Monday, May 31, 2010

AJ, Andy restore order in Yankee land

A day after CC Sabathia struggled and the New York Yankees' relievers coughed up a huge lead, AJ Burnett gave his team what it desperately needed: eight innings of tough pitching and a day off for all hurlers not named Mariano Rivera. Today, Andy Pettitte stepped up to provide more relief to the beleaguered bullpen.

Burnett only gave up one earned run and kept his team in the game on Sunday. He was rewarded when the Yankees offense was able to mount a late comeback, which upped his record to 6-2. Burnett has become one of the Yankees most dependable pitchers, a shocking development given his previous propensity for wildness.

Pettitte, meanwhile, is off to a 7-1 start, the best of his career. It’s an amazing feat for a 37-year-old pitcher. It seems like his many years of experience are contributing to his success this season as he is using his smarts to get out of jams when his stuff isn’t there. But today’s victory was particularly special to Pettitte because it was #236, which ties him with legendary Yankee lefty Whitey Ford on the all-time wins list.

"He's a great man," Pettitte said. "I love Whitey to death. He's been a huge supporter of mine."

"Andy's in great company," manager Joe Girardi said.

Girardi knows the importance of having good starting pitching and he's determined to protect them, not letting Pettitte come out for the eighth inning despite only throwing 90 pitches because of the long bottom of the seventh by the offense. It was a wise move.

Sabathia is supposed to be the Yankees ace. But in truth, he has been outpitched this year by AJ, Andy and Phil Hughes, who have a combined 19-4 record. After a really rough week against the Tampa Bay Rays and Mets, all is right in Yankee land again.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Near tragedy turns into good day for Indians

A day that started with a near tragedy ended up being a good day for the Cleveland Indians.

The best news, of course, is that David Huff appears to be okay after getting slammed in the head by a fierce line drive off the bat of Alex Rodriguez. It was a terrifying moment, with Huff motionless on the ground for what seemed like an endless amount of time while the Indians trainers worked on him, with the help of the New York Yankees training staff and emergency medical services stationed at Yankee Stadium.

ARod was distraught and appeared near tears on the field and could not speak to the media, sending out a statement expressing sheer gratitude after it became clear that Huff's injury would not be as damaging as we all feared. No matter how much baseball players want to beat each other on the field, they never want to see their adversaries get hurt in such a scary way.

After what could have been a deflating accident, the Indians, despite their concern for their teammate, mounted an improbable comeback. But they were aided by another collapse by Joba Chamberlain and the Yankees bullpen. Once again, Joe Girardi's management (or over management of his bullpen) raised a puzzling question: why bring in Sergio Mitre if the long man/spot starter was only going to face one batter? But ultimately this loss is on Joba's shoulders, with the Indians smacking him all over the park.

But on a day like yesterday, wins and losses are meaningless. The main reason it ended up being a good day for the Indians was that Huff, who gave a thumbs up to the Yankee Stadium crowd as he was being carted off the field, seems like he will be OK physically. Let's hope the 25-year-old can overcome the horror of that moment and return to the mound soon. I'll be rooting for Huff big time.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Happy anniversary Captain Jeter

Has it really been 15 years? On May 29, 1995, the course of New York Yankees history was changed forever with Derek Jeter's big-league debut.

All he has done since that fateful day in Seattle is get more than 2,800 hits, drive in nearly 1,100 runs, steal more than 300 bases and hit almost 230 homers. Jeter has taken on a leadership role as the captain of the most famous and successful baseball franchise. He has become the best role model of all modern athletes and the face of everything that is good about baseball. He has taken his rightful place on the list of all-time Yankee greats and will someday take a similar spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

“The one thing I do remember is how confident this kid was when he came up,” his former teammate Paul O’Neill said. “In your organization, you have your gems and he was definitely one.”

Most importantly, Jeter still looks like he's having as much fun playing baseball as he did when he was a rookie. Whether he is mocking third baseman Alex Rodriguez's approach to fly balls as he did today, accusing former Yankee pitcher Al Leiter of dyeing his hair or warning YES Network reporter Kimberly Jones not to tell him who won American Idol under threat of no interviews until after the All-Star break, his sense of humor remains intact.

“The one thing I still see today out on the field 15 years later is still the enthusiasm that Derek Jeter has to play baseball,” O’ Neill said.

Happy anniversary, Derek!

Sad goodbye to free-spirit Jose Lima

Baseball players and coaches bid a sad good-bye to former big-league pitcher Jose Lima, a renowned free-spirit beloved by his teammates and fans, with his every appearance on the mound dubbed "Lima Time."

Robinson Cano of the New York Yankees and David Ortiz of the Red Sox, who flew down and then back to Boston for a night game, attended the funeral in Queens. Like a lot of youngsters in the Dominican Republic, Cano loved watching Lima pitch and it was a fitting tribute to Lima that Cano hit a grand-slam homer on the day he said goodbye to one of his boyhood idols.

Lima ended his big-league career with the Mets. Jose Reyes had arranged for several buses to take Mets players and staffers to the funeral, but they were saddened that they could not personally pay their respects when the memorial was changed to Friday, showing how popular Lima remained despite not playing in the big leagues since 2006.

When I heard about Lima's death while attending the Sunday night game between the Yankees and Mets at Citi Field, I was both shocked and crushed. Not because I was a huge Lima fan personally, but because it just didn't seem fair. Lima was only 37 years, only three years older than I am right now. And he died of a heart attack. With heart disease by far being the #1 killer of American women today, it is a good reminder of the need to take great care of our hearts and bodies.

For the last time, it was "Lima Time" in New York yesterday, a way too-soon ending. Rest in peace, Jose.

Thanks to Malingering via Wikipedia for the photo.

Teix gives Hughes a big assist with glove

No matter how much he struggles offensively, Mark Teixeira can take comfort that he always contributes to New York Yankees victories with his glove, as he did last night.

The first baseman's defense was so awe-inspiring that he got a major shout-out from his starting pitcher Phil Hughes, who rebounded from a couple of rough starts to stifle the Cleveland Indians. Pitchers don't often publicly thank their fielders for their help, but Hughes recognized he got a major assist from Teix and rightly gave his first baseman a very public slap on the back.

Joe Girardi couldn't even pick out which play he found most impressive, but eventually settled on a fourth-inning grounder that took a weird bounce away from Teix, who somehow changed the direction of his glove and upper body to catch it. He made it look so easy and it was not an easy play.

Teix is starting to come alive on the offensive side too. He's hitting balls solidly and is getting some walks, which is a good sign that he's not just swinging at anything he sees. He looks like he's getting closer to putting his offensive struggles behind him.

Teix won his third Gold Glove last year and he's well on his way to winning his second with the Yankees. Hughes and the rest of his pitching staff will be rooting for him hard because they are getting the benefits of his outstanding defense.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Yankees plan for Hughes Rules seems wise

While it's not official yet, the preliminary plan the New York Yankees want to set in motion to protect Phil Hughes seems wise.

Determined to avoid a repeat of the infamous Joba Rules that completely messed up a dominant Joba Chamberlain last year, the Yankees have seemingly settled on a much different approach for Hughes. Instead of waiting until the end of the season to limit his innings, they will strategically use off days in June and a four-day All-Star break in July to give him extra days rest in between starts.

