Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Plenty of fireworks left in Yankees-Red Sox

Anyone who thought that the rivalry between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox was getting stale got a major wake-up call last night.

Who would have thought Francisco Cervelli would be the new Yankee villain in this epic rivalry? Cervelli earned the ire of John Lackey when he clapped his hands at home plate after hitting a monster home run off the Red Sox pitcher. Anyone who watches Cervelli knows that he really does do the clap every time he gets on base. I’m not one who likes the excessive emotion these young players show, but that’s just part of Cervelli’s game.

I have to say, even if Lackey thought Cervelli was showing off, hitting him and putting him on base when his team was only down by two runs was both unprofessional and ill advised. Publicly the Red Sox players will probably have his back, but privately some of them are probably pissed that Lackey nearly started a brawl and once again painted a target on Red Sox hitters’ backs. Lackey claimed he wasn’t trying to hit Cervelli, but just pitching him inside. I believe that as much as I believe OJ Simpson really was innocent of murder.

The Red Sox hitters are lucky that CC Sabathia was done for the night after 128 pitches because one of them would have been going down (although I really doubt the Yankees ace is going to forgive and forget). Sabathia, who was fantastic in a truly gritty performance, is the one Yankees pitcher determined to protect his hitters (he has hit Red Sox players in retaliation a few times already). He was livid about his battery-mate, who he is incredibly fond of, getting hit intentionally by Lackey. If the game wasn’t so close, Sabathia probably would have begged Joe Girardi to let him go out to start the 7th inning, just so he could drill the first Red Sox hitter unfortunate enough to be due up.

So there were fireworks last night with the Yankees and Red Sox, just like the good old days. We haven’t seen sparks fly like this since Jason Varitek cowardly fought Alex Rodriguez while still wearing his catcher’s mask (take it off and take a punch like a man). For a moment, we were reminded that these teams used to really hate each other. I have to admit, it felt pretty damn good.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Will the Yankees step up vs Red Sox?

The New York Yankees have something to prove against the Boston Red Sox, not just to the baseball world and Yankee fans, but to themselves.

The Yankees need to prove that they have no intention of being Boston’s whipping boys for the rest of the year. And it starts tonight with CC Sabathia, who has to show that he is the same ace against the Red Sox that he is against every other team in the American League. Weeks ago, Sabathia seemed like a sure-fire contender for a Cy Young award this year, but he has stumbled badly of late. A strong start against the Red Sox tonight would get things going in the right direction again.

I will also be looking for a good showing from Phil Hughes, who was pitching beautifully until the disaster against Oakland last week. Hughes needs a solid start to ensure he is not the odd man out of the Yankees rotation when Joe Girardi trims the six-man crew to five after Thursday. AJ Burnett should be the one banished due to the bullpen for being consistently bad, but I think Hughes needs to step up and make sure not to give Girardi and Brian Cashman a reason to send him to the ‘pen.

The first two games of the series are critical because I’m already conceding Burnett’s start on Thursday (I’ll be in a bar with my Syracuse friends that night watching the first Orange football game of the year). Burnett’s unreliability puts a lot of pressure on Sabathia, Hughes and the rest of the Yankees to win the first two games and avoid being known as Boston’s punching bag for the rest of the year.

Will the Yankees step up against the Red Sox? We’ll find out soon enough.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Granderson having a legendary season

How amazing a season is Curtis Granderson having for the New York Yankees? His numbers are so impressive that today his name was mentioned alongside one of the all-time great Yankees: Mickey Mantle.

Granderson, incredibly humble guy that he is, would dispute that he deserves to even be mentioned in the same breath as Mantle. But the numbers do not lie. Granderson’s 38 home runs are the most by a Yankee centerfielder since the great Mantle hit 54 in 1961 (and still fell short of teammate Roger Maris’ record-breaking total). The current Yankees centerfielder continues to insist he is not a home run hitter, but he is putting up numbers that invoke the memory of one of the greatest Yankee sluggers.

If the baseball season ended today, there is no way to deny Granderson the Most Valuable Player award. He is first in every category that counts: home runs, runs batted in (107), runs scored (122) and extra-based hits (68). Sure, Adrian Gonzalez of the Boston Red Sox would get some votes, especially with his superior batting average, but that’s the only key metric where he surpasses Granderson. And there can be no denying that Granderson’s powerful bat has been a major reason why the Yankees have survived the multiple injuries suffered by Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez.

Alas, the season does not end today and there’s another full month to go. Granderson’s bat could slow down, not that he has shown any signs of that. But even if it does, Granderson has put together the makings of a legendary season.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Jeter doc sad in light of split with Kelly

I’m sure, like me, you are all broken up about the news that Derek Jeter and long-time girlfriend Minka Kelly have split.

In all seriousness, I kind of feel bad for Jeter and Kelly not being able to make their relationship work. Ironically, I was set to visit my sister Friday night to finally see the Derek Jeter 3K documentary (I don’t have HBO so I had not yet seen it). Watching the documentary after hearing news of the split, it was really sad seeing the interviews with Jeter and Kelly. Under normal circumstances, it would have been hilarious when Kelly admitted to a shocking lack of baseball knowledge and Jeter teasingly said she had a poster of him on her wall at as teenager. I can’t help but wonder if Jeter, who said he agreed to the documentary for his future children, is now sorry that Kelly was featured so prominently in it.

But there were plenty of enlightening moments when we got to see some of the real Derek Jeter. The captain of the New York Yankees has always been very good at hiding his emotions so it was interesting seeing him talk about his frustration about his forced stint on the disabled list. But he also acknowledged that it was a blessing in disguise because it gave him a chance to work on his swing with Gary Denbo, the coach Jeter says knows his swing better than anyone.

One of my favorite moments in the documentary was the scene of Jeter having lunch with his diverse group of friends because it was both revealing and hilarious, especially when they jokingly lamented the absence of minorities on The Bachelor. Another favorite moment was when Jeter and Kelly talked about his lack of preparation for the very moving speech he gave at the closing of the old Yankee Stadium, with Kelly praising his ability to be in the moment and really speak from the heart, which was clear to anyone who watched that speech that night.

