Wednesday, June 30, 2010

No need to panic over rough Hughes start

So what if Phil Hughes was rusty yesterday?

No starting pitcher likes his routine disrupted. And Hughes wasn't just pushed back a day, he was pushed back 10 days. So it wasn't surprising that he was off his game last night, giving up seven runs in 5 2/3 innings in what was easily his worst start of an otherwise fantastic season.

That doesn't mean the New York Yankees were wrong to skip his turn in the rotation. On the contrary, I think skipping a start here and there is a better plan than pulling him after three or four innings, like they did with Joba Chamberlain last year. And it's all for a good cause: protecting a future ace pitcher from getting hurt.

The only concern is whether the bad start will cause Hughes anxiety the next time the Yankees try to skip him for his own good. But it seems like Hughes is taking everything in stride, saying it is “nice to know that the organization has my interests in mind.”

"No, not at all," Hughes said when asked if the skipped start was an excuse for his rough start. "I just didn't throw well last night. The extra rest was great I thought. I came back stronger and felt really good. I just didn't get out there and really execute my game plan."

Hughes doesn’t seem to be panicking at all about his bad outing. Neither should we.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Shocker: Mo, Jeter will be Yankees next year

In what has to qualify as one of the least shocking statements in New York Yankees history, team president Randy Levine virtually guaranteed that Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter will be back with the Bronx Bombers next year.

"Obviously, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera are the Yankees, the both of them," he said to applause from the crowd at a TimesTalks event. "We don't negotiate obviously in public, but I would find it highly, highly unlikely if both of them were not back with the Yankees."

Not that letting either one of them go is an option for the Yankees. There will be an epic mutiny among Yankee fans if it even looks like the team is trying to shortchange these legendary Yankees. Mo seems willing to make it easier on the Yanks by going on a year-to-year contract like Andy Pettitte. But Jeter, the youngest of the Core Four, will likely want a multi-year deal at more than $20 million per and the Yanks will have to give it to him, no matter what he does this season.

But more importantly, the team is not ready for life without Mo or Jeter. Rivera once again proved how indispensable he is with his superior performance on the latest road trip, giving up only three hits and no runs in five innings to win two games and save another Yankees victory. Jeter has struggled at times this year, with a current .286 batting average that is well below his lifetime BA of .316. But he is still the anchor of that infield and the Yankees don't have anyone close to being ready to replace him.

Levine was talking about next year, but he could have easily said that the two of them will be Yankees for life because that’s inevitable.
"These guys understand the importance of legacy and being here," Brian Cashman said. "They know they've been treated fairly by this franchise. They've have more than treated us fairly and this fan base with great pleasure, great games."

Monday, June 28, 2010

Mariano Rivera shows Torre no mercy

A couple of days after professing his love and affection for Joe Torre, Mariano Rivera saddled his old manager with two painful losses, showing that not even Torre's Dodgers would be spared what other teams have suffered time and time again.

The legendary closer was at his very best this weekend, saving CC Sabathia's fantastic 2-1 win on Friday and earning a win himself with a two-inning stint to finish the New York Yankee’s improbable comeback on Sunday. Rivera faced 10 batters this weekend and struck out six, much to the dismay of the man who used to have a front-row seat for Rivera’s trip to baseball immortality. Undoubtedly, Torre was not at all surprised. But after watching Jonathan Broxton blow a four-run lead, he had to be a little jealous that he was no longer the one making the call to Mariano to close the game.

Rivera has now saved 17 of the Yankees wins this season, blowing only one game, with a ridiculously low 0.92 ERA. His performance has ratcheted up the talk that he will join Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes on the American League All-Start pitching staff, making it his 11th selection for the midsummer classic.

"You can't compare Mo to anybody else," Pettitte said, noting his closer's superior mentality and command. "Mariano's in a league of his own."

Once again, the Terminator showed no mercy, not even to an old friend.

ARod, Torre pretend to kiss and make up

Like a kid avoiding a trip to the dentist, Alex Rodriguez reluctantly made his way over to pretend to kiss and make up with Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre.

Come to think of it, ARod would probably rather sit through a root canal than interact with Torre at all. But he knew how the lack of contact or pleasantries with his former manager was playing in the tabloids so he reluctantly walked over when Torre was supervising batting practice on Sunday.

Torre and ARod said nice things about each other all weekend, with the manager even saying that he would have welcomed the third baseman to the Dodgers if he had fully explored free agency when opting out of his original 10-year deal in late 2007, which I find pretty hard to believe given Torre’s obvious frustration in managing him during his Yankees tenure.

But for the New York Yankees media staff, getting ARod to talk directly to Torre was probably like pulling teeth. It's obvious from ARod's post-chat comments that even this brief encounter was painful for him, calling it the mature and gentlemanly thing to do rather than saying all is forgiven. So the greeting was little more than a weak attempt to pretend to bury the hatchet.

The ARod/Torre stories will now fade since the Yankees left Los Angeles and likely won't see the Dodgers again this year. But it's clear that ARod is still pretty hurt by his Torre experience and no transparently fake reconciliation is going to change that.

Rise of the rookies propels Yanks

Robinson Cano's game-winning home run got major, well-deserved play in the New York tabloids this morning. But for me, the most impressive element of the New York Yankees improbable comeback last night was the contributions from two youngsters who have played a total of less than three weeks of baseball in the big leagues.

The 9th inning rally against Los Angeles Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton would have fallen short if not for tough at-bats from Chad Huffman and Colin Curtis. Either rookie could have been intimidated by the 300-pound righty, but they both rose to the occasion, with Huffman knocking in two of the four runs the Yankees scored that inning and Curtis fouling off pitch after pitch to drive in the tying run. Their contributions did not go unnoticed by the veteran Yankees, with everyone from starter Andy Pettitte to manager Joe Girardi specifically praising their feisty plate appearances.

On a day when the veterans, particularly Pettitte, had not distinguished themselves, playing uncharacteristically poor fundamental baseball, the rookies showed real guts. Huffman said he was not nervous at the plate, but did feel some butterflies. Afterward, Huffman and Curtis were both all smiles in the clubhouse, secure in the knowledge that no matter what they do in the rest of the careers, they played key roles in what will undoubtedly be a candidate for the best comeback victory of the year.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Girardi faces pressure to bench struggling AJ

After AJ Burnett's latest disastrous outing, Joe Girardi has started to feel pressure from the media to skip Burnett in the rotation. That pressure will only intensify.

Girardi resisted suggestions that the struggling Burnett should miss a turn in the rotation, even though he twice skipped over Javier Vazquez when he faltered earlier in the season. The move worked with Vazquez, who made a nice comeback after regaining his confidence through bullpen work, most notably getting a key out in relief against the Boston Red Sox. But Girardi doesn't seem eager to pursue that path with Burnett.

In truth, Burnett missing a turn isn't much of an option for Girardi. The New York Yankees are committed to protecting the young Phil Hughes and skipping him will be a bigger priority for them because Hughes is much more important to their long-term future. Additionally, two of Girardi's long men and potential fill-in starters, Alfredo Aceves and Sergio Mitre, are on the disabled list, so having someone else start in AJ's place would leave the Yankees short in the bullpen.

But mostly Girardi seems to genuinely believe that his staff and Burnett are close to figuring out the righty's problems and getting them straightened out. Girardi knows his players better than the rest of us and if he really thinks Burnett is close to getting back to being effective, than he probably is. Or it could just be that Girardi knows a demotion to the bullpen would cause more damage to the emotional pitcher than it's worth.

