his guns. From a baseball standpoint, there's no question it's the right call. CC is a horse, but you don't want your horse getting hurt on his second run around the track. But it would have created a colossal uproar, with New York Yankees fans jamming the phone lines to radio shows to express their outrage.

One of the great things about being a Yankees fan is that we've gotten to enjoy some magical moments in baseball history. I know a lot of fans, including myself, would have felt cheated if the chance to have another moment like that was taken away from us. Eventually, I probably would have come to terms with that decision, but it would have been tough to take.

I liken it to the Indianapolis Colts forgoing a chance at a perfect season to prepare themselves for a long run in the playoffs. And nobody can say that was the wrong call since they made it all the way to the Super Bowl. The Yankees have gotten back to the team-first mentality that was basis for their late 1990s dynasty and no one player is above that, including their ace.

Thanks to chris.ptacek via Wikipedia for the photo.