We also saw how the young minor leaguers in Trenton were in complete awe of the future Hall of Famer during his rehab stint, but more interesting to me was the brief moment that showed Jeter clearly in awe of his childhood idol Dave Winfield. Jeter is such an old pro you would think that he would have gotten over that astonishment by now, but it shows that even the captain of the Yankees is still just a big kid at heart.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Irene, Orioles screw the Yankees

The New York Yankees are getting royally screwed, first by Hurricane Irene, then by the Baltimore Orioles.

In anticipation of the deadly storm, the Yankees asked the Orioles to play a doubleheader on Friday, the one day of the weekend sure to feature good weather. The Orioles flatly refused, citing their 11-day road trip that just ended. But they could have accommodated the Yankees by playing the doubleheader and then using Saturday, guaranteed to be a washout, as a full day of rest.

I think the real reason the Orioles refused the request was that didn’t want to lose the gate money by scheduling a Friday afternoon game that many working folks would have been unable to attend on short notice, which would be understandable under normal circumstances. The Yankees always bring in big money for other teams because Yankee fans travel so well. But this is a rare emergency situation and the Orioles should have been more flexible. However, as Mariano Rivera reminded everyone, this isn’t the first time Baltimore has made a foolish decision in the facing of an oncoming hurricane.

Even Curtis Granderson, who is one of the nicest and most diplomatic guys in baseball, was extremely annoyed by the Orioles’ unilateral decision to steal a Yankee off day next month when the Yankees have already lost several days to make-up games. But he seemed equally pissed off at Major League Baseball for allowing the Orioles to dictate these unacceptable terms and he’s absolutely right.

Teams all over the East Coast were changing game schedules due to the danger posed by the approaching storm. The Orioles should not have been allowed to be the exception. This is an extraordinary circumstance and Major League Baseball should have ordered a doubleheader to be played on Friday. If Bud Selig doesn’t have that authority, then he should fight for it in the contract negotiations this offseason.

I hope that the Yankees are successful in their appeal of the decision in which they hope to play the game only if needed at the end of the season (I doubt Selig is going to let the Yankees have an extra home game, even if they are willing to split the gate with the Orioles). That way, if that one game doesn’t decide the American League East, then it won’t have to be played at all and the Orioles will lose the revenues that come from hosting the Yankees. That would be true justice for a very selfish decision.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Rivera the greatest closer of all time

Who is the best closer in baseball history: Mariano Rivera or Trevor Hoffman? Do we really even need to answer that question?

In what looked like a lovely ceremony honoring Trevor Hoffman, who retired after last season, Padres radio announcer Ted Leitner called Hoffman the best closer of all time because he holds the record with 601 saves. If that statistic is truly the standard, Hoffman’s hold on that title is tenuous with Rivera only nine saves behind him. But the regular season saves record isn’t the sole factor in determining closer greatness.

I admire the loyalty of Leitner and the Padres’ faithful (fans of the New York Yankees are demonstrating the same loyalty to Rivera in a YES Network poll that’s not even close). But I think most objective observers would say that this is not even a debatable issue. Rivera is widely considered the best closer of all time because of his inexplicable ability to dominate hitters over 16 years with one pitch and his 42 postseason saves. In contrast, Hoffman’s inability to hold a lead was a major reason the Padres got swept in the 1998 World Series by the New York Yankees.

Coincidentally, I was watching Rivera’s Yankeeography just yesterday, which detailed his exceptional work in the postseason along with his devastating failures, most notably the 2001 World Series (I still think the Yankees win that game if Mo throws to the right base). But watching the DVD just reminded me of how Rivera has been the most valuable player during the Yankees dynasty. The Yankee teams of the 1990s and 2000s have survived key players such as Derek Jeter, Tino Martinez or Bernie Williams having bad series. They have never survived Rivera having a bad series. Rivera has been the common denominator in every one of the last five championships the Yankees have won. Without him, they probably don’t even have one title.

Mariano Rivera is the greatest closer of all time. Case Closed.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Where did the Derek Jeter haters go?

With the captain of the New York Yankees thisclose to the .300 mark, I have to ask: where did all the Derek Jeter haters go?

The loudmouths clamoring for Jeter to be bumped both from shortstop and the top of the lineup are nowhere to be found these days. I hope they stay gone. But I really think they’re just waiting for Jeter to have a long 0-for streak before they come out of hiding.

It doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. It’s only 9pm ET and Jeter already has two hits on a night he started with a .295 batting average. Some people didn’t think Jeter could recover from his slow, powerless start. I wasn’t one of those people.

When Jeter doesn’t play well, I assume that he’s hurt and just refuses to acknowledge it, which meant that I also thought he would bounce back when he got healthy. He needed a full two weeks on the disabled list and away from the team and his quest for 3,000 hits. But with both injury and history behind him, Jeter has once again become the clutch player we know and love.

Keep hiding, haters! We don’t miss you and neither does Jeter.

Monday, August 22, 2011

AJ Burnett burning his Yankee bridges?

Has AJ Burnett finally burned his bridges with the New York Yankees? Seems like it.

Less than two weeks ago, Brian Cashman firmly defended Burnett against his critics in the media and Yankees universe. His manager Joe Girardi launched into an anti-media tirade this weekend after Jack Curry and other reporters dared to ask him about his exchange when the righty was pulled from Saturday night’s game. As much as both have publicly defended Burnett, it seems like they are starting to get tired of it.

Girardi, who is fiercely loyal and protective of his players, may have just been acknowledging the obvious when he said Burnett has to pitch better to stay in the rotation. But the fact that he even said that publicly is telling. What is even more interesting is Cashman’s about-face. It seems like it was just yesterday when he was begging the media to put the blame for Burnett’s failure to pitch up to his contract on the general manager’s shoulders. Now Cashman is saying that Burnett’s contract won’t keep him in the rotation and that the righty has not pitched like a #2 starter.