Regardless, Girardi seems determined to allow Burnett to stay in the rotation and work on his problems. The pressure to skip him will keep rising if Burnett's starts continue to turn into automatic Yankee losses. But extreme pressure is part of Girardi's job as manager of the Yankees and I expect him to stick to his guns.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Happy Birthday, Captain Jeter

Derek Jeter turned 36 years old today, something the two Joes, his current manager Girardi and his previous manager Torre, have a hard time believing.

Has it really been 15 years since Jeter burst on the scene as a skinny rookie taking over the shortstop job for the New York Yankees? It seems like yesterday when the young Jeter grabbed a hold of a position with a lot of turnover before he arrived in the Bronx and never looked back.

The years have gone by quickly, but the career is impressive: a .316 lifetime batting average, 2,830+ hits, 1,622 runs scored, 232 home runs and more than 1,100 ribbies. There have been times when Jeter has looked his age this year, slow on balls to his left with a BA well below his career number. But Girardi and Brian Cashman don't seem to be overly concerned, knowing that the day will come when Jeter will no longer be the Yankees shortstop, but content to have him continue to man the position now.

So what do you give the man who literally has everything? If you ask Jeter, he'll probably say he just wants a win. So do we.

Happy Birthday, Derek!

AJ reminds us ballplayers human too

As fans, it's sometimes easy for us to forget that the ballplayers we are watching are human too. Richer, but definitely human. AJ Burnett's personal tragedy reminded us of that this week.

Burnett, who will start today's game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, suffered a great personal loss with the death of his grandfather, with whom AJ apparently had a very close relationship. He raced home to Arkansas on the New York Yankees day off Thursday to be with his grandfather, who died right after Burnett returned to the team.

Could his grandfather's illness be part of why Burnett has struggled so badly? Possibly, but he seems to be dealing with mechanical issues with his delivery. But Burnett is an emotional guy and knowing that his grandfather was so close to death and not being sure if he would get a chance to say goodbye had to be weighing on him.

I didn’t know about his grandfather being so ill so I was frustrated watching him getting smacked all around the desert this week, as were the thousands of other Yankee fans who made the pilgrimage to Arizona. Joe Girardi understands our frustration, but is confident he can get his pitcher back on track. “We’ll get him straightened out,” Girardi said.

AJ is fortunate to have a manager like Girardi, who is a family man above all else. He understood his pitcher's internal conflict and urged him to go home, even when Burnett protested he didn't want to leave his team.

“I think it relieved him a little bit,” Girardi said. “When we’re losing a loved one and your fear is you’re not going to see him anymore, that’s difficult. I just felt a different presence about him.”

Here’s hoping that Girardi is right about his pitcher, that getting a chance to say goodbye to his grandfather gives AJ some comfort.

CC steps up with big win, protection

CC Sabathia has made it perfectly clear that he will not allow his hitters to be thrown at without retaliation. So it was not a surprise that headhunter Vincente Padilla took one to the leg an inning after he hit Robinson Cano and a year after he hit Mark Teixeira, nearly starting a riot at Yankee Stadium.

It's nice to finally have a starting pitcher who has the stomach to retaliate. It was incredibly frustrating to watch New York Yankees hitters getting plunked for years without consequences. But CC has put an end to all that nonsense, hitting Dustin Pedroia in Boston on a Saturday afternoon in May during a nationally televised game and Padilla last night. He has sent the rest of baseball a warning: hit my hitters at your own peril.

But most importantly, CC was amped up for what was a huge game. In a second straight dominant outing, he went eight innings, this time giving up only one run after shutting out the Mets last weekend. This is the CC Yankee fans know and love, the hefty lefty who steps up to throttle opposing lineups in important games.

Anyone who thinks interleague baseball is a downer really has to take a long look at this last Yankees road trip. The buzz in Arizona, where I spent three-plus days with at least 100 other Yankee fans in one hotel and thousands of others at the stadium, was tremendous. And that buzz followed the team to Los Angeles. CC obviously fed off of that energy, pitching one of his best games of the year and playing the role of guardian to the Yankees lineup to perfection.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Santana reminds Mets of bad-boy days

News surfaced this week that New York Mets ace Johan Santana was accused of rape last year. For a team that has cleaned up its image dramatically over the last decade, it's an ugly reminder of the legacy of the 1980s and 1990s teams when abuse of women was a defining characteristic.

Santana is not the first Mets ace to be accused of rape. In the spring of 1992, the team was rocked when Dwight Gooden, Vince Coleman and Daryl Boston were accused of sexually assaulting a woman at Gooden's home. The allegations were particularly scandalous not only because Gooden and Coleman were both married at the time, but the accuser was pitcher David Cone's then-girlfriend. Like in the Santana situation, the case was never pursued, but it left an imprint on the players and on the team forever.

I finished reading Darryl Strawberry's autobiography a few weeks ago and it was clear that the 1980s Mets relished their bad-boy persona, a key trait being the horrible treatment of women. For example, Strawberry openly admits to hitting his wives and having numerous affairs with other women, including fathering a child with another woman while married to his first wife. But he acknowledges he wasn't the only one engaged in this type of behavior, with other Mets players taking pride in sleeping with random women in each city they visited, ostensibly to play baseball, but in their minds to party hard.

Aside from Strawberry, Keith Hernandez was one of the bad guys on the old Mets teams. It's ironic now that Hernandez is in the broadcast booth and talking about how the accusation against Santana won't affect the Mets. That might have been true when he was playing for them because bad behavior was common among him and some of his teammates. But that's certainly not the case with the current Mets, who are choir boys compared to their predecessors.

The Santana situation is different in the sense that this is the only time that the renowned family man has been accused of a crime and mistreating his family. But for a team that has eagerly tried to shed its bad-boy image, it's an ugly reminder of a time not too long ago when this type of behavior was the norm.

Thanks to OlympianX, Andrew Klein via Wikipedia for the photo.

ARod's bitterness towards Torre runs deep

It is very clear that Alex Rodriguez is still extremely bitter and angry with Joe Torre. But this anger runs so deep, I wonder if it's just based on all the negative tidbits about ARod that surfaced in Torre's book, the Yankee Years, co-written by Tom Verducci. Or is it that ARod, who desperately needs love and approval, could never get it from Torre?

Granted, the book did not paint ARod in a flattering light. In fact, it outlined some rather disturbing images of ARod, including an unnatural obsession with New York Yankees Captain Derek Jeter. It also put ARod’s narcissistic, high-maintenance side on full display and described in vivid detail how damaging he was in the clubhouse, decimating what was left of the team-first mentality that the late 1990s Yankees were famous for. But it seems like there’s more to ARod’s feelings towards his former manager than that.

ARod was in a tough spot with Torre because of the manager's relationship with Jeter. Torre has admitted that Jeter is not only his favorite player, but practically a son to him, with the two of them still pretty close even though they are with teams 3,000 miles apart. Their mutual adoration and bond was and is unshakable. And because ARod came to the Yankees still locked in a bitter feud with his once-close friend, he was never going to win with Torre. No matter what the situation, Torre always took Derek's side, even defending him against an angry Brian Cashman, who thought that the Captain should defend ARod against booing Yankee fans, according to the book.