It sounds like a good plan. Hughes was on a roll to begin the season, but I think he could use a little extra rest now and time to work out whatever kinks have developed in his arsenal. And giving him the extra rest in the middle of the season rather than in August and September allows the Yankees to adjust the rules if they create problems for Hughes the way they did with Joba. Also, it gives Hughes plenty of time to get back to his normal routine ahead of the start of the baseball playoffs.

It sounds like the Yankees learned their lesson with Joba. Let’s see if they do better with the Hughes Rules. Hughes looks like a star and I'm really hoping they don't do anything to mess him up.

Mets family feuds set them on fire

So all the Mets needed to light a fire under their collective butts and start turning their season around was a couple of internal squabbles.

First, it started with Jerry Manuel versus John Maine when Manuel pulled his pitcher from a start out of concern that he was injured, leading his ungrateful pitcher to publicly criticize his manager, who was only trying to protect him. Of course, Manuel was proven right when Maine was placed on the disabled list. Will Maine publicly apologize to his manager? Doubt it.

Second, it was Francisco “KRod” Rodriguez fighting with his bullpen coach, who apparently was tired of his closer’s diva act. Coach Randy Niemann has since taken the blame for the incident, but it seems like the other players were on his side against their brilliant but annoying comrade.

Finally, we have a couple of the newer Mets players upset that former Met outfielder Darryl Strawberry was imploring them to develop thicker skins and put forth a better effort on the field. I guess it didn’t really matter that he happened to be right, but I can’t fault them for not wanting to hear it from Strawberry.

Is it a coincidence? Maybe. But maybe the Mets just needed to get motivated. Obviously Manuel's job being on the line didn't do enough for them. All it took was a little infighting to get the Metsies to take two of three from their cross-town rival New York Yankees and then sweep their National League East division rival Philadelphia Phillies, not allowing them to score a single run in three games. Talk about total domination.

If they had known that internal disputes paved the path to victory, the Mets would've started fighting each other a month ago.

Yankees reinforcements on the way

The New York Yankees have reinforcements on the way and not a moment too soon.

On a day when they suffered an ugly loss and missed an opportunity to sweep the Minnesota Twins, the Yankees confirmed that Curtis Granderson is expected to return to the Bronx Bombers tonight after a stay on the disabled list. It's welcome news for the team. Before Kevin Russo came up from the minors to impress with his solid at-bats and outfield play despite being primarily an infielder, Joe Girardi had to live with mediocre defense from Randy Winn and Marcus Thames in left field. If Brian Cashman is willing to own up to a mistake, he will release Winn and let Russo stay in the big leagues.

More importantly, it looks like Jorge Posada might be able to return from a fractured foot sooner than expected. When you hear broken foot, you think of a stay on the disabled list of several months, not weeks. But the Yankees catcher is in prime physical shape for a 38-year-old and seems determined to fulfill a pledge to return from his injury as soon as possible. Francisco Cervelli has done a wonderful job of replacing Posada, bringing enthusiasm, a hot bat and a comfortable catching style to the Yankees. But he has played virtually every day, unusual even for a 24-year-old catcher and will eventually need a break.

With the Yankees getting closer to having their Opening Day lineup back (don't count Nick Johnson because he will be out forever, not necessarily a bad thing since it leaves the designated hitter spot open), the offensive struggles will hopefully soon end.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Jeter starting to look like Jeter of old

Derek Jeter is starting to look like the Jeter of old, rather than an old Jeter. It's only a few games, but the New York Yankees Captain has some of the spring back in his step.

Joe Girardi noticed it. Asked about Jeter's home run to lead off the restart of the suspended game yesterday, Girardi made an interesting observation: that Jeter got back his legs. "When you see him drive the ball, that's a good sign," the manager said.

The home run was obviously the difference maker as the Yankees won the first game 1-0, setting them up for a nice mini-sweep when they took the second game 3-2. But I was more encouraged when he made a classic Jeter jump pass to end the sixth inning and help his pal Andy Pettitte get out of a jam. Girardi pointed out that Jeter also made several good plays to his left, which he's had trouble with recently, calling his shortstop’s overall performance "outstanding."

Jeter doesn't say much, but he seemed pleased with his effort in the first game, knowing how critical it was to get the Yankees back on track. He even said it felt like it was a huge game, a noteworthy comment considering it was only a May baseball game against the Minnesota Twins.
Does this mean Jeter is back? Not yet. It takes more than three games to reverse three weeks of bad hitting and karma. But he looks like he's on his way to being his old, clutch self again and that's great news for the Yankees.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Random Yankee thoughts

Proving that you can go home again, Chad Gaudin is reportedly ready to rejoin the New York Yankees. Gaudin was competing for the fifth starter spot that went to Phil Hughes, but was released in spring training. The fact that the Yankees are pursuing a deal with Gaudin could mean that Alfredo Aceves, who had a setback in his recovery this week, could be out for longer than expected.

* Should we start a collection for ARod? Alex Rodriguez was listed as the largest unsecured creditor in bankruptcy documents filed by the Texas Rangers. The team owes him $25 million in deferred payments under his old record-setting contract. Guess he'll have to make do with the $275 million he's getting from the Yankees over his 10-year deal.

* Yankees will pick up today's game with the Minnesota Twins right where they left off yesterday when the rains came. It was a good rule change by Major League Baseball, ensuring that a solid if somewhat uneven effort by AJ Burnett didn’t go to waste.

* I fully support the Yankees decision to ban iPads from the stadium. Nothing annoys me more than when people go to a baseball game and pay absolutely no attention to the game. If you’re not interested in baseball, stay home and save your money.

* Hideki Irabu was arrested for drunken driving in Los Angeles. Sadly, the Yankees are no strangers to DUI incidents. Team executive Mark Newman was arrested in March for drunken driving in Florida. Joba Chamberlain was arrested in 2008 in Nebraska. But the worst incident involves former catcher Jim Leyritz because a woman died when he crashed his car into hers. He just settled a wrongful death lawsuit, but still faces manslaughter charges. The Yankees need to think seriously about how they can address the alcohol abuse in their ranks.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Jeter deserving of 2010 All-Star start?

Derek Jeter has another substantial lead in the All-Star balloting this year, virtually assured of a starting spot on the 2010 team. It would be Jeter's 11th All-Star appearance and seventh start, a remarkable feat in this day and age. But has his play this year been All-Star worthy?

After a blazing start, Jeter has cooled off considerably at the plate. I wasn't worried about his May slump until last week, when the normally clutch Yankees captain failed with runners on base in several key situations and looked bad striking out. But he has also hit in extremely bad luck at times, with great defensive plays robbing him of several hits. He showed signs of life this weekend, especially with a 3 for 5 performance on Sunday night and a key hit right in the middle of the New York Yankees late rally attempt.

Watching him play in person on Saturday and Sunday, my main concern is his defense. After a superb defensive performance last year that earned him a well-deserved fourth Gold Glove, Jeter is having trouble going to his left on ground balls, missing a couple that he should have caught up to this weekend. Jeter has set the bar so high that we expect clutch hitting and great defensive plays, but we haven’t been getting them this month from him (or anyone else on the team for that matter).

Despite his struggles, I still want to see him starting the All-Star game. Baseball's All-Star week is a chance to celebrate the game's best players and there's no question that Jeter is in that category, even if he is having a bad month.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Lifeless Yankees blow Subway Series

This is one of those times when being right really sucks. On Friday, I wrote about how the New York Yankees would have to battle to take the Subway Series from the Mets. I was right, except the Yankees didn't make it much of a battle.