What caused the sudden reversal for Girardi and Cashman? Perhaps they are finally sick of Burnett’s act, particularly the way he sulked off the mound on Saturday, with even Girardi questioning the pitcher about whether that rant was directed at him. Even if I believed Burnett truly was mad about the last pitch and not as his manager, which I don’t, I have a hard time understanding why he thinks he has any right to be upset about that particular pitch as opposed to the 60 pitches before when he had trouble getting anyone out.

Aside from being mad about Burnett’s sulking, I think Girardi and Cashman now realize that they have no choice but to remove Burnett from the rotation. You can’t send Phil Hughes or Ivan Nova to the bullpen with the way they’ve been pitching. You could conceivably sit Bartolo Colon or Freddy Garcia (once he comes off the disabled list) for a few starts in late August and September just to save their arms for the postseason. But with the race against the Boston Red Sox so tight, the Yankees have to send out the pitchers they have the best chance to win with and Burnett clearly doesn’t fall into that category.

I would be really nervous right now if I was AJ Burnett. Girardi and Cashman were the only ones standing between him and banishment to the bullpen. If they are now refusing to stick up for him, it’s only a matter of time before Burnett finds himself relegated to mop-up games and a seat on the bench as he watches his Yankees teammates play in October.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Girardi wrong to lash out at media over AJ

Joe Girardi thinks the media’s incessant criticism of AJ Burnett is ridiculous. I think that Girardi’s rant yesterday was ridiculous.

Girardi accused the media of trying to stir up trouble when he was asked about Burnett’s inappropriate behavior after being taken out of last night’s game. Girardi may be sick of answering questions about AJ, but that’s just too bad. These are legitimate questions and a large part of Girardi’s job as the manager of the New York Yankees is answering these types of questions from the media, something he has never been good at. He can’t fly off the handle when the questions come. Instead of being mad at reporters doing their jobs, he should be livid with AJ Burnett for not doing his job and putting his manager in such a bad spot.

I’ve given Girardi the benefit of the doubt in previous situations (including the Jorge Posada mess). But it’s really impossible for me to believe him when he says Burnett was not angry with him in stalking off the mound and into the dugout. And I don’t believe for a second that the manager walked into the dugout to look at a previous pitch when the Yankees were in the middle of a crucial moment that could make or break the game. Perhaps Girardi’s frustration simply got to him and he snapped at the wrong people, but everything he said seemed like a cover story. The good thing about pulling Burnett after 1 2/3 innings is that they had plenty of time to get their stories straight.

I really felt bad for Jack Curry, who bore the brunt of Girardi’s postgame anger. As a journalist, it is often your job to ask really tough, uncomfortable but important questions and that is all Curry was doing. I’ve been on the wrong side of a source’s anger and there is really no recourse other than maintaining your composure and vowing not to speak to this person ever again if it can be avoided. Curry, of course, doesn’t have that option. Girardi is the Yankees manager and Curry will have to speak to him on a daily basis in his role in covering the Yankees. The Yankees manager owes Jack Curry an apology.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Time for Brian Cashman to move on

Brian Cashman is reportedly a candidate for several general manager jobs in baseball. Good for him. I think it's time for him to move on.

To be sure, Cashman has made some great moves for the New York Yankees this year, namely signing Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia, who have been godsends, to low-risk deals. After the Cliff Lee debacle, Cashman managed to put together a roster that is not only competitive, but a solid playoff contender.

But he hasn’t distinguished himself in his treatment of iconic Yankees. You would have thought that he learned a lesson from the way he treated Bernie Williams, but really there were no repercussions for Cashman for that. This past offseason, he publicly dared Derek Jeter to shop around for a better contract after the Yankees shortstop told him he would not seek offers from other baseball teams. Then he makes the Jorge Posada incident in May a lot worse by going on national television in the middle of a game to publicly admonish Posada and spin his version of the truth before Posada had a fair opportunity to give his side of the story.

More recently, his silly defense of AJ Burnett made me question his judgment. Sure, it’s hard to admit to an $82.5 million mistake, but to blame the media for Burnett’s troubles is just ridiculous. That signing was all Cashman and he has to accept responsibility for the fact that the deal is simply not working out. Instead, Cashman digs in his heels and refuses to even consider the possibility of pulling Burnett from the rotation, no matter how much his numbers and performances such as tonight prove that Burnett should be the odd man out.

You also have to believe that the Steinbrenners don’t have total confidence in Cashman. They overruled him on the lengthy, expensive contract for Alex Rodriguez, which they no doubt deeply regret. And they overruled him on Rafael Soriano, which looked like it was going to be another colossal mistake until he came back from the disabled list and started pitching lights out. Maybe Cashman would like to start over with another owner that has more confidence in his abilities and judgment.

Cashman has been the Yankees general manager for more than a dozen years and the Yankees have been very successful during that time. He definitely deserves some of the credit for that. But I think Cashman has gotten a little too comfortable here. He may even welcome the opportunity to test his GM skills with another team (rather than having to constantly answer questions about whether his magic would work without the Yankees’ $200 million payroll). And for the Yankees, a fresh perspective would be nice.

Friday, August 19, 2011

No punishment needed for baseball umps

Everybody makes mistakes in their jobs. Some mistakes are just more visible than others.

That is definitely the case with baseball and instant replay, as umpire Dana DeMuth knows by now. He and his crew really messed up and were partly responsible for the New York Yankees’ loss to the Kansas City Royals Wednesday. Should they be punished for it, as the Daily News’ John Harper suggests? I don’t think so.

Yes, the umpires should have been more prepared and they should have known the rules. But they honestly thought they had the rules correct so unless there’s evidence of intentional wrongdoing or they mess up that badly again, they should get a stern warning from Joe Torre and leave it at that. If the Yankees lose the American League East to the Boston Red Sox by one game, I will be mad as hell. But punishing the umpires for an honest mistake seems like a serious overreaction.