ARod had to be relieved when Torre left the Yankees and Joe Girardi was his new manager, allowing him a fresh start with a guy who wasn't completely devoted to the Captain. But it's clear that the Torre years still gnaw at ARod. Maybe he feels that he suffered needlessly because Torre, a master with the press, couldn't or wouldn't protect him for all the bad headlines. Or maybe he's just still angry at never getting a fair share of Torre's love.

Thanks to Googie man via Wikipedia for the photo.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Happy birthday, Phil. Enjoy your day off!

For his 24th birthday, Phil Hughes got a nice present from his manager Joe Girardi: a day off.

Actually, it's more like 10 days off, with the Hughes Rules taking effect. But the New York Yankees will start a determined quest to protect their ultra-talented young pitcher by skipping him in the rotation.

It had to be a tough call for Girardi and the Yankees, skipping the youngster who is having a phenomenal year at a time when the American League East race is still extremely tight despite the Yanks winning two games while the rest of their competition all lost. But Girardi is a long-term thinker and it's absolutely the right call. The worst that could happen is that Hughes could get fatigued or suffer an injury because he threw too many innings in June and July.

The only thing I worry about is the potential impact on the righty's psyche, especially after seeing what the Joba Rules did to Joba Chamberlain last year. But Hughes seems to be a more grounded, less emotional guy than Joba. And I think the Yankees have done a better job of preparing Hughes for what's coming. I will be eagerly awaiting his start against the Seattle Mariners this week, but I don't foresee a problem.

So it's a nice birthday present for Hughes, who also gets to be close to home this weekend with the Yankees playing Joe Torre's Dodgers in Los Angeles. Hope he enjoys his day off.

Happy birthday, Phil!

Mariano Rivera shows his team some tough love

Mariano Rivera saved his team again last night. But he wasn't particularly happy about it.

In a post-game interview, the New York Yankees legendary closer talked about being his usual confident, composed self in getting out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the 10th inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks with two weak popups and a strikeout. He also cracked a big smile when talking about his 10th inning at bat that amused his teammates and got them all on the top step of the dugout. But that smile quickly disappeared when Kim Jones asked him about the Yankees winning what was a very ugly game in which they squandered multiple free passes and ran the bases like a couple of Little Leaguers.

"We pulled this game, but we played horrible," Rivera said. "It's unacceptable, the way that we played. We can't be playing games like that. We're better than that. We're supposed to do what is right in baseball.”

Rivera has always been more comfortable being seen rather than heard so it was shocking to hear him call out his teammates for what was a terrible game. But he was absolutely right. I was at that game yesterday and was incredibly frustrated watching the Yanks run themselves into extra outs in what was a horrible, slow-paced game. I had to leave for the airport to catch my flight back to New York and only heard Mo’s relief appearance on the radio so I missed seeing in person what was obviously the highlight of the game.

But to me, Mariano’s words spoke even louder than his actions last night. Getting some tough love from their future Hall of Fame closer was exactly the kick in the ass the Yankees needed. Despite their first-place standing, the Yankees have been inconsistent all year, playing like reigning champions one day and getting their butts kicked by inferior teams the next game. After last night, it was clear that Mo was tired of it and sent a message to his teammates to get their act together. I'm sure the message was received loud and clear.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Cy Andy puts Yankees back on winning path

Despite the beating the New York Yankees took on Monday, I felt good walking into Chase Field for last night's game. Not only because I was in the company of my good friend and former colleague Dave, but because we had Andy Pettitte on the mound so I felt confident that the Yanks would win the game. And they did.

Pettitte pitched his typical great game, giving up only two runs over seven innings to keep the Diamondbacks lineup in check. With the exception of pitcher Dan Haren, who apparently hits everyone, none of the Dbacks could really get to Pettitte.

The lefty is now 9-2 with an astonishingly low 2.48 ERA, mostly against the American League. He's a lock for his third All-Star berth. But Pettitte is also solidifying an already strong case for an elusive Cy Young award. It's not just that he wins games. It's that he wins games when the Yankees need him to win games, such as after Monday's embarrassing loss on a night when the Rays, Red Sox and Blue Jays all lost, helping the Yanks put another game between themselves and their competition in what will be an extremely tight battle for the AL East division crown for the rest of the season.

If the Yankees do come out on top this season, it will be defined by three things: the emergence of Robinson Cano as one of baseball's elite players, the rise of Phil Hughes to the top echelon of starting pitchers and the wonder that is an aging, but anything but old Andy Pettitte.

Thanks to Alex Kim via Wikipedia for the photo.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

AJ doesn't make Dbacks pay for low blow

The Arizona Diamondbacks started last night's game against the New York Yankees by having Matt Williams, Mark Grace and Luis Gonzalez from their 2001 World Series championship team throw out the first pitch. It was a low-class move, especially since all the Yankee fans who came to support our team are keeping the hotels and restaurants in this town in business. I was hoping AJ Burnett would make them pay for it. But he couldn't do the job, getting smacked all around the ballpark.

Watching Burnett pitch has once again become the most frustrating part of being a Yankee fan, followed in a close second by the inconsistency of the Yankees offense. Every time the Dbacks made contact off Burnett, it was a long line drive, usually for a home run. Every time the Yankees were on the verge of a rally, the hitter at the plate would pop up, most notably a very frustrated Mark Teixeira. It amazes me that a pitcher as talented as Burnett can be so erratic, just as it amazes me that a lineup with the caliber of the Yankees can be so inconsistent.

Luckily for the Yankees, Andy Pettitte is on the mound today and I'm hoping he can restore order in the Yankee universe. Otherwise my flirtation with heat stroke will be for nothing.

Thanks to shortstopVM via Wikipedia for the photo.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Celebrities stay out! This means you Gaga!

Singer Lady Gaga caused another scandal this weekend when she entered the New York Yankees clubhouse and kept the baseball media from doing its job of reporting on the game the Yanks just lost. Hal Steinbrenner was reportedly furious about it and ordered her banned although Brian Cashman later said that was not the case. But I hope she is banned. It's the right call.

Personally, I think there should be a big sign on the door to the clubhouse warning all celebrities to stay out. But I would go one step further and say that until Lady Gaga decides to actually wear clothes rather than just underwear to a game, she should be banned not just from the clubhouse but from the stadium itself. Why should she, just because she's a celebrity, get away with something the rest of us would get arrested for?

I say this as someone who's a huge fan of her music, with two of her albums in my CD rack. I've always been a big fan and supporter of Gaga's eagerness to express herself, even if her outfits and antics don't always make sense to me. But she has gone too far. From her public middle finger at a Mets game, to showing up not being fully clothed at Yankee Stadium, her behavior in public arenas frequented by children is unacceptable and shows an appalling lack of respect.

These are the days when I miss the old George Steinbrenner, who would have been firing people left and right for letting her into the stadium dressed like that. But I think Hal has every right to ban her from the clubhouse. I just wish he would go one step further.

Thanks to via Wikipedia for the photo.

Melting in Arizona

I arrived in Arizona yesterday to support my New York Yankees as they play a three-game series against the Diamondbacks and I have to say that they better win this week.

I don't want to hear anymore nonsense about a dry heat. It was 104 degrees yesterday, rising to 106 degrees today and and forecast to be 112 degrees by the time I leave Phoenix on Wednesday. I'm freaking melting here.