Phil Hughes and CC Sabathia did not live up to their end of the bargain in what should have been two amazing pitching duels. But Mike Pelfrey and Johan Santana certainly did and their bullpen gave them key outs when needed.

The Yankee offense mounted another too little, too late rally yesterday, which ended up with a thud when Alex Rodriguez struck out against Francisco "KRod" Rodriguez. ARod and Mark Teixeira left a small army on the bases. The Yankees could survive one of them in the midst of a major slump, but both of them struggling at the same time has become a huge obstacle to winning games.

Aside from paying more than $100 to watch them lose two games, the most frustrating part of the weekend is that the Yankees seemed lifeless. When they got down four runs last night, you felt like the game was over, even though there were seven innings of at bats left for the Yankees. The Bronx Bombers play in the “girls softball league” as my friend Scott, a die-hard Mets and National League fan, refers to the American League so offense shouldn’t be a problem. But it has become a major problem for the Yankees and there’s no solution in sight.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Oh Yankee offense, where art thou?

Soon Joe Girardi is going to have to send out a search party to find his missing offense.

The inability of the New York Yankees batters to get a hit, particularly with runners in scoring position, is mystifying. Yes, they have injuries, but they also have a healthy Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez in the middle of their lineup. Their futility with runners on base is apparent and frustration is starting to set in, especially with ARod last night. They have a presumably healthy Derek Jeter unable to get things going although if they kept track of hits stolen on awesome plays, Jeter would be #1 with a bullet, as shown when Ike Davis got him last night.

On a day when Phil Hughes struggled, but didn't let the game get out of hand, the Yankees offense disappeared on him. The offense has been inconsistent at best all season and downright futile at times. This is one of those stretches and it couldn't come at a worst time since the Yankee starters and the bullpen, particularly Mariano Rivera, are showing that they are human. Most of the time great pitching will win a ton of games, but every once in a while, an offense needs to step up to claim victory and the Yankees seem incapable of that right now. Very frustrating.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Vazquez steps up when Yankees need it

What pressure? Javier Vazquez showed New York Yankees fans what he can do, justifying his team’s faith in him with a brilliant performance against the cross-town rival Mets.

Going into this weekend, Friday night's game would have been the last one picked as the potential pitchers’ duel, but it turned out to be exactly that with Vazquez mowing down the Mets one by one and Hisanori Takahashi returning the favor. It was truly a fantastic game, one of the better ones I've seen in a long time. I just wish the Yankees could have gotten at least a sacrifice fly to knock one of those stranded runners in and give Vazquez some breathing room, not that he really needed it.

The main problem with last night was that Joe Girardi's interleague nightmare of one of his pitchers getting hurt came true. Although it doesn't appear that the injured finger Vazquez suffered will keep him out for an extended period, the Yankees manager said he would be frustrated for Vazquez if it caused him to miss a rotation turn when he is on such a good roll. Girardi must also be in agony at the thought of Phil Hughes, who hasn't hit since high school, stepping up to the plate tonight, even if it is just to bunt. I doubt the manager even got any sleep last night. This is why baseball needs to implement the designated hitter for interleague games in National League parks, including in the regular season.

But Vazquez the pitcher is the main story. This is his third straight strong outing and yes I'm including him getting Kevin Youkilis out the other night because that was a key part of the comeback victory. The guy people were afraid would wilt pitching against the Boston Red Sox proved oblivious to the pressure of the Subway Series and stepped up to give the Yankees exactly what they needed and end their mini-losing streak. After struggling in the first weeks of his second tour of duty with the Yanks, who would have thought Vazquez would be their most important pitcher this week? Well done, indeed.

Thanks to sillygwailo via Wikipedia for the photo.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Yanks will have to battle to beat Mets

After an embarrassing spanking at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays, the dysfunctional Mets could be the perfect tonic for the New York Yankees. But it won't be the walk in the park that people may think.

The Yanks seem to be catching the Mets at the right time. Rather than playing their cross-town rivals in the midst of the 9-1 home stand that had people talking about a resurgence in Queens, they are heading to Citi Field with the Mets players mad at their manager Jerry Manuel and maybe even each other.

In Manuel’s defense, he was right to protect his pitcher, even from himself, and John Maine was way out of line to publicly criticize his manager. It just adds more fuel to those clamoring for Manuel’ head, which is completely unfair because the Mets shoddy play isn’t his fault. He can only rely on 40% of his starting rotation for good outings, his big studs David Wright and Jose Reyes have not played well for most of the season and big free agent Jason Bay has been less than impressive. The Mets best player is Ike Davis, a kid they called up to the big leagues a month ago who is already batting cleanup. How could anyone win games consistently with a team like that?

There’s no question that the Yankees are a much better team than the Mets, mostly due to a superior starting rotation. But the Mets are throwing their two best guys this weekend. I will be at the games tomorrow and Sunday and am looking forward to great pitching duels between Phil Hughes and Mike Pelfrey on Saturday and CC Sabathia and Johan Santana in the finale. The Yanks don’t generally do well on national TV games, but I expect Hughes and Sabathia to step up this weekend. Back in the National League, Javier Vazquez has a solid chance to build on his last two promising outings. I’m hoping for a sweep, but it will be close.

Thanks to Wknight94 via Wikipedia for the photo.

Rays show the Yankees who's the boss

There is no delicate way to put it: the feisty Tampa Bay Rays outplayed the New York Yankees in every way possible this week, really showing them who is the boss of the American League East.

Yes, Yankees manager Joe Girardi is right when he says you can't make too much of two games. Yes, the Yankees were playing a healthy young team while they were completely banged up. But in truth, the Rays pitched better, got hits at the right times and made plays when they needed.

The Yankees starting pitching, which was carrying the team for the first six weeks of the season, experienced a collective slump this week. Bad timing? Definitely. The offense hasn't shown signs of life, except for too little, too late rallies in the last two games. And the bullpen struggles continue although Dave Robertson's fierce outing is promising.

The Rays, on the other hand, looked like world beaters. They spanked the Yanks early and often and slammed the door shut on the few rally attempts the Yanks could put together. I give them all the credit in the world although I can’t wait until mid-July when the Yankees are back at full strength. Hopefully, they’ll put forth a better effort.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Benevolent Boss still quite the presence

Even in retirement and declining health, New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner is quite the presence.

The Boss made an appearance at a dedication ceremony at the high school that will bear his name, a prestigious honor given to Tampa's favorite adopted son. Why? For all the bombastic comments and fireworks of the Steinbrenner era that were blasted across the newspapers, in private he was a benevolent figure. He used his vast fortune to support numerous community programs, including scholarships for children who lost their firefighter and police officer parents in the line of duty.

For all his bad acts in baseball and life, Steinbrenner is not a selfish person when it comes to his fortune. And his compassion knows no bounds. I just finished reading Darryl Strawberry’s biography Finding My Way. In one of the book’s most enlightening tidbits, Strawberry talked about how Steinbrenner stayed with the outfielder’s then-wife Charisse the entire four hours that Strawberry was in surgery for his cancerous colon, taking care of his wife as the Boss took care of all his employees’ families. Strawberry passionately talked about how Steinbrenner was the only person who believed in him, even when he lost faith in himself, throughout his battle with drugs and alcohol. I always knew that Steinbrenner had given him several chances to restart his baseball career, but I didn’t know what a truly personal interest he took in Strawberry and how supportive he was to his family during such a terrible crisis.