BTW, I know some people are hammering Joe Girardi about not protesting the game (he is beating himself up a little bit too), but I’m not going to do that. In the heat of the moment, Girardi was more focused on making sure Mariano Rivera wasn’t thrown out of the game, which should be his priority in a game that close (I’ve never seen Mo that angry, that’s why I knew the call was wrong). Plus, Girardi rightly believed that the umpires knew the ground rules much better than he did. I don’t think the protest would have even been upheld as Major League Baseball is loathe to intervene even when calls are clearly wrong (witness Bud Selig’s refusal to reverse the bad call that cost Armando Galarraga a perfect game).

Let’s not crucify the umpires for this mistake, even if it cost the Yankees a game. I think the embarrassment is punishment enough. They won’t make the same mistake twice.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Too quick to judge Rafael Soriano?

Rafael Soriano's brilliance of late has made me wonder: were we too quick to judge him earlier this year?

Soriano got off to a terrible start in 2011 and still has the 4.03 ERA to prove it. But he has been mostly terrific since his return from the disabled list, giving up only one run and two hits in eight appearances and helping the Yankees stay in and win several of those games. The great Mariano Rivera has had a much tougher time in big games recently than the much-maligned Soriano.

So now I wonder if we were being too harsh on Soriano. Perhaps Soriano really did need an adjustment period after leaving the relative quiet and much less pressurized environment in Tampa Bay for the chaos and demands of the Bronx. Perhaps he was hurt that whole time and didn’t say anything in an attempt to justify his large contract and/or prove he belongs in New York. Or maybe he really did just need time to adjust to leaving his job as one of baseball's top closers for the Tampa Bay Rays to become Rivera’s set-up man (a job he has since lost to David Robertson).

Part of the animosity Soriano felt from fans and the media related to portrayals of his time in Tampa Bay, where he supposedly dictated to his manager how he would be used in games rather than the other way around. Perhaps that was unfair as we really don’t know what happened during Soriano’s time in Tampa Bay. But he didn't exactly help himself either when he took a shot at the Yankees offense, which was struggling earlier this year, but is running on all cylinders now.

Do we all Soriano an apology for jumping the gun? If he keeps pitching the way he has, I would answer that with a firm yes.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Big 40 brings ups and downs for Posada

Today is Jorge Posada’s 40th birthday, coming in a month of ups and downs for the one of the Key Three members of the New York Yankees.

Posada was crushed when his manager Joe Girardi informed him that he was no longer the regular designated hitter for the Yankees, benching him right before a nationally televised game against the Boston Red Sox. Unlike earlier in the year, Posada swallowed his disappointment and quietly awaited his opportunity. That finally came last Saturday and Posada took advantage of it big time, driving in six runs and proving that he could still contribute to the Yankees. He was rewarded with another start at DH and then a pinch hitting opportunity last night, showing that Girardi means it when he says Posada will still have opportunities to help his team win.

Posada is full of pride and is probably bristling at the idea of spending most of the rest of the season on the bench. But his talk shows that he still believes he has something to offer the game of baseball, even perhaps as a catcher, and he is biding his time until the end of this year, which probably also means the end of his Yankee career. I was hoping that Posada would decide that spending his entire career in pinstripes would be more important than trying to squeeze another year or two out with another team, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Whatever he decides, I hope that Posada can put aside the turbulence of the last two weeks long enough to enjoy his birthday with his friends and family. He has been a great Yankee and deserves some peace, at least for one day.

Happy Birthday, Jorge!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Another team? No way, Jorge!

Can you even imagine Jorge Posada in another uniform? I can't. But that doesn't mean it won't happen.

Posada knows the writing is on the wall when it comes to his future with the New York Yankees. Despite showing that his bat still has some life in it this past Saturday, Posada knows his days in a Yankee uniform are numbered. Barring some unfortunate incident, I don't think the Yankees are going to release him. But they will make no attempt to re-sign him when his contract expires this offseason. Posada knows this, but also seems to feel like he isn’t done as a player so he may be mentally preparing himself to move on from the Yankees by leaving open the possibility of signing with another baseball team next year.

The New York baseball writers were predicting it would eventually come to this, not only because Posada’s skills are diminishing with age, but because of what they have described as his hostile relationship with his former teammate turned manager Joe Girardi. To his credit, Michael Kay directly asked the Yankees manager about those rumors during the latest edition of the Joe Girardi show on YES. Girardi became extremely emotional when talking about how untrue these allegations are and how much it hurts him that people think that because he loves Jorge and is still pulling for him. Girardi could just be a fantastic actor, but in watching that interview, I genuinely believed that he was telling the truth. That doesn't mean they haven't bumped heads or had bad moments because all relationships do, but maybe the animosity so often talked about in the media isn't actually there.

That being said, even if Posada and Girardi were best buds, the great Yankee’s days in pinstripes would probably be coming to an end soon. As much as I’d like to see Jorge retire as a Yankee, I can’t blame him for wanting to continue to play baseball. It would diminish his stature to see him in a minor role with another team, especially if he struggles, which is why I hope he opts for retirement. But it’s his career and he can do what he wants with it. I just hope the end isn’t too painful to watch.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Hughes earned right to stay in rotation

Phil Hughes has earned the right to stay in the New York Yankees rotation. AJ Burnett has not.

Burnett will get another start because of Freddy Garcia’s unfortunate hand injury (I agree with Joe Girardi that players should avoid knives at all costs). Sunday’s washout prevented us from seeing how AJ would handle another turn in the Yankees rotation. But Burnett has the full support of Brian Cashman and that carries a lot of weight. Cashman’s passionate, but ill-advised defense of Burnett (he has had some good games, but he has not pitched as well as the general manager would like us to believe) could mean that Phil Hughes ends up as the odd man out in the Yankees rotation. It’s completely unfair because Hughes has pitched much better than Burnett recently, but I think Girardi and Cashman are stuck with Burnett.

After a rough couple of starts in his return from the disabled list, Hughes has put together a string of good performances, including his dominant, rain-shortened shutout of the Chicago White Sox. And Hughes made the decision even tougher for his manager and general manager with another strong start yesterday. If the choice was simply based on performance, Burnett would be the one headed to the bullpen.