But I thought it was important to come out and support my team here in Arizona. I'm hoping they can erase any bad karma left over from the 2001 World Series. AJ Burnett is on the mound today and after seeing CC pitch so brilliantly against the Mets, I'm hoping Mr. Erratic follows with a good game tonight. I'm also going to see Andy Pettitte pitch tomorrow and really looking forward to that one as it's the first time I'll see him live since Opening Day at Yankee Stadium.

Gotta go. It's only 85 degrees right now and apparently the best time to do some sightseeing.
Thanks to JBZA2003 via Wikipedia for the photo.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Hughes shows fire, humor in beating Mets

For Phil Hughes, the only remaining question about what he will be doing on July 13 is whether he gets to start the Baseball All-Star game in Anaheim in front of a welcoming crowd of friends and relatives from his hometown or pitch in relief. Either way, he's a lock to make the team after tying David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays for the American League lead in wins with 10 this year.

What was most impressive about yesterday's win for Hughes is that he has learned to pitch on guts and guile and to make adjustments mid-game when he doesn't have his best stuff, as was the case against the Mets. When he realized he didn't have his good fastball, he switched to his curve and settled in, giving up three runs in the early innings, but putting up zeros to end a solid, 7-inning start.

"He was outstanding in the bullpen last year and he's just carried that into the rotation," his manager Joe Girardi said. "We've seen him grow up a lot."

What I liked seeing yesterday was the fire and emotion from Hughes after he induced a ground-ball double play to get out of the 7th inning. It wasn't the exaggerated outburst that we see from Joba Chamberlain, but an enthusiastic yell and fist pump. But it was a great sign that Hughes has gained so much confidence that he still knows he can win even if he has trouble early in a game.

Afterwards, the young righty's sense of humor was on full display. When Kim Jones of the YES Network asked if he made any adjustments to Jose Reyes after giving up two homers to the Mets shortstop, Hughes said yes. "I didn't give him a fastball right down the middle," he said.

The fire and humor are great signs that Hughes is fully in control. It's an amazing show of maturity for a pitcher who will celebrate his 24th birthday this week. The New York Yankees are quite lucky that their future is here already. But for Hughes, the only thing he needs to worry about is what to pack for his trip home to play with baseball’s best.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Yankee offense abandons Andy, Javy

Watching last night's game live at Yankee Stadium, I really felt bad for Javier Vazquez, who was pitching a fantastic baseball game. But for the second straight day, the offense of the New York Yankees abandoned their starter, saddling them with undeserved losses.

First it was Andy Pettitte suffering only his second loss of the season after giving up two earned runs in seven innings against the Philadelphia Phillies. In giving up only one run to the cross-town rival Mets, Javier Vazquez pitched seven innings for the fourth consecutive start, but was tagged with the loss when his offense disappeared, baffled by Hisanori Takahashi.

The normally clutch Derek Jeter was the main culprit last night, twice coming to the plate with a runner in scoring position and failing to drive him in. Jeter's slump has reached epic proportions, with his batting average dropping 20 points in just 10 days. Brett Gardner had a feisty, spectacular at-bat against Francisco “KRod” Rodriguez to set up the bases loaded in the ninth, but Jeter struck out and Nick Swisher popped up.

The Yankees lineup did a little better today scoring five runs and answering back every time the Mets took the lead, with home runs from Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson. Phil Hughes struggled in the early innings, giving up a pair of home runs to Jose Reyes. But the young righty had an impressive recovery and finished up strong, throwing only eight to 10 pitches in the latter innings to quickly dispatch the Metsies. Joba Chamberlain had a nice bounce-back performance and Mariano Rivera was his typical, dominant self in finishing off the Mets.

Today was a good day all around for the Yanks, ending a three-day skid. But let’s see if the offense has really shaken its collective slump. Tomorrow the two aces take the mound, but in light of recent history, I wouldn’t expect a pitchers’ duel.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Joba and Mr. Hyde

What is with Joba Chamberlain's Jekyll and Hyde routine? Either he's lights out or a total bust.

We never know which Joba will come running out of the bullpen in the late innings for the New York Yankees. Before last night, he actually had been pitching fairly well, giving up only one run in June, with a few too many hits, but keeping most runners from scoring.
But against the Philadelphia Phillies, he reverted back to the struggling reliever he was in May, giving up three runs without getting a batter out. Maybe Joba really has turned a corner, but last night’s outing looked too much like his disastrous pitching performances in the first two months of the season to chalk it up to being a fluke.

It’s hard to say why Joba is struggling, particularly because he wasn’t talking last night. It was left to his manager to explain his set-up guy’s bad outing and Joe Girardi didn’t have a good answer. Chamberlain’s next trip to the mound, whenever it comes, will be telling.

For Joba, there's no in between. He's either really, really good or just awful.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Mr. Erratic aka AJ Burnett is back

Just when you thought AJ Burnett had finally shed his Mr. Erratic image, his tendencies toward wildness and inconsistency have returned.

Burnett pitched beautifully for the New York Yankees the first month of the season, compiling a 4-0 record with a miniscule 1.99 ERA. Even when he had a rough outing in mid-May against the Tampa Bay Rays, it didn't raise a lot of red flags because the Rays are a tough team. But his ERA has ballooned in the last six weeks to 4.33, rising along with his walk/hit by pitch total, and he couldn't get out of the fourth inning yesterday against a Philadelphia Phillies offense that struggled mightily coming into this series.

Now AJ has a 6-5 record, which to be honest is more reflective of his career than his early-season dominance. For me, Burnett has always been the most frustrating pitcher to watch (even more so than Javier Vazquez at the peak of his problems) because Burnett has the stuff to dominate hitters again and again. I thought he finally turned the corner this year, but clearly that's not the case. With Burnett only in the second year of a five-year deal, it seems his erratic pitching is something Yankee fans are going to have to learn to live with.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Battle of the aces a real flop

Boy was that disappointing. Last night's game was supposed to be a marquee matchup, a battle of the aces of the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies. But after a promising start in the first inning by both pitchers, it turned out to be a real flop.

The only consolation was that the Yankees won the game 8-3 after spanking Mr. Perfect Roy Halladay for six runs. Halladay, normally a nightmare for Yankee hitters, just didn't have it yesterday. Before you could blink, he had given up two runs in the second inning with a single, walk and a triple to light-hitting speedster Brett Gardner. Next inning, Halladay started giving up the bombs, with Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira hitting the first three left-handed homers Doc has allowed all season.

His opponent CC Sabathia was fine, but it was hardly a high-quality performance. Although he went seven innings, he gave up three runs and was constantly in danger of imploding in the middle innings when the game was tight. I switched channels to catch President Obama's speech about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and returned to find that Sabathia had given up three runs and had runners in scoring position after his lineup staked him to a 5-0 lead against the normally-dominant Halladay. Sabathia also made what could have been a costly mental error in failing to cover first on a potential double-play ground ball. But in the end, he held the Phillies to just those three runs, more than enough for the Yanks to win the first game of the rematch of World Series participants.

So last night’s game, which should have been a memorable duel, ended up to be a real bust, except for the Yankees victory. Who knows, maybe we’ll get the pitching duel from AJ Burnett and 47-year-old Jamie Moyer tonight. Unlikely, of course, but stranger things have happened in baseball.

Thanks to furnstein via Wikipedia for the photo.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Can CC Sabathia reclaim his ace mantle?

The success of the first-place New York Yankees this year has masked a perplexing problem: the struggles of supposed ace CC Sabathia.