It's only now with the Boss obviously in poor health that we're hearing so much about these good works. It seems like Steinbrenner prefers in that way. His family has fiercely guarded his privacy, but it's obvious that the Boss will never be a truly anonymous figure, even if he isn't the firebrand he used to be.

Baseball's PED problem rears its ugly head again

Baseball's problems with the use of performance-enhancing drugs just won't go away.

Every time it appears that baseball has moved on from the PED controversy, it rears its ugly head again. Canadian doctor Tony Galea has officially been accused of providing illegal drugs to several athletes and lying to federal investigators, upgrading this situation from a mere annoyance for Major League Baseball to a legal dispute with potential ramifications for several high-profile players.

As usual, Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees was thrust right in the middle of the PED spotlight. Of course, he has some company as Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran of the Mets have both admitted to being treated by the doctor although they said they did not receive human growth hormone or other illegal drugs from Galea.

But ARod is the biggest name in this story and it's not clear what he would say if he was forced to testify about his interactions with Galea. He had little to say about the most recent developments, but this is just more proof that his steroids use will haunt ARod for the rest of his career, just like PED use in baseball will forever tarnish Bud Selig’s legacy.

Yanks in bad shape, literally and figuratively

This one really hurts. This is the injury the New York Yankees were hoping to avoid, the one that takes a core member off the team for a month.

We all remember what happened the last time Jorge Posada spent a lot of time on the disabled list in 2008, the first year since 1995 that the Yankees failed to make the playoffs. The Yankees are hoping to avoid that fate, but the task is getting tougher.

The Yankees could have easily survived losing Curtis Granderson for a few weeks and Nick Johnson for months had they not had a string of nagging injuries hit the other mainstays of their lineup. But the Posada injury is the potential backbreaker. Francisco Cervelli has played well, but he is a catcher and they are not supposed to play every day, no matter how young they are. And he will have to play every day, as the Yanks may fill Posada's spot with one of their promising, but not quite ready stud catching prospects.

The good news for the Yankees is that Granderson is getting closer to a return, although Johnson may be out forever. But the centerfielder won't be back in time to help the Yankees avoid falling five games behind the ultra-hot Tampa Bay Rays tonight and battle their cross-town rivals this weekend.

Despite the injury troubles of late, the Yankees still have the second-best record in baseball. But eventually injuries catch up to any team (see Mets) and Posada’s fractured foot could be the most painful of them all.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Ramirez should act more like his idol Jeter

If Hanley Ramirez really wants to be like his idol Derek Jeter, he has to hustle all the time.

We've never heard Jeter blame a bad play on an injury. In fact, Jeter could be injured right now, which would certainly explain his extended slump. But we'll never know because he refuses to even discuss injuries, let alone use them as an excuse. Neither should Ramirez.

It's hard to even imagine Jeter, as politically correct as he is, publicly criticizing anyone, let alone his manager, the way Ramirez did. The 26-year-old shortstop insulted Fredi Gonzalez in the most obnoxious way, especially when he talked about his manager never playing in the big leagues. Even more obnoxious was his initial refusal to apologize. But he now has seen the error of his ways, with the help and insight of a couple of Hall of Famers.

From a numbers perspective, there’s no doubt Ramirez is one of the game’s best shortstops, with a .316 career batting average, 103 homers, 313 ribbies and 164 stolen bases. But true greatness is not measured in mere numbers. It's about being a leader and setting the right example for your team by running down every ball and running out every grounder. It's about constantly giving your best, even when you're not feeling your best. Nobody in baseball does that better than Jeter.

Emulating his idol means playing the game the right way. No excuses.

Thanks to ScottRAnselmo via Wikipedia for the photo.

Real fight begins vs Tampa Bay Rays tonight

Now that the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox have ended another dramatic series, the real battle for baseball supremacy begins tonight against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Indeed, the most disappointing thing about last night's game is that the Yankees wasted a golden opportunity to be just two games behind the Rays, giving them a chance to tie for the American League East lead if they could sweep the short series. But it's early May and the Yankees and Rays will be fighting for the title for another four months.

Rays manager Joe Maddon loves what he sees from his club, namely his young pitchers who both compete with and support each other. "Their work ethic is unparalled," he said.

The Rays are a young, feisty bunch who have a collective chip on their shoulders after years of playing in the shadows of the Yankees and Red Sox. Now they have the chance to prove that they deserve to be on top. The battle begins tonight.

Thanks to imagesbyferg via Wikipedia.

Yankees bullpen a complete mess

The New York Yankees bullpen, including Mariano Rivera, is a complete mess right now.

It's gotten to the point that I cringe whenever a Yankee starter comes out of a game. On a night when CC Sabathia gave the Yankees everything they needed, pitching seven innings and only giving up one run even though he didn't have his best stuff, the two top guys in the bullpen couldn't preserve his victory. Yes both Mo and Joba were victimized by errors, but pitchers have to find ways to pick up their fielders. Three days in a row, a Yankee starter has left with a lead, only to see his bullpen cough it up.

I'm not going to worry much about Mo because of his resume, but I do wonder whether he is still suffering lingering effects from the injury that sidelined him for nearly two weeks. Joba Chamberlain is a bigger concern because of his inconsistency. Sometimes he comes out of the bullpen firing bullets and dominating hitters. Other times he can't find the plate and when he does, it’s right in the hitter’s wheelhouse and gets smacked. It’s bewildering.

It was easier to write off the bullpen struggles when it was just David Robertson or Chan Ho Park giving up a couple of runs. But Joba and Mo are supposed to be the bridge between the Yankee starters and victory. The bullpen struggles are putting a lot of pressure on the starting pitching, which has been superb so far, but is bound to have trouble at some point this season. The Yankee relievers need to get it together and fast.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Rough start won't ruffle Phil Hughes

The New York Yankees haven't been behind in a lot of games this year because their starting pitching, led by Phil Hughes, has been dominant. So on a night when Hughes just didn't have it, it was nice to see the Yankees offense bail him and the bullpen out for once.

Hughes was disappointed in his performance and his inability to hold two five-run leads, which he called embarrassing. While he enjoyed the come-from-behind victory, he said his start was “not fun.” He acknowledged his command and location were way off and led to him getting smacked around by the Red Sox. On the mound, he was obviously frustrated with himself for not being able to get guys out. But the walk-off victory helped ease the pain of his only bad performance of the year.

“You can kind of brush it aside when you end up winning the game,” Hughes said. “Obviously that’s number #1. You can brush it off and get them next time.

I’m not expecting any long-term damage. In the post-game interview, Hughes seemed determined not to let his rough start ruffle him, vowing to do better next time out against the Mets at Citi Field this weekend. I will be at that game and looking forward to Hughes reclaiming his dominance against the Yankees cross-town rivals.

Vazquez gives Yanks, himself a big lift

Javier Vazquez showed me something last night. He put aside his obvious disappointment at not starting against the Boston Red Sox to come into a tough spot in a tight game and needed only four pitches to get a critical out for the New York Yankees. The comeback magic would not have been possible if he wasn’t able to keep the Red Sox from scoring again.

“It’s a great feeling in the dugout,” he said of the comeback. “I was watching from afar last year all the pies in the face from AJ (Burnett) so I was glad to finally see one.”