But it won’t be. It will be based on a combination of factors: Burnett’s big-money contract (which should have no bearing but does), Hughes’ previous success as Mariano Rivera’s set-up man in 2009, Hughes’ maturity, even-keeled nature and strong psyche versus the fragile Burnett. The Yankees constantly walk on eggshells with Burnett and will avoid a bullpen demotion at all costs for fear that they will lose him for good. They know that won’t be a problem with Hughes, who will manage his disappointment and be ready when called upon.

But that doesn’t make it right. In the big leagues, players are supposed to earn their jobs and perform well to keep them. In Yankees world, that seems to apply to everyone but AJ Burnett.

Posada steals pal Jeter's day in the sun

It started off as Derek Jeter's day, but quickly became Jorge Posada's day.

I was at the ballpark in the Bronx yesterday because I refused to miss the celebration of Jeter's 3,000th hit. It was a lovely ceremony, filled with gifts for not just Derek, but for the entire Jeter family, which I loved seeing. Jeter always says his successful career is a family effort so it was nice to see Mom, Dad and Sharlee Jeter get the recognition they deserve. And all the acrimony between Jeter and the New York Yankees was completely forgotten, at least for a day, as the Steinbrenner family was a big part of the pre-game ceremony. I got a little choked up when Mariano Rivera twice declared his love for his friend and long-time teammate. Pretty soon, Jeter will return the favor and deliver a similarly moving speech when the Yankees celebrate Rivera’s ascension to the top of the all-time saves list.

But from the pre-game announcement of the Yankees starting lineup, it was clear that this would be Posada’s day in the sun. We all cheered when Posada was announced as the designated hitter, but that roar grew louder when Posada delivered a clutch 2-ribbie single and was deafening when he hit that Grand Slam. I’m not psychic, but before Jorge strode to the plate I predicted that home run. I could just tell it was coming because of the love and support Jorge was feeling from the fans in the ballpark and Jorge’s intense desire to make the most of his starting opportunity and show why he still deserves a place on this team. Watching Jorge circle the bases, I teared up for the second time that day. It was truly one of those magical moments that can only happen in baseball.

So Jorge stole his good friend's spotlight and judging from the smile on Jeter's face, he didn't mind at all. They've been friends for a long time and it's a very real friendship as detailed in Jorge and Laura Posada's book The Beauty of Love, not one of those media fantasies. Jeter knew how much his buddy needed a day like yesterday after the public humiliation he endured last weekend and couldn’t have been happier at the way his pal stepped up for the Yankees and for himself.

Friday, August 12, 2011

AJ Burnett should be odd man out

The time has come for Joe Girardi to make a decision about the New York Yankees rotation. For me, it’s an easy call. AJ Burnett should be the odd man out.

Burnett has managed to keep his job, despite being unable to win a game since late June, only because of his big contract and fragile psyche. A lesser compensated and more emotionally stable pitcher would have been banished to the bullpen weeks ago based on performance alone. It’s time for the Yankees to stop coddling him and do what’s best for the team.

It’s not that I don’t have compassion for AJ. I do. I truly hope that someday he figures out a way to harness all that talent in a constructive way. But I don’t think it’s fair to the rest of the team, particularly Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes, or the fans to keep Burnett in the rotation when he has not pitched well enough to deserve a spot.

Nova has elevated himself from being a borderline #5 pitcher to being the most reliable Yankees starter not named CC Sabathia and has proved time and time again that he belongs in the big leagues. And as shaky as Hughes has been this year, I still believe he will turn it around and pitch more games like his start against the White Sox last week. I just don’t have the same confidence in Burnett. I watch his starts always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I couldn’t enjoy his start against the Angels because I knew that at some point the real AJ would surface and blow the game. To be fair, the Yankees lost that game because of Mariano Rivera’s current pitching slump, but it does not breed confidence that Burnett couldn’t keep his emotions in check even in a game that he was dominating.

Team leaders Derek Jeter and Sabathia have tried to gentle coax Burnett out of his funk by stressing his importance to the team. But enough is enough. At some point, the Yankees have to admit that no amount of gentle coaxing or coddling is ever going to get Burnett to harness all his potential into being the dominating pitcher that he should be. I think that deep down Girardi knows that sending AJ to the bullpen is the right move to make. Girardi just has to have the heart to do it.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Rivera mad at himself for bad streak

Mariano Rivera is really mad at himself right now, but he is probably the only one in the New York Yankees clubhouse upset with his recent performances.

Rivera was happy that the Yankees won today's game despite his giving up a three-run home run in the 9th inning. But he was unhappy that he didn't pitch well for the third straight game. Mo usually shrugs off such outings so it was quite enlightening to hear him talk about being angry that he hasn’t done his job recently, but he also said that he isn’t concerned.

Neither is his manager Joe Girardi. Despite a flurry of probing questions, Girardi never once expressed any concern about his closer. Either Girardi is a better actor than I thought or he really means it when he says that he has absolutely no worries about this being anything more than a mini-slump for Mo.

One of the many things I love about Mo is that he never loses his confidence, perspective or even his sense of humor. Reporters crowded around peppering him with questions about his recent streak of bad pitching performances, with the obvious implication that he is beginning to falter due to his advancing age. A lesser man would have gotten completed frustrated and annoyed. Instead, Mariano gently reminded the reporters that he has a brief slump every year.

“We always have this conversation for 16, 17 years," Rivera said to the great amusement of the Yankee beat writers.

Yes, they have. And still the writers feel the need to write a bunch of stories about Mariano’s inevitable decline. But this will all be forgotten as soon as Mo pulls off a few consecutive saves on his way to surpassing Trevor Hoffman for the most saves in baseball history. That feat will officially mark Rivera as the top closer of all time, even though he already is. Definitely not the kind of guy you worry about.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Yankees mag celebrates women in baseball

Finally, the New York Yankees are giving a nice present to their female fans.