Bad mechanics continue to plague the hefty lefty. Sabathia's numbers are decent, but hardly ace-worthy: a 6-3 record with a 4.01 ERA, 69 strikeouts compared to 27 walks and a 1.22 WHIP. But four of those wins came against the hapless Orioles so his numbers are somewhat inflated by the weaker competition.

CC has a chance to turn it around starting tonight in what should be a marquee matchup between Sabathia and Mr. Perfect Roy "Doc" Halladay. But these star battles can often be disappointing. Remember, CC went against Johan Santana in a purported battle of the aces at Citi Field a few weeks ago and was promptly spanked by the New York Mets lineup.

Sabathia's pitching troubles have not been a major issue for the Yankees because of fantastic pitching from Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes, while the fall and subsequent rise of Javier Vazquez has consumed the New York media. But CC will start feeling the heat soon if he doesn't turn things around.

I wouldn't count out the big guy just yet. He's shown flashes of breaking out of his pitching slump and when he finally gets on a roll, he will dominate team after team. He can reclaim his ace mantle very quickly, hopefully starting tonight against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Hughes can handle the Hughes Rules

David Cone said something incredibly insightful about Phil Hughes yesterday on Mike Francesa's talk show. Cone said that the young right hander is evolving and showing the ability to adapt to all situations. This will be an important trait for him over the next few months, with the coming of the Hughes Rules.

Designed to protect the young pitcher from blowing out his arm, the rules are well-intended by the New York Yankees. But as shown with Joba Chamberlain last year, it's easy to mess them up and disrupt a young pitcher's development. While not coming out and criticizing the Joba Rules, his interview yesterday with Francesa was quite telling. "It's nice not to have any rules," Chamberlain said.

But Joba has high praise for Hughes, who Joba said has handled everything that's happened in the last two seasons perfectly.

"He could have folded when they put him in the bullpen," Chamberlain said. "He did a tremendous job and that speaks a lot about him as an individual. Not only as a baseball player. That speaks for itself. But for an individual to do one thing his whole career and ... to go to the bullpen and embrace the role. I think the things he did last year carried over. He doesn't give in and he always has a plan and he knows what he's going to do."

Cone and Chamberlain believe Hughes can handle anything that comes his way. I agree. Hughes has shown a maturity uncommon in young players, something he learned under the tutelage of the great Mariano Rivera last year. But he has taken it to a new level this year and that has contributed to his tremendous success, unlikely to be derailed by the Hughes Rules.

Andy Pettitte finds the fountain of youth

Andy Pettitte turns 38 today, but you would never know it from the way he's pitching for the New York Yankees.

Pettitte is having the season of a lifetime: 8-1 record, a mind-boggling 2.46 ERA in the American League with 55 strikeouts versus 22 walks and a 1.10 WHIP. He has become the godfather of the Yankees rotation, as CC Sabathia calls him, and the true ace this year, despite Sabathia's bigger paycheck. In a so far successful, but uneven season for the Yankees, he has been a steady, reliable hand when the team needs him the most.

Look at the career Pettitte has already had: two-time All-Star, 2001 American League Championship Series Most Valuable Player and 5-time World Series champion, with the most playoff victories in history (18) and a major rep as a big-game pitcher with 6 postseason-clinching victories. And Pettitte may be closing in on the most prestigious individual award a pitcher can win: a Cy Young. It would be the perfect way to close out a career, except Pettitte looks far from done after finding the fountain of youth.

Happy Birthday, Andy!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Time to push hard for Swisher on All-Star team

Nick Swisher is having an All-Star caliber year. It's time for New York Yankees fans to make a big push for the happiest player in pinstripes by logging on to their computers to vote him to his first All-Star team.

Swisher is currently fifth with more than 808,000 votes, about 290,000 shy of third-place outfielder Nelson Cruz. That is a substantial, but not insurmountable lead, not with 17 days of voting left in the online balloting.

The Yankee right fielder's stats don't nearly do his year justice, but they are All-Star worthy: .299 batting average, 10 home runs, 40 ribbies and 40 runs scored. And his defense has been fantastic, which Swisher told Mike Francesa he has taken more pride in. Swisher made it clear that he would love to be an All-Star, but noted that no one is really worried about individual honors on this team.

Even without Swisher, the Yankees will be well represented in Anaheim this year, with shortstop Derek Jeter and superstar second baseman Robinson Cano virtually guaranteed to be the starting double-play combo. Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes will likely be rewarded for their impressive first halves with roster spots, with one of them possibly even starting the game.

But Swisher is as deserving as any of them and I'd love to see Yankee fans give him a burst of support. I'm not normally a big advocate or participant in these contests. But I fully intend to support Swisher by voting for him 25 times online. I hope all Yankee fans will do the same and send the fun-loving Yankee to his first All-Star game.

Huffman & kin remind us why baseball's great

Every once in a while, I'm reminded of what's truly great about baseball. One of those times happened yesterday when Chad Huffman stepped to the plate for his first big-league at-bat.

The 25-year-old Huffman, called up to take the spot of the injured Marcus Thames, legged out a slow groundball for his first big-league hit, hopefully the first of many. Aside from the happy grin the kid had on his face, the best thing was the jubilant reaction of his family, including his parents Debbie and Royce. I can't imagine what they must have been feeling, watching their kid playing in the big leagues for the New York Yankees. It must have been the most amazing feeling.

As a Yankees fan, it's easy to get caught up in wanting our team to dominate the sport. But yesterday, Huffman and his family reminded us what is really wonderful about baseball.

Posada can help Yanks with quiet move to DH

The controversy surrounding Jorge Posada's future as a catcher for the New York Yankees is really heating up. The feisty Posada can do something great to help his team by quietly accepting a transition to a designated hitter role. But I don't think that’s going to happen.

He still has one of the strongest bats by any catcher not named Joe Mauer in baseball, as shown by his two Grand Slams this weekend. But his body is fragile, as proven when he came out of yesterday's game due to soreness in his foot. It's not related to the injury that put him on the shelf for a few weeks, but it's a cause for concern in a 38-year-old player who has spent more than a decade behind the plate in the big leagues.

Posada showed a little testiness in answering the questions this weekend. He clearly does not relish the DH role. In fact, he hates it. Posada is a proud guy and he is proud of his accomplishments as a catcher, as he should be. But he can help the Yankees by not letting this become a distraction for a team that just regained partial control of first place with the Tampa Bay Rays. If he doesn't quietly accept the move, it will continue to generate story after story about his role on the team and his relationship with Joe Girardi.

“He can really help us,” Girardi said of Posada becoming a part-time DH.

Yes, he can. Part of being a good leader is doing what's best for your team, even if it goes against all your instincts. Posada is still hungry to catch, but objectively he has to come to the realization that his best catching days are behind him. If he can do that, if he can calmly agree to be a part-time DH, that would truly be in the best interest of his team.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Yankees can't shake injury bug

One player comes back, another goes down. That's been the theme for the New York Yankees over the last month and half. They just can't shake the injury bug.

While Jorge Posada is set to catch for the first time in nearly a month, Alex Rodriguez is out until at least Tuesday with a bad hip/groin. Posada has been working furiously to get back behind the plate, but it's well past time to start transitioning him to a designated hitter role, even if he hates it. But on the days Posada does catch, ARod may have to be the DH to prevent further stress on his 35-year-old body.