The relief was evident on Javy’s face. He called baseball a funny game and say it was funny getting a win in only the third relief appearance of his career. He had a huge smile on his face because instead of answering questions about his struggles, he was fielding queries about making an important contribution to a big victory.

Manager Joe Girardi was extremely pleased by Javy’s outing. And his teammates, particularly Phil Hughes, who got the start in his place, were happy for him. “It was a big out right there and good for Javy to get the win,” Hughes said.

So a day that started with disappointment and frustration ended with pure joy for Vazquez. Between his start last week and getting the victory last night, Vazquez has a strong foundation to build on going forward, hopefully starting against the Mets on Friday.

Walk-off kids do it again vs Red Sox

There they were, the walk-off kids, aka the New York Yankees, snatching victory from what would have been a bitter defeat. And they celebrated the way they did all last year: with a pie in the face from AJ Burnett.

The walk-off wins started in earnest around this time last year, with three in a row against the Minnesota Twins. In place of Melky Cabrera, it was Marcus Thames, the Yankee farmhand who came home, getting pied by Burnett after hitting a shot you knew was gone from the crack of the bat. This was two batters after Alex Rodriguez, who led several of those come-from-behind victories last year, was right in the middle of this one, tying the game with a two-run homer off Jonathan Papelbon. Just like that, the Boston Red Sox were done.

I hope last night's victory finally puts to rest all the talk about whether Yankees-Red Sox has lost its juice. The reaction of the Yankee players, a joyous convergence on the mound led by ARod and Derek Jeter, told you all you need to know about how huge this victory was. A day after a shocking loss at the hands of their normally dominant closer Mariano Rivera, the Yanks took it to their archrivals, burying them deeper in the division.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Yanks work to put a good spin on Vazquez skip

New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi laid out all the reasons why the team will skip Javier Vazquez in the rotation tonight against the Boston Red Sox: they want CC Sabathia to pitch in a National League ballpark with no designated hitter, they want Andy Pettitte pitching against lefty-dominated lineups in his next two starts.

But the Yankees are really trying to put a good spin on the real reasons the righty won't get the ball tonight or tomorrow: Phil Hughes has surpassed Vazquez in the rotation to become the #4 starter, they want their best pitchers going in a big game against the Red Sox (which are always big despite the disparate records) and that they don't have a lot of confidence in Vazquez even as they work overtime to get him straightened out.

It's the right call for the Yankees to skip Vazquez against the BoSox. Ideally, it would make sense to send him out against a struggling team and hope that a good outing would boost his confidence. But Yankees-Red Sox at the stadium is intense pressure under the best circumstances and no one would say that Vazquez has overcome his struggles despite his solid effort last week.

In skipping Vazquez, Girardi is trying to protect him from what will be a very hostile crowd if he doesn't do well. Of course, Vazquez probably doesn't see it that way. He's going to have to figure out a way to manage his disappointment and focus on preparing to pitch well his next time out, whenever that comes.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Fierce Joba takes control of 8th inning

Last night's game between the New York Yankees and the Detroit Tigers had not yet turned into the laugher it would become when Joba Chamberlain took the mound to relieve Phil Hughes in the 8th inning. With only a 2-0 lead, Joba allowed one hit, but quickly ended the inning on a strikeout, pumping his fist and roaring as he walked off the mound. It was the second fierce performance from Joba this week after he hit 98 on the radar gun on Monday and struck out three batters.

Overall, he's pitching well with a 2.30 ERA (inflated by one shaky April performance). Joba filled in admirably during Mariano Rivera's absence, saving two games for the Yankees last week. By the way, it was great to see that the lengthy layoff had no impact whatsoever on Mo, who quickly dispatched the Tigers in the 9th.

Anyone who knows me knows I'm not a fan of Joba's histrionics on the mound, but seeing them again is a good sign for the Yankees. It means Joba is feeling supremely comfortable and has his confidence back. And with a confident Joba and a healthy Mo in the bullpen and the superior pitching of their starters, the Yankees will be tough to beat.

No surprise Carl Pavano hated in New York

It's no surprise that Carl Pavano was voted the most hated New York Yankees pitcher of the last 30 years in an unofficial poll by Daily News beat writer Mark Feinsand. The vote wasn't even close, with Pavano getting 89 votes, more than three times the runner-up, surly Kevin Brown.

There's no question there are pitchers on the list that were more unlikable (Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens) than Pavano. But Yankee fans resent the millions wasted on a guy who could never stay on the mound due to a series of perplexing injuries. It wasn't just about his performance. It was more that it seemed like he didn't care or didn't try hard enough to get back on the mound. That's probably unfair, but it was the perception during his Yankee years and continues to dog him to this day.

But time heals all wounds. That's proven by the fact that Ed Whitson, who recently talked about the death threats he endured while pitching for the Yankees, only got one vote for most hated pitcher. Perhaps Pavano has something to look forward to.

Thanks to TheTruthAbout and UCInternational via Wikipedia for the photo.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Hughes hurls gem to end Yankee slump

Phil Hughes put in another masterful performance tonight right when the New York Yankees really needed it.

Although they got a good game in the first half of the day-night doubleheader from Javier Vazquez, they still suffered their third consecutive loss in the matinee. But Hughes stepped up to put an end to the Yankees' mini-slump with seven innings of no-run ball, mixing and perfecting locating his fastball and curve.
The righty got into trouble in the fourth inning with the bases loaded, but got a strikeout and a pop up to get out of the jam. Hughes had impeccable control, striking out eight batters with only one walk. He managed to lower his ERA to 1.38 from 1.69, which was already second best in the powerful American League.

“He just made a lot of quality pitches,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I think we saw him grow up a lot last year and it’s carried over to this year.”

I'm starting to sound like a broken record here, but Hughes has been worthy of all the praise, pitching like a true ace and stopper. Hughes might be the person least impressed by his 5-0 start. “It’s too early for that right now,” the pitcher said. “I’m not really looking at what I’ve done so far. It’s all about how we finish. There are still a lot of games ahead of us and that’s the focus right now.”

But the way he's pitching, 20 victories isn't out of the question.

“This guy is developing into one of the top pitchers in the league," YES Network analyst Ken Singleton said.

No kidding!

Vazquez takes a strong step forward

Even though he lost today, Javier Vazquez took a step forward with a strong performance.

Yes, it's only one game, but we saw signs of why the New York Yankees think so highly of him. Vazquez gave up only two runs in seven innings, keeping the Yankees in the game and saving the bullpen in the first game of a split doubleheader. He looked pretty dominant at times, attacking the lineup rather than pitching tentatively as he had in previous starts. This should be a huge boost to his confidence because, by his own admission, he needed a good outing.

"I felt much better," Vazquez said when asked about his confidence.

Vazquez would have won the game today if the Yankees offense hadn't disappeared on him. "Javy pitched a good game," manager Joe Girardi said. "He gave us every opportunity to win. We just didn't score any runs."

Did the extra work on the side help him? "He sure looked good today," Girardi said. "I think it is a step forward. We'll try to build on this." Yes they will.

Strawberry should stay out of ARod-Braden feud

Darryl Strawberry is now the latest former New York Yankees player to weigh in on Alex Rodriguez's feud with Dallas Braden and it's not pretty. He really should have stayed out of it.

Ironically, I just picked up Strawberry's recent biography this weekend (I went in looking for Steinbrenner: the Last Lion in Baseball, but was a too early). I've only gotten through the first two chapters of Strawberry's book, but so far it's a compelling read. His history of childhood abuse at the hands of his father is something that I can unfortunately relate to and I'm eager to read the rest of the book.