The Yankees are celebrating women in baseball by dedicating the latest issue of Yankees magazine to women. The magazine aims to appeal to female baseball fans with profiles of the Yankees wives and their charity efforts as well as female sports stars such as Jennie Finch and Mia Hamm and legendary tennis player Billie Jean King.

But I'm most looking forward to reading the story highlighting the Steinbrenner women: Jessica and Jennifer, the too-often overlooked daughters of late owner George Steinbrenner. Just because brothers Hal and Hank Steinbrenner are the ones most responsible for the day-to-day operations, doesn't mean that Jennifer and Jessica shouldn't get their chance to shine.

It's almost as if someone in Yankee land finally took a look at their stadium one night and noticed all the women in the crowd. It's nice that there has at last been some recognition of the fact that female fans make up a large portion of the Yankees fan base.

Personally, I can’t wait to read the issue. I'm planning to attend one of the baseball games this weekend and will pick up a copy and review it for you.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Reyes injuries could cost him big dough

Fred Wilpon may have been right when he said Jose Reyes will not get “Carl Crawford money.”

Reyes is a dynamic player who would be worth every penny the New York Mets or some other baseball team would pay him as an elite player if only he could stay healthy. But Reyes has never been able to stay healthy. His monster 2011 season has been interrupted a second time by a hamstring injury that again forces him to the disabled list.

Any team that signs Reyes to a long-term, big-money deal is going to be making a really risky bet: that Reyes can be more durable in his 30s than he has been in his 20s. It's not my money, but I for one would not take that bet. All evidence points to baseball players peaking in their very early 30s before a steady (sometimes swift) decline in their performance.

Could Reyes still get a contract similar to the 7-year, $142 million deal Crawford pried from the Boston Red Sox? It's possible, but it seems really unlikely. Aside from his injury history, neither the New York Yankees (after signing Derek Jeter to an extension at $17 million per) nor the Red Sox (after committing big money to Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez this year) are likely to aggressively pursue Reyes in the offseason. Without one or both of those teams involved, it would be difficult to drive up the asking price.

But it's not impossible, especially if some desperate baseball team is willing to overpay for the services of a star in the hopes of putting itself on the map (witness Jayson Werth's mega-deal with the Washington Nationals). Reyes and his agents can still ask for the moon. I just don’t think he’s going to get it.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Girardi benching stings Jorge Posada

It was obvious to anyone who regularly watches the New York Yankees that this day would come soon, but Joe Girardi's decision to remove Jorge Posada as the primary designated hitter stings nonetheless.

I don't fault Girardi for benching Posada. The great Yankee’s numbers certainly haven't justified keeping him in the lineup. But did it have to come during a nationally-televised game against the Boston Red Sox when it was only just in May that Posada fumed about batting 9th in the lineup against these same Saux? Didn't Girardi know that the move was going to fan the flames even further and fuel countless stories about his poor relationship with Posada and the potential impact of the decision on his team? Couldn't Girardi have waited a day or two to minimize the fallout?

For his part, Posada is handling the benching a lot better than he handled the lineup demotion. He admitted that he is not happy, but also acknowledged that he cannot do anything about it and that his numbers forced Girardi to make the move. Posada is an emotional guy and I just hope that his emotions don't bubble up to the surface in a way that wreaks havoc on a team with its eyes on the postseason. But I’m afraid just such an eruption is inevitable.

I just finished reading Jorge and Laura Posada’s book The Beauty of Love, which describes their excruciating battle for their son Jorge Luis, who suffers from a debilitating and potentially fatal head condition. In it, Posada talks about how he used baseball as an outlet, not always in the most constructive way, to deal with his son’s frightening condition. The pain and suffering that the Posadas were forced to endure gave me a much greater appreciation for what Posada was able to do on the field all those years. After all that he managed to give the Yankees during that terrible time, he deserves the respect of trying to figure out how to end his Yankees career gracefully.

Like I said, I don't like Girardi's timing, but I understand it was a move he had to make. But it still hurt Posada nonetheless and that just doesn’t seem fair.

Bronx Bummer for Yankees in Boston

It's amazing how a weekend that started off so promising for the New York Yankees could turn into such a disaster. Perhaps disaster is too strong a word, but it accurately reflects my thoughts after waking up to find the Yankees in second place after a devastating loss to the Boston Red Sox last night.

Sunday's prime-time loss was much worse than Saturday's game. The Red Sox battered Yankees ace CC Sabathia, but mercifully the game was decided pretty quickly. Last night's loss was much more painful because the Yankees managed to hang in there long enough to get Yankee killer Josh Beckett out of the way before scoring what should have been the winning run on Brett Gardner's home run.

With Mariano Rivera on the mound, that should have been enough. Instead, Rivera gave up the tying run and I could not shake that feeling of impending doom. Yes, Phil Hughes gave up the winning run in the 10th inning, but this loss was all on Rivera's great shoulders and he took full responsibility for it. As great as Rivera is, he has been the pitcher most responsible for some of the most crushing losses against the Red Sox. Let's not even talk about the 2004 American League Championship Series because it still hurts. But if Mo cannot stop the Red Sox in 2011, the Yankees are done.

This was not at all what I was hoping for when I posted on Friday that it was time for the Yankees to show the Red Sox who's boss. The Yankees needed to prove something to the world and to themselves and they failed miserably with their big guns faltering in the spotlight. Sure, the Yankees are only a game behind in the standings, but it was a missed opportunity and lost weekend in Boston that does not bode well at all for October.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Will CC Sabathia snap out of Red Sox funk?

Of course, I'm disappointed by CC Sabathia's performance against the Boston Red Sox last night. But with the New York Yankees still tied for first place in the American League East, my concern isn't about last night. I'm concerned about October.

Barring an epic collapse, both the Yankees and the Red Sox will make the postseason and have a strong chance of facing each other for AL supremacy in October. If the Yankees do make it to the American League Championship Series, as they have in the past two years, CC Sabathia will once again be the Game 1 starter, which against most teams would be cause for celebration, but is becoming somewhat of a concern against the Red Sox.