But it's not just the older guys who are getting hurt. Speedster Brett Gardner was sidelined with a thumb injury Tuesday. Although he went into yesterday's game when Marcus Thames strained his hamstring, Gardner is nowhere near 100%, with the thumb heavily wrapped and obviously hindering his swing.

Will the Yankees ever get completely healthy? Probably not, especially with the high average age of this team. But if they can stay healthy enough to remain competitive with those young studs in Tampa Bay, they can beat them with their experience and superior lineup.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Superior Pettitte hits another Yankee milestone

While I wouldn't vote for him, Andy Pettitte is making a solid case for inclusion in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Pettitte achieved another milestone with last night's victory, becoming only the third pitcher to win 200 games with the New York Yankees, behind Whitey Ford and Red Ruffing, two Hall of Famers.

Pettitte got a hug and the game ball from Mariano Rivera and a congratulatory phone call from another Yankee legend, Ron "Gator" Guidry. He seemed thrilled and proud of the honor as he should be. "It's special," Pettitte said. "There are not a lot of guys that have won that many games as a Yankee so I'm real happy."

It is truly astonishing that Pettitte is off to the best start of his career just a few days shy of his 38th birthday, tying budding superstar Phil Hughes for tops in the Yankees' rotation with eight wins. This year, he's proving an old dog knows many tricks, beating hitters more with his guile than his stuff, even if the stuff is still pretty good.

“I’ve just been feeling real comfortable with my mechanics, with all of my pitches, throwing them at any time,” Pettitte said. “I feel like mentally I’m in a real good place.”

He sure is. One of these days Pettitte is going to follow through on his annual threats to retire. But it's hard to imagine that day coming after the year he's had. I thought Pettitte would retire after winning his fifth title last year, but he wasn't ready to go, knowing that he still had more life in that left arm. Given his superior pitching, I find it hard to believe he's going to want to retire this year.

Injured ARod angers the Yankees again

Alex Rodriguez just keeps pissing off his bosses.

Instead of telling Joe Girardi that his groin injury was acting up again before Thursday’s game, he tried to take the field, but had to come out after one inning, leaving Ramiro Pena to bat in the coveted cleanup spot ahead of Robinson Cano. It was unwise for ARod to not immediately inform his manager of the stiffness he felt, but it's understandable that a professional athlete would try to ignore the injury or play through it.

But this is not the first time that ARod's decisions about his injuries angered the New York Yankees hierarchy. They were already annoyed about finding out that ARod decided to get treatment for his hip problem from controversial Canadian doctor Tony Galea, apparently without the team's permission, dragging them back into the steroids controversy.

But I don't feel sorry for the Yankees on this one. It was the Steinbrenners' decision to re-sign him to a 10-year megadeal for much more than they had to pay him. Granted, they didn't know about ARod's steroids use (or perhaps they had suspicions, but no proof). But there were plenty of warning signs that re-signing ARod could be problematic.

They knew about his reputation for not being a clutch player, particularly in the playoffs. They knew about his contentious relationship with the New York fans and Derek Jeter (which according to Joe Torre's book, the Yankee Years, they blamed the captain for more than ARod). They knew about his diva attitude, shown to the baseball world when he opted out of his contract in the middle of the World Series. ARod gave them an out when he did that, but instead of moving on, they bent over backwards to give him a contract with all sorts of incentives that no other Yankee has ever had.

This latest incident is the type of drama they are fated to live with as ARod plays out the rest of his days in a Yankee uniform. The Yankees can be as furious as they want, but they have no one to blame but themselves.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Yankees don't need Cliff Lee right now

Cliff Lee is a true ace and if the New York Yankees can get him at the right price before baseball’s trade deadline, more power to them. But they don't need him right now.

The rumors about Lee are getting louder and louder these days, with the Seattle Mariners falling out of the American League West race and the Tampa Bay Rays stubbornly holding on to first place in the AL East. But unlike previous years, the Yankees are not in desperate need of starting pitching. They are only two games out of first place, even with the rash of injuries that haunted them in May. Their starting pitching staff, except for CC Sabathia, is pitching pretty well these days and the big guy will probably turn it around any day now. The Bronx Bombers are still having trouble scoring runs, but Lee can't help them there.

Lee will be the biggest free-agent pitching prize in baseball this offseason and the Yankees could pursue him then, especially if Andy Pettitte follows through on his annual threats to retire. Sabathia is a former teammate of Lee and loves the guy so he could help try to recruit him in the offseason.

That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Yankees land Lee this summer. They have the resources to sign him to a long-term extension and should always be in the conversation. But now that Curtis Granderson and Javier Vazquez are playing much better, there is no pressure on Brian Cashman to make up for offseason moves that looked like they would be real duds.

Going after Lee right now seems like overkill. But let’s check back in the offseason.

Thanks to aturkus via Wikipedia for the photo.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

ARod's home run chase means nothing

Mike Lupica wants to know how New York Yankee fans will really feel when Alex Rodriguez enters the 600 home-run club sometime in the next couple of months. I can't speak for other Yankee fans, but my answer is simple: I don't care.

I will not be happy for ARod the way I was for Derek Jeter when he broke Lou Gehrig's all-time Yankees hits record. That pursuit was a legitimate, completely drug-free, admirable effort. In contrast, ARod's admitted steroids use has so tainted his numbers as to make them meaningless. If it were up to me, all 156 home runs he hit while with the Texas Rangers would be removed from his record. And that’s only for the time he got busted and admitted cheating. ARod has no credibility on this issue, given that he flatly denied using performance-enhancing drugs right up to the day he got caught. Just because he said he only used steroids in Texas doesn't make it true.

I'm glad Lupica has raised this issue publicly again, even if I disagree with his contention that fans don't care about ARod’s steroids use anymore and have forgiven him. That may be true for many fans, but I think there are some people like me who haven't forgotten about ARod's misdeeds just because he helped the Yankees win a World Series. And this isn't just because I'm not a big ARod fan personally. I haven't forgotten about Andy Pettitte's PED use either. If I were a baseball writer deciding who should be in the Hall of Fame, neither ARod nor Pettitte, who has made himself a borderline candidate, would get my vote.

Speaking on the subject, I really wish the YES Network would stop putting up that box pointing out the players ARod is passing on the home-run list. Great men like Henry Aaron and Willie Mays deserve to be on that list. The guys who cheated like ARod and Mark McGwire do not.

So to answer Lupica's question: No, when ARod hits that 600th home run, if he eventually passes Barry Bonds for first place on the home-run list, I won't care. It means absolutely nothing.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Can the Yankees get lucky in the draft?

The only downside of winning the 2009 World Series is that the New York Yankees have to wait for a lot of teams to select players in the amateur baseball draft before they get a chance. But that doesn't mean the Yankees can't get lucky.

The Yankees got Joba Chamberlain with a low first-round draft pick in 2006 and Chamberlain is far from a bust, even if he was voted the most overrated player in baseball in a secret poll of major league players by ESPN magazine. The Yankees got Phil Hughes with the 23rd pick of the 2004 draft and he is turning into one of the best pitchers in the American League right before our eyes and will no doubt be the future ace of the pitching staff.

The draft is such a crapshoot; it's easy to miss out on a potential superstar. Consider the New York Times story outlining the five players selected in the 1992 draft ahead of Derek Jeter. Can you imagine five teams passing on the opportunity to sign Jeter? It's easy to see why when you look at old photos of Jeter, who was all skin and bones when the Yankees signed him a week after his 18th birthday. But still, given all the attention he was getting for his superior baseball skills, you would think one of those organizations would have selected him. Lucky for the Yankees and their fans, they all passed and he got picked by the team he worshipped, forever changing the course of its history.