But I don't want to hear him defending ARod. First, I'm sick and tired of these former players (yes, I mean you Reggie Jackson) extending this drama. After pitching his perfect game, Braden was entitled to have the last word on the matter (and he seems to be having fun with it, doing David Letterman's top 10 list this week). Yet, here comes the former Yankees and Mets outfielder sticking his nose into a fight he has no right to get involved in.

Second, to answer Strawberry's question about how they could dog someone who's going to the Baseball Hall of Fame: simple, ARod doesn't deserve to be in the Hall. I don't care how many home runs he eventually hits. ARod has damaged this game by using steroids. All those homers he hit in Texas while admittedly juiced shouldn't even count. Yet, Braden is the one catching most of the flak in this dispute and it's ridiculous.

Third, Strawberry himself has no business talking about supposed mistakes made by other people considering all the pain he caused his family and his teammates with his out-of-control drug and alcohol abuse. In fact, Strawberry has no business opining on the unwritten rules of the game since I’m pretty sure missing games and showing up late because you’re too hung over to play is one of them.

Fourth, for Strawberry to belittle Braden's perfect game is just despicable. It was only the 19th perfecto in Major League Baseball history so it was historic. Strawberry had plenty of chances to do something that magnificent in the big leagues, but blew them all.

Strawberry really should mind his business. Nobody wants to hear him defending ARod.
Thanks to slgckgc via Wikipedia for the photo.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Golden opportunity for Vazquez to start over

Javier Vazquez has a golden opportunity to win the affection of New York Yankees fans and put an end to the booing.

If he can use being skipped over in the rotation as a positive, motivating factor, Vazquez can really turn things around for himself in New York. All he has to do is pitch decently. Not great, just well enough to win, which is basically three runs in five or six innings. With the Yankees lineup, that should be enough.

Hopefully being skipped gave Vazquez and pitching coach Dave Eiland enough time to work out the kinks in his mechanics and in his mind. His first test comes tonight against the Detroit Tigers. A decent outing will go a long way toward restoring the pitcher’s confidence in his ability to get batters out.

If Vazquez can somehow string together a couple of adequate starts, including one against the cross-town rival Mets next week, he can win back some good will from the fans. If the Alex Rodriguez situation has taught us nothing else, it proves that success and victory in the most critical moments will ultimately lead to forgiveness from the vast majority of fans. Vazquez should keep that in mind.

Mets fan on the Supreme Court, say it ain't so!

As a woman, I’m beyond thrilled that President Barack Obama is making a real effort to have the Supreme Court more accurately reflect the gender diversity of the United States of America. Of course, even with three women on the bench we would still be short, but things are headed in the right direction.

But the most distressing characteristic of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan is that she is a New York Mets fan. Why anyone would appoint a fan of such a dysfunctional team to the court is beyond me. I'm not in favor of giving a lifetime appointment to anyone remotely associated with the Mets (and I think a lot of Mets fans would agree with me on that one). But I guess I will have to live with Kagan since New York Yankees fan Sonia Sotomayor got on the bench last year.

Personally, I do think we should stack the court with as many baseball fans as possible. With the potential for more labor unrest in the future, fans will need all the help we can get.

Thanks to Harvard Law Record via Wikipedia for the photo.

Gardner making the most of his chance

Brett Gardner finally got a real chance at a starting job with the New York Yankees and is making the most of it.

Even though his hitting streak was snapped at 11 games last night, the Yankees outfielder still knocked in a run. Gardner is hitting .333 with 13 walks, 14 stolen bases and 24 runs scored. He is constantly on base, which is a major reason why Derek Jeter has a chance to break his personal best-RBI total of 102, with 22 ribbies already this season. Plus, Gardner is hitting more than .300 against left-handed pitching, which will help keep him in the regular line-up whenever Curtis Granderson recovers from his injury.

Manager Joe Girardi couldn't be more pleased. He is a big Gardner fan, fully appreciating the havoc his young outfielder wreaks on the bases. Girardi is also thankful for how Gardner stepped up at the bottom of the lineup, constantly on base for Jeter to drive him in while the Yankees were waiting for sluggers Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez to get hot.

Gardner has surpassed all expectations so far this season, giving the Yankees a very powerful weapon against the competition and proving he can be a solid player in the big leagues.

Mark Teixeira bashing the ball again

Proving that his three homers on Saturday weren't just a Fenway Park fluke, Mark Teixeira hit another shot down the left field line to get the New York Yankees back in last night's game. Although the Yankees ultimately lost, seeing Teix bash the ball all over the park again is a very good sign for the Bronx Bombers.

It really is amazing how quickly Teix was able to turn things around after a lousy April. So far in May, he is batting .342 with four homers and 13 ribbies. His batting average and slugging percentage are both on a steep rise toward more Teix-like territory.

We will probably never fully understand his April struggles. As Teix himself said, if he knew why the first month of the season was such a constant challenge for him, he wouldn't have to have the same conversation over and over again. All he can do is be grateful that the Yankees performed so well without him in April and focus on contributing to many more victories going forward.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Johnny Damon thriving with Detroit Tigers

After a contentious divorce from the New York Yankees, Johnny Damon has found a home with the Detroit Tigers. He loves Motown and Motown loves him back.

Although his home run numbers are down after last season's power surge in the new Yankee Stadium, Damon is as usual scoring a lot of runs (24 already) and hitting .294 with 14 ribbies. More importantly, he has become a leader on that ballclub, as he was a leader with both the Boston Red Sox and the Bronx Bombers, the kind of leader the Tigers desperately needed. Think Detroit couldn't have used a guy like Damon in that one-game playoff against the Minnesota Twins last year?

As much as he is thriving in Motown, Damon still has a lot of affection for his former New York teammates and is looking forward to hosting them this week in his new home city. The feeling is mutual, with Yankees like Nick Swisher looking forward to seeing their ex-teammate, exchanging pleasantries and memories, and then beating him and his new team on the baseball field.

It is amazing to think about how Damon is thriving in his new environment, Hideki Matsui is as beloved in Los Angeles as he was in New York for his ability to come through in the clutch, but both Curtis Granderson and Nick Johnson, the young guns hired to replace them, are on the disabled list with their returns uncertain. So much for the youth movement.

Thanks to OneTwo1 via en.Wikipedia for the photo.

Don't panic over AJ Burnett's rough start

It's only one game. There's no reason to panic over AJ Burnett's rough start. He was bound to have a really bad game at some point this season. It's unfortunate it came in front of a national television audience at Fenway Park against the Boston Red Sox with the New York Yankees looking to sweep their archrivals. But it's not the end of the world.

Burnett has worked hard this season to shed his Mr. Erratic image and I don't think that effort gets derailed by one start. If he looks this bad in his next start back home, then you may start to worry. But right now, it's way too early to panic, considering how well he has pitched all season, starting out 4-0 and helping the Yankees survive injuries and an inconsistent offense.

The one thing you don't like about his performance is that the Yankees could have used some length from him last night, with Sergio Mitre on a strict pitch count in place of the ailing Andy Pettitte tonight and Javier Vazquez set to go Tuesday. It looked like AJ tried to battle through, but too many pitches found the middle of the plate.