Do the Saux simply have CC's number? It sure looks like it from the numbers they put up against him. Consider yesterday, which started out promising with quick, scoreless innings from both starters before the Red Sox erupted for seven runs against the Yankees ace. What was most disturbing to me was that the Yankees offense had managed to tie the game at 2-2 (thanks to some nice clutch hitting from Eric Chavez), but CC was unable to shut the Red Sox down.

If it was one bad game against the Red Sox, I wouldn't even write this post. But really this is the third time he has pitched poorly (he lost another game in the 7th inning after pitching brilliantly for the first six innings) against his team's archrival, a club that the Yankees are likely to meet again in October. If the Yankees are going to beat the Red Sox in the playoffs, they need CC to step up and be the ace he is against the rest of baseball.

At least CC seemed to know exactly what went wrong yesterday and still sounds like he believes he can beat the Red Sox. I would worry a lot more if Sabathia was completely baffled by his Red Sox struggles.

But if CC wants another ring to go along with his well-earned 2009 championship jewelry, he is going to have to figure out a way to snap out of his Red Sox funk.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Time for Yankees to show Red Sox who's boss

If George Steinbrenner were still around, he wouldn't care so much that his New York Yankees are tied for first place. He'd be furious about the Yankees losing eight of nine games this season to the hated Boston Red Sox.

Sweeping the Chicago White Sox wouldn't have made Steinbrenner any happier because they’re just the wrong color Saux. The old Steinbrenner would be demanding that his Yankees put a beatdown on the Red Sox up in Boston this weekend. To be honest, I would like to see the same thing.

Sure, I feel good about the Yankees' postseason prospects with the distance they put between themselves and the rest of the wild card contenders in the American League. But the road to the World Series will probably go through Boston and I would like the Yankees' championship chances a lot better if they can win the majority of their remaining games with the Red Sox, starting tonight.

The Yankees have their pitching rotation set up nicely. Despite his struggles against the Red Sox earlier this year, it goes without saying that the Yankees want CC Sabathia on the mound this weekend. But I also think they feel good about having their veterans Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon pitching in what will be a hostile environment at Fenway Park rather than their kids Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova, despite how well both pitched this week. And it probably goes without saying that they are relieved that AJ Burnett will be nowhere near the Fenway Park mound.

The Red Sox have played extremely tough this year, surviving what could have been several devastating injuries, particularly in their starting rotation. They're not going to just lay down for the Yankees, even though the Bronx Bombers have finally caught up to them, which will make this a very fun weekend.

The Boss may not be around anymore, but it's time for the Yankees to show the Red Sox who's the Boss.

One-and-done wild card playoff a good idea

I like the idea of having a one-and-done wild card playoff in baseball. I think it addresses problems with baseball's current postseason format while not dragging the season out longer than necessary.

As it stands now, there is not much of a disadvantage to being the wild card team. If the New York Yankees, for example, end up losing the American League East division crown to the Boston Red Sox, it will hardly matter because both teams are headed for the playoffs, barring an unforeseen collapse of epic proportions (like what happened to the Mets two years in a row). Sure, the Yankees or the Saux would lose home-field advantage, but they are the top two road teams in baseball this year so I doubt they will lose any sleep over playing most of their postseason games on the other teams’ turfs.

On the other hand, if the wild card team had to play against another wild card team in a one-game playoff to determine which team marches on in the postseason, that would further intensify the battle for the AL East. I would imagine the Yankees would have even more incentive to try to beat Red Sox for the division or risk letting their fate come down to one game when an off night by a pitcher could end their season (no chance AJ Burnett would start a game with the season on the line, but even CC Sabathia could have a bad night).

I also like the one-and-done idea because it creates the lose-or-go-home pressure and excitement that makes these games so compelling (witness the Minnesota-Detroit marathon play-in game in 2009 that I spent four hours in a hotel room watching because I simply could not leave). A best of three series might be fairer to both wild card teams, but that scenario could push the baseball playoffs further into November, which I think Bud Selig and MLB would like to avoid.

So I’m all for a sudden-death matchup between two wild card teams. I think it would bring some excitement to a sport that definitely could use some more.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Alex Rodriguez always finds trouble

Alex Rodriguez might be in trouble with Major League Baseball. What a surprise!

MLB is looking into allegations that ARod took part in a poker game where cocaine was used, a game that supposedly turned violent when one player, angered by his losses, refused to pay. Unlike the first time MLB looked into ARod’s poker-playing habit, this one could come with a suspension.

Why is it that ARod’s name is still synonymous with trouble even when he is on the disabled list and far away from the team? Sure, he is a lightning rod who always manages to stick his foot in his mouth and he gets an inordinate amount of attention for being baseball’s highest paid player. But combine that with his admission of steroid use and it’s a volatile mix. And ARod seems to only add fuel to that fire.

For the record, I don’t really care about ARod’s apparent predilection for poker, as long as he is not breaking any laws. To me, it doesn’t rate anywhere near his steroids use in terms of the seriousness of his actions. But I just for the life of me cannot understand why ARod continues to put himself in these situations. Does he think he is invincible? Isn’t he embarrassed enough already? Doesn’t he know that his New York Yankees teammates and manager Joe Girardi are tired of questions about his off-the-field, very questionable behavior? Will he ever grow up?

These are all questions the Yankees are going to have to contend with for the next six-plus years unless they can find a way to get out of his immovable contract or ARod really does something that makes it easy for the Yankees to get rid of him. Unless something like that happens, we’ll probably just have to gird ourselves for an ARod-induced controversy every couple of months. I’m personally sick of it. The Brothers Steinbrenner probably are as well, especially because of how brittle he has become, but they have no one to blame but themselves for that one.

AJ Burnett should worry about his Yankees job

Quick question: why doesn't AJ Burnett have to worry about keeping his job, as erratic and inconsistent as he is?