The Yankees have made it clear they are going for the best player available when the time for the #32 pick comes. I can’t wait to see who gets the call from the Bronx Bombers.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Vazquez saves Yankees weekend in Toronto

Thank goodness the New York Yankees have Javier Vazquez. Yes, I really said that. If it wasn't for his strong outing today, the Yanks might have left Toronto with their tails between their legs after another bad run-in with a division foe.

After AJ Burnett's shaky outing on Friday and a wasted, solid effort from Andy Pettitte, the Yankees really needed a good outing from Vazquez. And they got it. He held the Toronto Blue Jays down long enough for the Yankees offense to strike back, with the help of some painful hit by pitches by Toronto pitchers and clutch hitting from Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano. They managed to escape Toronto with a win when they were just two innings shy of an embarrassing sweep.

The Yankees now head down to Baltimore where they can try to regain their mojo by beating down the hapless Orioles. But the lack of offense this weekend was a wake-up call. It was long assumed that once the Yankees lineup was close to full strength after the numerous injuries, that the struggle to score runs would end. But that has not been the case with Mark Teixeira still caught in his funk and Alex Rodriguez having trouble with runners on base.

Considering the way the weekend was heading, one out of three ain't bad. Thanks, Javy!

Thanks to sillygwailo via Wikipedia for the photo.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Cano strengthening early MVP bid

Is there any question that Robinson Cano is having an MVP-caliber year?

What was already a strong case for the American League’s Most Valuable Player award has gotten even stronger in recent weeks. He is hitting .465 over his current 17-game hitting streak and is getting hits even when he doesn't hit the ball particularly well, as he showed yesterday with his ribbie double in the first inning.

Cano is leading the league in hitting with a .373 batting average and is tied for fourth in ribbies with 43. He has hit 12 home runs and scored 41 runs and carried the offense when both Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira were slumping big time. And let's not forget his defense because Cano is well on his way to winning his first Gold Glove, making difficult plays seem effortless.

“Robby has really emerged as an elite player,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “He’s been one of the best players in the game.”

There's no doubt he has some stiff competition. Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers is in the top five in the American League in batting average, home runs and RBIs. If Detroit stays competitive in the division race through the regular season, Cabrera will get a ton of support for the MVP.

The New York Yankees have done pretty well in the MVP race in recent years, with ARod winning two and Derek Jeter and Teix finishing high in the balloting. But this year, Cano has the opportunity to fulfill those predictions of greatness and bring home the trophy.

Boycott MLB Network until Selig does right thing

As a baseball fan, I am appalled and frustrated by Bud Selig's reluctance to do the right thing and reverse the call that robbed Armando Galarraga of a perfect game and a well-deserved spot in the history books.

Selig's statement about the game was noncommittal but baseball officials are leaking word to the media that he will not overturn the call. That is disgraceful, worse than the blown call itself. Selig has the ability to right the wrong and refuses to do it. But since he has not publicly stated he won't reverse the call, there is still time to convince him to do the right thing. And the way to do that is to hit him where it hurts: in the pocketbook.

Those of you who read my blog can tell I've been a huge fan of the MLB Network since it launched January 2009. I loved watching the World Baseball Classic last year and enjoy being able to watch so many games between teams other than the New York Yankees. I like that they have so many former ballplayers doing the analysis. I was even addicted to the Hot Stove show during the offseason. But I will not tune into MLB Network until Selig reverses the call, which means I probably won't ever watch it again.

Fewer eyeballs watching shows on the network translates into less money for Major League Baseball. If salvaging the credibility of the game isn't enough to convince Selig to make the correct decision, perhaps losing dollars will do the trick. Let's boycott the network until Selig makes things right.

Thanks to Major League Baseball for the photo.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Pettitte or Hughes for All-Star game start?

Joe Girardi is going to have a tough decision to make if veteran Andy Pettitte and youngster Phil Hughes keep matching each other start for start with brilliant performances. Although both are likely to make the All-Star team, only one guy can start the game for the American League. Who will Girardi choose? It's like Sophie's choice for pitchers. Ok, maybe not that dramatic, but it's still a tough call.

Pettitte is a two-time All-Star and the godfather of the New York Yankees pitching staff. The veteran lefty has a 7-1 record, a 2.48 ERA, with 41 strikeouts vs 18 walks and a 1.15 WHIP. But despite his fantastic year, Pettitte constantly reminds us that he is closing in on the end of his career. An All-Star game start would be a wonderful way for Girardi to express the gratitude of the organization and the pinstripe faithful.

The numbers put up by Hughes this year are remarkably similar. His win-loss record is also 7-1, with a 2.54 ERA, 64 strikeouts vs 20 walks and a 1.05 WHIP. His poise and coolness on the mound are striking for a 23-year-old pitcher. He learned a lot under the tutelage of Mariano Rivera (the ultimate cool customer on the mound) in the bullpen last year and has carried that into his starting career. But a start in the All-Star game in Los Angeles in front of a partisan crowd (he's from nearby Mission Viejo) would send his confidence soaring to new heights.

Girardi is a long-term thinker, especially when it comes to his pitchers, and there is no question that Hughes is the future of the Yankees organization. That might give the kid the edge. Plus, Pettitte being the kind of guy that he is, probably would have no objection to the youngster having the spotlight. That could make it an easier call for his manager.

Baseball can allow limited instant replay

There will never be a better argument for instant replay than the blown call by umpire Jim Joyce that cost Armando Galarraga his perfect game last night. Major League Baseball can and should allow for the limited use of instant replay for all types of plays, not just home run calls.

I know baseball doesn't want the games to drag on longer than they already do. But as a fan, I would much rather the umpires spend an extra five minutes getting the call right than refusing to take another look because it will take too long. I think it does more damage to the game when a terrible call stands because there is no mechanism to correct it.

There is an easy way not to let the use of instant replay get out of control: limit the ability of a team to request a replay to one play per game (and specifically bar replays on ball and strike calls). If a manager knows he only has one replay request, he will guard it zealously. He's not going to waste it on a silly call to see if a runner is safe at first with no one on base and two outs in the third inning. The manager will wait until a crucial point in the game to ask for a replay such as runners in scoring position in the late innings. And those are the times when getting the call right is most important.

Allowing for limited instant replay is what is best for baseball. I hope Bud Selig and his baseball committee come to the same conclusion very soon.

Galarraga teaches valuable lesson: forgiveness

Armando Galarraga taught all of us a valuable lesson in handling the blown call that cost him a chance at baseball immortality: how to forgive.

I was merely watching the game on MLB Network and I was yelling and cursing when umpire Jim Joyce blew the call that cost the young Detroit Tigers pitcher his perfect game. But Galarraga was the most composed person on the field. He later attributed this partly to shock, but the kid's reaction was perfect. Rather than yell at the umpire for what was obviously a bad call, he simply took the ball, got back on the mound and got the next guy out to preserve the 3-0 victory.

Galarraga seems determined not to let the mistake rob him of a wonderful achievement. He pledged that he will show his son the video of the time his father threw a perfect game. Even though it may not enter the record books, he knows in his heart that on June 2, 2010, he was perfect.

After the game, Galarraga was genuinely worried about Joyce's well being and mental health. He was grateful for Joyce's heartfelt apology, noting that it is rare for an umpire to admit to such a mistake, especially to a player. "His body language said more than a lot of words," the young pitcher said. "His eyes watered.”