AJ is only in the second year of his five-year deal to pitch for the Yankees so he will get plenty of opportunities to try to get back on track in Boston against the Red Sox. For now, all he has to focus on is his next start. And avoid newspapers, of course.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

ARod nemesis Braden perfect on Mother's Day

Picking a fight with Alex Rodriguez is apparently great for your career. Dallas Braden's willingness (and some would say foolishness) to stand up to ARod for his perceived lack of respect caught the attention of the baseball world. Now Braden is famous for all the right reasons, pitching a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays.

In tossing the 19th perfect game in Major League Baseball history, Braden was both jubilant and tearful. The fact that his moment of perfection came on Mother's Day must be bittersweet for Braden, who lost his mother to cancer as a teenager (something I can relate to, having lost my mother at a very young age). There was a wonderful moment on the field with a long hug for his grandmother, to whom he's obviously very close.
"He's lived baseball since he was five years old," his proud grandmother Peggy Lindsey said. "I wish his mom was here to enjoy it."

I was always amused by all the nonsense spun by media people and some of the New York Yankees themselves that Braden had no right to confront ARod about the unwritten rules of baseball because he only had 17 wins in his big-league career. He's just as much a big leaguer as ARod, who really has no business telling other players or anyone else for that matter how to behave. But now that Braden's achieved the ultimate victory, he has definitely earned the right to say whatever he wants.

It's a wonderful moment for Braden. Even ARod sent along his congratulations, as he should.

Thanks to Gimpy56 via en.Wikipedia for the photo.

Francisco Cervelli becoming a big-league star

Francisco Cervelli is showing that he is more than just Jorge Posada's back-up catcher. He's becoming a star right before our eyes.

For all the talk about calling Jesus Montero up to the big leagues, Cervelli has really been the most important replacement player for the limping New York Yankees. In Posada's absence, he has hit .429 with 12 ribbies. How many teams would love to have a primary catcher who hits like that, let alone a back-up catcher? Cervelli's no slouch on the bases either, beating out balls for hits and tripling earlier in the week, much to the amusement of Yankees Captain Derek Jeter.

Most importantly, Cervelli has made the Yankees starters so comfortable that they have continued their superb pitching throwing to him. They really feed off his energy. That’s critical because starting pitching has been the primary reason for the Yankees dominance so far this season, with the offense only really coming to life in the last two games against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.

The youngster has played so well that the Yankees haven't missed Posada as much as anyone would have thought. Of course, the Yankees need Posada to get better and back in their lineup. But Cervelli's great play has important implications. Joe Girardi can rest or DH Posada without missing a beat. That's important because Posada turns 39 in August and keeping him healthy will be an important priority for the Yankees manager.

Madden's Steinbrenner book will be a must-read

Bill Madden's book about George Steinbrenner called the Last Lion in Baseball will be a must-read. I can tell just from reading the excerpts featured in the New York Daily News this week.

As a younger fan, I missed most of Steinbrenner's most turbulent years as owner of the New York Yankees so I'm particularly curious about that part of his life. The excerpt teases quite well, giving the backstory of the incident that led to one of the most famous quotes in Yankees history: Billy Martin's line "One's a born liar, the other's convicted," speaking of Steinbrenner and Reggie Jackson.

Then, of course, is the Steinbrenner family's version of the end of Joe Torre's tenure as manager of the Yankees. We know Torre's side already through his book The Yankee Years with Tom Verducci. The News gave a glimpse of that last meeting in another excerpt today. Naturally, Madden's book seems to fall squarely on the side of the family, with Torre depicted as cold, arrogant and ungrateful.

Just like I read Torre's book cover to cover, I will soon read Madden's book for his insight on the Boss and his Yankee tenure and post a review after I finish reading it. Stay tuned.

CC delivers his message loud and clear

Despite superior pitching from his rotation counterparts, CC Sabathia stepped up yesterday and showed why he is the ace of the New York Yankees. Sick and tired of his hitters getting plunked by pitchers lacking control, he showed just how good his control was with a perfectly placed hit on Dustin Pedroia's booty.

Afterward, CC was directly asked if it was retribution for too many Yankees being hit by Boston Red Sox pitchers, but said it was a pitch that just got away. Of course, he has to say that or risk a suspension and fine from Major League Baseball. But we all know he hit Pedroia on purpose. A pitcher cannot let his best hitter and captain get plunked without consequences. And CC was probably the angriest guy on the Yankee bench when Robinson Cano and Derek Jeter got hit Friday.

As much as I hate to compliment our rivals, I must say that I thought Pedroia and the Red Sox handled it quite well. Pedroia simply ran to first base without looking at CC, there was no reaction from the bench and Victor Martinez quickly hit one of CC's next pitches over the Green Monster for a home run. So they got their revenge without letting it degenerate into a free-for-all. Of course, that payback was short-lived because they got smacked around on the field and lost the game.

For too many years in the Rivalry, Yankee hitters have been getting plunked with no retaliation because they didn't have pitchers willing to strike back. Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera would never hit a guy on purpose. Neither would Mike Mussina. But those days are gone. With one pitch, CC let Red Sox pitchers know a simple truth: hit my guys and I will hit yours. It's a message the Red Sox received loud and clear.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Phil Hughes confidence soaring to new heights

With the New York Yankees' anger over Josh Beckett's lack of control and Andy Pettitte's furor over being skipped a start, it would be easy to overlook Phil Hughes' latest fantastic performance at hostile Fenway Park against the Boston Red Sox. But I doubt anyone in baseball is making that mistake.

It's not just that Hughes is pitching so brilliantly, conquering what had previously been a difficult lineup and ballpark for him. It's that he's doing it with such confidence, like he knows he's going to win. Even Hughes admitted his confidence is at an all-time high, which YES Network analysts John Flaherty and Jack Curry pointed out is the ultimate positive sign for a young pitcher.

"I'm throwing the ball well," Hughes said. "I'm just trying to keep it going. There's a lot of season ahead of us."

Most importantly, his teammates are starting to feel like they will win every time he takes the mound. Captain Derek Jeter said his success as Mariano Rivera’s set-up man gave Hughes a lot of confidence that he has carried into his starting role.

“He’s been outstanding the entire year,” Jeter said. “He has a lot of confidence in his ability.”

I have to keep reminding myself that Hughes is only 23 years old. Because he's not pitching like a kid, he's pitching like a 10-year veteran. And it's a beautiful thing to see as a Yankees fan, not so much for the rest of baseball.

Girardi wise to rein in Andy Pettitte

Andy Pettitte is livid with his manager Joe Girardi and his pitching coach Dave Eiland. The ultra-competitive lefty wants to pitch next week against the Detroit Tigers, insisting his arm is fine despite pitching only five innings against the hapless Baltimore Orioles this week. But Girardi isn't buying it, taking the cautious route to guard against the possibility of Pettitte worsening the injury. It's a wise move, no matter what Pettitte says.

Pettitte cares nothing about what's in his best interest, which is normally one of his finest qualities. In missing even one start, he feels like he is letting his team down.

But Girardi and Eiland know that's not the case. They know that keeping Andy out of the rotation and getting him completely healthy is in the New York Yankees' best long-term interest. All they have to do is convince the veteran lefty of that. Or maybe they shouldn't even bother to try to convince him. As Eiland wisely pointed out, it would have been troubling if Pettitte wasn't angry about being kept out of the rotation, even for his own good.

This is one of those times when Girardi has to stick to his guns. Skipping Pettitte for a turn is what’s best for the team, even if the lefty doesn't agree.