I truly find myself dreading Burnett’s turn in the New York Yankees rotation. I came home from an alumni meeting to find the Yankees leading 13-1. Pleasantly surprised, I began to answer some emails, but I kept the television on to keep track of the game. Somehow I knew that even a 12-run lead was not safe in Burnett’s hands and I couldn’t have been more right. The Chicago White Sox crept closer and closer until finally they were in striking distance before Cory Wade came in from the bullpen in the 5th inning and bailed Burnett out of trouble.

Joe Girardi is fiercely protective of his players, always finding something positive in the most disappointing performances, but there was visible strain and frustration on his face in the post-game interview. His team is operating on all cylinders right now, with the obvious exception of Burnett. Girardi gave Burnett every opportunity to work out of the self-imposed jam, but after realizing that Burnett simply didn't have the stuff or the confidence to put the White Sox down, Girardi chose his team over the player and pulled him.

Burnett said he wasn't mad at Girardi, but very angry with himself. Seems like a little white lie. I think he was slightly mad at his manager for pulling him short of a victory. But I also think AJ was smart enough to understand, once he cooled down, that he has no one to blame but himself for forcing Girardi to make the move.

The Yankees used the possibility of losing his job to try to motivate Phil Hughes into being the Phil Hughes of last year. Why don't they use the same technique with Burnett? A major reason is Burnett's big contract, but I also think that the Yankees worry that Burnett's psyche is simply too fragile to handle losing his job to 24-year-old Ivan Nova, even if the kid is a lot more consistent than the veteran. But the Yankees and Burnett have to figure out some way to get him on track because everyone is running out of patience.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Phil Hughes comes up aces

Talk about a clutch pitching performance.

Phil Hughes needed a strong outing to prove that he deserved to stay in the New York Yankees rotation and he came through big time last night. He gave up no runs and only three hits in six innings in a rain-shortened shutout and completely dominated the Chicago White Sox. More importantly, he looked like the Phil Hughes of the first half of last year, the aggressive pitcher brimming with confidence.

As well as Ivan Nova is pitching, it will be very difficult for him to top Hughes’ outing on Thursday. But despite Joe Girardi hinting at giving a six-man rotation another go, I think Nova is heading back to the minors even if he pitches well. This short-lived competition was set up so that Hughes would stay in the rotation if he came through with a solid outing and he was even better than that. Girardi is never committal about his pitching plans, but he clearly wants Hughes in his rotation and was only going to banish him to the bullpen if he struggled again.

Was Hughes motivated by the possibility of losing his job to Nova? It's easy to make that assumption based on his stellar performance. But from his post-game interviews of late, it seems clear that no one was more disappointed in or harder on Hughes than Hughes himself. His confidence had taken a major hit and he needed to prove to himself that he could regain his All-Star form. That was probably the biggest motivation for Hughes and he not only proved it to himself, he proved it to everyone in the Yankees organization, especially those that were contemplating a bullpen move for him.

Hughes came up aces last night. If he can channel that aggressiveness and confidence into a few more strong outings, the threat of banishment to the bullpen will become a distant memory.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

CC Sabathia making MVP case

Forget the Cy Young award. CC Sabathia is making a strong case for Most Valuable Player honors.

The trend has been to give the MVP award to everyday players, with some baseball writers flatly refusing to vote for pitchers for MVP because they have the Cy Young. Dennis Eckersley was the last pitcher to win an MVP award in 1992. Can Sabathia defy the trend of ignoring pitchers in this category? He will have to contend with some strong MVP candidates, whether it is Adrian Gonzalez with the Boston Red Sox or Sabathia's teammate Curtis Granderson.

But in the strictest definition, Sabathia has become the player that the New York Yankees simply cannot live without. Sabathia is now 16-5 with a 2.55 ERA pitching in the American League East (after winning 19 and 21 games in his first two years with the Yankees). But the numbers don't do him justice. If the Yankees are on a winning streak, they can count on Sabathia to extend it. More importantly, if they are on a losing streak, they can count on their ace to end it.

With 16 wins already this season and a reputation for being a big second-half pitcher, Sabathia could easily wind up with 22 or more wins, which would account for more than 20% of his team's victories. If Sabathia can continue his current dominance (and he has shown no signs of slowing down as seen last week with his near-perfecto), it will be difficult for the baseball writers to ignore those numbers, even if he is a pitcher.

Moment of truth for Phil Hughes

To say this is a big start for Phil Hughes would be the epitome of an understatement.

If Hughes does not pitch well tonight and Ivan Nova turns in another quality start on Thursday, Hughes is probably going to lose his spot in the New York Yankees rotation to Nova.

The decision will go beyond numbers. Hughes only gave up two run in six innings in his last start, which Joe Girardi – and any other big-league manager – would gladly take in most circumstances. But Hughes struggled with his command in the latter half of the game and had to pitch out of several jams. In contrast, Nova pitched beautifully in giving up only two runs in seven innings in his last start, never really getting into too much trouble except for a jittery first inning. Hughes has to show confidence, command and consistency in this start or it could be the last time we see him starting a game for a while.

Would a return to the bullpen be a bad thing for Hughes? Yes and no, I think. He had great success as Mariano Rivera's set-up man in 2009, but that role is now solidly occupied by David Robertson. Banishment to the bullpen could give Hughes the space to work on the issues that continue to plague him, but it could also be a major hit to his confidence.

And what would such a bullpen move say about the Yankees long-term plans for Hughes? The Yankees have been grooming Hughes as a starter and sending him to the bullpen for an extended period of time could hurt that process. (Of course, the Yankees until the spring of 2010 also envisioned Joba Chamberlain as a starter, but those plans blew up in their faces as the Joba Rules failed to protect his arm). But the Yankees also can't ignore what Nova is doing, forcing himself into the equation by pitching so well. The Yankees are getting just as invested in Nova’s long-term development as they are in Hughes’.

I don't envy Girardi & Co. It's a tough call, but one that Hughes could turn into a non-call if he comes through with a performance tonight that reminds everyone that he is still the same guy who won 18 games last year.