Galarraga was so concerned that Joyce was taking the blown call so personally and badly that he gave the veteran umpire a huge hug and then went on to publicly absolve Joyce of the blame for taking away his chance at baseball history.

We should all be so forgiving.

Thanks to oneideaprincess via Wikipedia for the photo.

Do the right thing Bud Selig!

Sometimes the right thing to do is so clear that there shouldn't be an argument. A mistake was made, a terrible mistake that cost Armando Galarraga a perfect game. But it is a correctable mistake and Bud Selig should correct it.

Umpire Jim Joyce made a terrible call when he ruled that Cleveland Indians shortstop Jason Donald beat a throw to the first-base bag on what should have been the 27th out, ruining Galarraga’s perfect game. Even in live action, the runner was clearly out and the replays confirmed that. Galarraga somehow kept his composure and proceeded to get the next hitter out and preserve the 3-0 victory. It will go down as a one-hit shutout, but it was a blown call and should not cost the kid his well-earned recognition in the history books. Give him back his perfect game.

There are some baseball purists who will say overruling the call will open a Pandora's Box for missed calls. I think not. Even non-baseball fans who see the play will realize that this is a unique situation. Selig can step in this one time to make things right, making it clear that he will not make this a regular occurrence. That is exactly what should happen.

Joyce made a mistake. He's a human being and human beings make mistakes all the time. We all understand that. But part of being a human being is admitting mistakes and doing whatever can be done to fix them. Joyce did his part with his teary, heartfelt apology to the young pitcher. Now it's time for Selig to do his part.

Do the right thing Bud! Give the kid his perfect game back.

Thanks to Major League Baseball for the photo.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Griffey Jr graced baseball with his presence

Another baseball great has left the game. Ken Griffey Jr announced the end of his Hall of Fame career after 22 years of gracing baseball with his presence.

"This has been on my mind recently, but it's not an easy decision to come by," he said. "I am extremely thankful for the opportunity to have played Major League Baseball for so long and thankful for all of the friendships I have made, while also being proud of my accomplishments."

It is fitting that Griffey retires from baseball after returning last year to his baseball home, to the place where he started his glorious career. "My hope is that my teammates can focus on baseball and win a championship for themselves and for the great fans of Seattle, who so very much deserve one," Griffey said. "Thanks to all of you for welcoming me back, and thanks again to everyone over the years who has played a part in the success of my career."

Even though his skills were in obvious decline, it doesn't take away from what was a spectacular career both from an offensive and defensive perspective. Griffey leaves the game fifth on the all-time home run list with 630 home runs. He knocked in an impressive 1,836 ribbies and scored 1,662 runs. He made the All-Star team 13 times and won 10 Gold Gloves. And he was a member of Major League Baseball's All-Century team.

Ken Griffey Sr recently said that he was proud of his son. And he is right to be proud of Griffey Jr, one of the few truly great sluggers who is believed not to have fallen prey to the use of performance-enhancing drugs. He was one of the game's best role models and he will be missed.

Baseball was lucky to have him.

Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the photo.

Time to start transitioning Posada to DH

Jorge Posada was a bit miffed at not being activated for yesterday's game against the Baltimore Orioles. He's likely to be even angrier if the New York Yankees finally tell him what has become obvious: that they need to start transitioning him to a designated hitter role.

I'm not suggesting that Posada become the Yankees full-time DH right now. I still think he can catch two or three games a week. But I think it's time for the Yankees to acknowledge that the plan to have a 38-year-old catching 100-120 baseball games this year year was unwise. Having Posada catch a few games a week and DH the other games keeps his still superior power bat in the lineup everyday while lowering the risk of a devastating injury that forces him out for an extended period of time.

Posada's been a #1 catcher since 1999 so he's unlikely to take this news well. But I think it would be better for him because it will alleviate the wear-and-tear on his knees and still get him his four at-bats each night. He could keep piling up the offensive numbers that will make him a Hall of Fame candidate.

One of the primary reasons for the Yankees sticking with Posada, despite his defensive problems and trouble interacting with pitchers, was that they really had no solid player to replace him. No-hit defensive guys such as Jose Molina and John Flaherty had fairly lengthy careers as back-ups in the Bronx because of this void. But Francisco Cervelli has proven that he can be an everyday catcher in the big leagues. He has good relationships with his pitchers, a clutch bat and the youthful energy and enthusiasm that a veteran club like the Yankees desperately needs.

Posada is a fierce competitor and will be reluctant to admit that his days as an everyday catcher should end. His mental and physical toughness have made him one of the premier catchers of his era. But part of being a team player is a willingness to do what's best for the team and what's best is for Posada to start transitioning to a DH role and let the youngster get nicked up by all those bouncing pitches and foul balls. After getting over his hurt feelings, Posada may realize he doesn’t miss that part of the game too much.

Vazquez can slowly win over Yankee faithful

Javier Vazquez is making good progress in his attempt to rehabilitate his New York Yankees career. If he keeps it up, he can permanently banish the boo-birds and win over the Yankee faithful.

Known as a solid pitcher on other teams, mostly recently with the Atlanta Braves, Vazquez started the 2010 season once again struggling in the Bronx. But in four of his last five outings, he has shown why the Yankees have so much faith in him.

Last night's start can't count for too much since it came against the hapless Baltimore Orioles and it doesn't erase his rough outing in Minnesota last week. But Vazquez looked strong yesterday, giving up only one run, locating his pitches well and revving up his velocity when necessary. He also showed a lot of guts and poise in getting out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh inning and ending his outing on a strong note.

"He was great," manager Joe Girardi said. "He attacked the zone all night. He was outstanding tonight and it's kind of what we thought we were going to get from him. We've been really encouraged by the way he's been throwing the baseball."

It would have been a real disappointment to see Vazquez struggle last night, particularly after getting consecutive strong starts from AJ Burnett and Andy Pettitte. But the beleaguered pitcher was rightly pleased with his performance last night. Vazquez even said he felt good in his previous start and was throwing better pitches than he had earlier in the year.

I think it's a good sign that he's focusing on the positives even in his rough starts rather than dwelling on the negatives. It bodes well for making further progress in rehabbing his Yankee career. A couple of more starts like this and he will have the Yankee faithful fully in his corner.

Thanks to sillygwailo via Wikipedia for the photo.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Swisher's magical May ends on high note

Although Joe Girardi might be happy to turn the calendar page, Nick Swisher is one member of the New York Yankees who did not want May to end. He hit more than .370 and his power and RBI numbers were off the charts. And Swisher finished up on a high note, right in the middle of several Yankee rallies and battling the right field wall on key plays this weekend.

Of course, Swisher being the jokester that he is, was more eager to talk about the ugly Memorial Day hats the Yankees had to wear (I didn't think they were so bad, but I didn't have to put one on either). He did pledge to wear the hat again if the Yankees continue their hot hitting, living up to the stereotype of the superstitious ballplayer.

Swisher's had a good month personally too. The Yankees outfielder confirmed he will marry actress Joanna Garcia (who has been on two of my favorite TV shows: Gossip Girl and How I Met Your Mother). He must really enjoy being engaged because he has had several big hits since then, including a clutch home run against the Minnesota Twins to help Andy Pettitte win a game.
Here's hoping Swisher's magical run continues, even if it is June now.