Plenty of fireworks at Fenway Park

There's never a dull moment in the Rivalry between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, no matter how far apart these two teams are in the standings. That lopsided 10-3 score doesn’t do last night’s game at Fenway Park justice. It was like the Fourth of July out there, only with a lot of angry words replacing actual fireworks.

Josh Beckett dominated the Yankees first time through the lineup, but then bizarrely imploded in the middle innings, hitting Robinson Cano and Derek Jeter and almost hitting Nick Swisher and Francisco Cervelli. As mad as the Yankees were that Beckett hit Cano, the main cog in their lineup, the blood really started to boil when their Captain took one in the ribs. Even normally happy-go-lucky ace CC Sabathia jumped on the top step of the dugout to yell unmentionables in Beckett's direction.

While no one thought Beckett was gunning for Cervelli and Jeter with the bases loaded, the irate reaction by the Yankees shows how intense and pressurized the Rivalry can be for the players. For all the talk about how the Rivalry is really generated by the media for the fans, the Yankee players themselves showed a lot of animosity toward the Red Sox, well at least one in particular.

With CC going for the Yankees today, the Red Sox batters better stay loose because one of them is going down for sure. Expect more fireworks, unless Mother Nature intervenes.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Yankees vs Red Sox still packs plenty of heat

So what if the Boston Red Sox are just a game above .500 and five games behind the New York Yankees in the standings? I'm looking forward to this weekend and I'm sure many fans on both sides of the Rivalry are.

Let's not forget that the Yankees lost the first eight games of the regular season series to the Red Sox before winning nine of the last 10 to finish even in 2009. Of course, the Yanks never got a chance to best Boston in the playoffs en route to the World Series title. That could still happen this year.

But the Red Sox have a lot of problems. A much-discussed attempt to become a pitching-and-defense oriented team has so far fallen flat, a couple of their outfielders are spending time on the disabled list and Big Papi David Ortiz is experiencing a painful, although not unexpected, decline. Boston's issues make me feel a little bit better about the nagging injuries to three of the Yankees main cogs (Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada) as well as the mystifying slump of Alex Rodriguez.

So even though Tampa Bay is ahead of the Yankees in the American League East, it's hard to get as excited for a series against the Rays. There's too much history and heat between New York and Boston for the Rivalry to ever really simmer down.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Jeter not the only pride of Kalamazoo anymore

Derek Jeter won’t be the only Kalamazoo native to hang out with President Barack Obama this year.

Jeter’s alma mater Kalamazoo Central High School just beat out 1,000 high schools for the honor of having the president give their commencement speech on June 10. The school certainly has an impressive resume: more than 80% of the students graduate and those students are rewarded for their hard work with college tuition costs paid by anonymous donors. For a president who has made increasing high school graduation rates a key priority for his administration, Kalamazoo Central is the perfect school to shine a light on.

The New York Yankees Captain recently spent some time with the president when he hosted the baseball team at the White House in honor of its 2009 World Series victory. Jeter was specifically praised by the president for setting a good example and epitomizing the best of the Yankee tradition.

Derek and his sister Sharlee both attended Kalamazoo Central and Derek was inducted into its Hall of Fame in 2007. Jeter is extremely proud of his former school, sending out a statement through his Turn 2 Foundation congratulating all involved for their improbable victory. He is particularly thrilled that his Jeter’s Leaders in Kalamazoo will be there to hear the president speak.

Kalamazoo has another reason to be proud, aside from its most famous former resident. Well done indeed!

Andrews stands up for women vs Hasselbeck

There is a reason why Elisabeth Hasselbeck was in tears when apologizing to Erin Andrews for her disturbing remarks about Andrews' wardrobe on Dancing with the Stars. What she said was so hurtful, so damaging to all women, that even Hasselbeck, a television star because of her strong opinions, realized the pain she caused with her careless comments.

At least Hasselbeck had the good sense to quickly apologize. But I'm really distressed that a woman would even say such terrible things about another woman who suffered such a horrible violation. Rather than support Andrews, Hasselbeck chose to further humiliate her and even imply that she deserved what she got. It's a perception that victims of sexual predators have constantly had to battle and here is a woman justifying that kind of thinking.

I applaud Andrews for having the courage to perform on such a high-profile show after she was publicly humiliated through no fault of her own. It's part of her healing process and bravo to her for having the strength to do it. And I’m really glad that she pointed out how Hasselbeck's comments hurt not just her, but other victims of her stalker and all victims of such crimes.

The View is supposed to be a show about women for women. That something this destructive and damaging could be said by one of its female hosts is simply mind-boggling. Hopefully, Hasselbeck has learned her lesson and thinks long and hard before she goes after another woman. We already have enough battles and enemies to overcome without turning on each other.

Thanks to Aaron via Wikipedia for the photo.

Yankees lead baseball in overrated players

I opened my latest issue of ESPN the magazine to find out that my New York Yankees have some of the most overrated players in baseball, according to a poll of 100 big leaguers published in the magazine. In the most overrated category, Joba Chamberlain beat Alex Rodriguez 17% to 9%. I was a bit surprised that Joba came out on top, but not at all about controversy-magnet ARod, who deserves a lot of the criticism although I'm sure that jealously over his monster contract was a factor in the result.

The players have a point about Joba. He wasn't impressive in the rotation during the second half of last year (although Yankee officials share a lot of the blame for that). But he had a genuine opportunity to win a starting job in spring training and he blew it. Phil Hughes has showed why the Yankees think so highly of him and have great expectations for his future, displaying fantastic stuff and a maturity beyond his years en route to winning three games this season and becoming a major cog in the Yankees rotation. But maybe Joba will again become the dominant reliever we saw when he first came up. He's already proven himself in two save situations this week.

But the Yankees as a team fared pretty well, with 38% of the players saying the Yanks will repeat as World Series champs and one player quoted as saying they are unbeatable. The Bronx Bombers were also voted best franchise by a wide margin: 52% versus 16% for the archrival Boston Red Sox.

This poll shows that despite some genuine dislike for individual Yankees, the team as a whole, let by guys like Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter, command the respect of their fellow big leaguers.

Gamer Andy Pettitte needs a rest

Andy Pettitte is such a gamer that he tried to stay in yesterday's game, even though his arm didn't feel too good. Pettitte, who has pitched brilliantly en route to a 4-0 start, is famously tough on himself and was disappointed that he was unable to go further into the game. And he was right to be concerned, with the New York Yankees struggling bullpen almost coughing up his lead.

"I had to drag it out of him," manager Joe Girardi said of his veteran lefty. "He wanted to stay in the game."

A MRI later showed that Pettitte has inflammation in his elbow and will likely skip his next turn in the rotation. For the Yankees, the best case scenario is that the 37-year-old lefty just needs a little rest and will miss only one start. But Pettitte has a history of elbow problems so this is a major concern, especially since dazzling pitching by four of the Yankees starters is mostly responsible for their strong start to the season.

"He's not 25," Girardi said. "There are a lot of innings there."

Pettitte is tough and is always going to try to power through games even when he doesn't feel 100% or doesn't have his best stuff. Girardi will have to guard against Pettitte trying to will himself back into the rotation too soon.

BTW, I don't believe in the Sports Illustrated jinx, but if Derek Jeter comes up lame this weekend after the Core Four appeared on the cover last week, I'm canceling my subscription, just in case.