Friday, September 30, 2011

Teixeira wrong about wild card additions

Remember that glorious high we all we were feeling around midnight on Wednesday due to the trio of fantastic baseball games deciding the wild card teams in both leagues? It can happen every year if Major League Baseball implements a one-game play-in and adds two more wild card teams, which they seem to be leaning toward doing. But not everyone thinks it’s such a great idea.

Mark Teixeira said such a change would be unfair to great teams because they could be forced to play teams with lesser records in sudden-death games and have their seasons and playoff hopes crushed by one bad call or break in a game. Sorry Tex, but I just don’t agree.

While his scenario certainly could happen, I don’t think that’s a good enough reason not to make a change. First of all, such unfairness is already inherent in the game. How many times have we seen a team head for the playoffs even though a team with a better record heads home simply because they have the misfortune of being in a tougher division? In 2008, the New York Mets, the Houston Astros and the St. Louis Cardinals all missed the playoffs even though they had better records than the National League West champion Los Angeles Dodgers. In 2010, the New York Yankees won five more games in the regular season than the Texas Rangers, but went into the playoffs as the wild card (without home field advantage in any series) because the Tampa Bay Rays were one game better.

The Yankees first baseman thinks Wednesday’s finish is proof that baseball doesn’t need fixing. But that kind of wild, exhilarating finish doesn’t happen all the time. In fact, it’s never happened before in baseball. The only finish that has come close in recent history was the epic 12-inning marathon Game 163 between the Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins in 2009, a game that I spent five hours in a hotel room watching because I simply could not leave before someone won. Imagine having that feeling every year, twice over because it’s happening in both leagues.

Tex is absolutely right when he says that baseball is doing it for the money. The ratings and advertising dollars make two Game 163s every year an attractive proposition for baseball and its television partners. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t do it. Adding those extra wild card teams would create excitement that would drive people to their TV sets. The thrill of watching four teams battle in sudden-death matches for the right to advance would ensure that the good feelings we had on Wednesday can be replicated year in and year out.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Perfect day for baseball

Everyone once in a while I get a strong reminder of why I love baseball so much. Yesterday was one of those days.

I was obsessed with watching three baseball games going on at the same time last night (thank you ESPN and your multiple channels!) with the wild card race coming down to the last day of the 2011 baseball season. Hard-core baseball fans like myself were rewarded with two extra inning games and one rain-delayed game (Mother Nature reminding us she holds all the cards). The euphoria I felt with every twist and turn cannot be described. My only disappointment was that I went from the possibility of two play-in games today to none. That’s probably for the best because I would have blown off my weekly boot-camp workout tonight just to see the game.

Everyone will talk about the epic collapses of both the Boston Red Sox and the Atlanta Braves and no question both were ugly. But in truth, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Saux would be playing a game today if Joe Girardi hadn't insisted on keeping his top relievers on the New York Yankees’ roster off the mound last night. Not that I'm blaming Girardi at all because I think it was absolutely the right call, but it's clear that David Robertson, aka Houdini, and Mariano Rivera would have been pitching the 8th and 9th innings under normal circumstances. No way either one of them blows a seven-run lead.

Bud Selig is in heaven right now. As am I. I love this game. I can't wait until tomorrow and Saturday because I'm heading to Yankee Stadium to watch my Yankees beat the Detroit Tigers.

Thanks to SixFourThree via Wikipedia for the image.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Mets finally get a win in disappointing 2011 season

The Mets finally won something that could be a huge positive for the franchise’s future on the next to last day of a very disappointing 2011 baseball season.

While not a total victory, the news that a bankruptcy judge dismissed most of a lawsuit filed by the trustee for the victims of Bernie’s Madoff’s Ponzi scheme is a huge relief for the Mets owners and for the franchise. There are conflicting reports about the impact of the judge’s decision, but one story indicates that the Mets owners, even if they ultimately lose the case, will only have to pay at most $400 million, a far cry from the $1 billion trustee Irving Picard was seeking. If that’s true, perhaps most of the pressure on the Mets to look for potential investors for their baseball team will be lifted. But the Mets are not completely off the hook, according to the reports, as the ruling seems to indicate that Picard can still go after that $1 billion, although the judge’s decision significantly raised the bar that he will have to overcome to show that Fred Wilpon & Co intentionally ignored the signs of Madoff’s fraud.

The saga may not even make it to trial, with the media reports indicating that a settlement could be more likely right now, a settlement that would be more tilted in the Mets’ favor than before the judge’s decision. Hopefully, the Mets and Picard can now come to a quick settlement, one that will allow the Mets to take care of business in the offseason, namely re-signing shortstop Jose Reyes and building a team that can compete with the rest of the National League, not to mention their cross-town rival New York Yankees, who are heading for yet another postseason.

After a 2011 baseball season devoid of good news, the Mets have finally emerged with a victory when they needed it the most. Perhaps the worst of this hellish nightmare for their fans, players and other employees is finally behind them. Or perhaps this is just win #1 in a long season of litigation.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Yankees have too much pride to lose on purpose

The New York Yankees are not throwing in the towel, not even to hurt the Boston Red Sox.

A strange theory is brewing around Red Sox Nation that perhaps the Yankees are purposely blowing games against the Tampa Bay Rays so that the Rays can eclipse the Saux for the American League wild card. The thought is ridiculous on many levels, namely because the Yankees have too much pride to intentionally lose to anyone and that any employee in the Yankees organization would be permanently banished for throwing any game, even if it hurts their archrivals.

I can understand why some Red Sox fans are turning to this theory. They need some kind of explanation for their pain. But what they have to understand is that Joe Girardi, while definitely pulling some of his guys back for some much-needed rest after a brutal September, hasn’t taken his foot completely off the gas. But Girardi has a very calculated plan, going so far as to remove David Robertson with two outs in the 8th inning just so Mariano Rivera could pitch to one batter tonight. The Yankees manager has already said he will not use his top relievers in Wednesday’s game so that they have two full days of rest before the playoffs start. But he did use his best relievers in a game that was easily within the Yankees’ grasp if not for a random, wild outing by Rafael Soriano, not the actions of a manager trying to throw a game.

Does Girardi care about the outcome of Wednesday’s game? No, it means nothing to him. He will get some of his regulars some at-bats and pull them. Aside from Phil Hughes, we won’t see any of the big-name Yankee pitchers on the mound tomorrow night. But that doesn’t mean Girardi is tossing in the towel on behalf of the Rays. It just means he is being smart and careful about keeping his players sharp without getting them hurt.

“It will be an exciting day for baseball tomorrow,” Girardi said.

Yes it will. And it won’t be the Yankees fault.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Yankees don't put Red Sox out of their misery

A few days ago, I questioned whether the New York Yankees would be able to put the Red Sox out of their misery. They came thisclose to breaking the hearts of their archrivals, even with their B-lineups and no CC Sabathia.

The only reason the Red Sox were able to escape from New York with a victory in the nightcap of yesterday’s doubleheader is because Scott Proctor was pitching the top of the 14th inning. Rest assured, if the Yankees and Red Sox meet again in the American League Championship Series, Proctor will be nowhere near the Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park mounds.

But I was impressed by the way the Yankees kids stepped up to help push the Red Sox towards the edge of the cliff. They got some great defense from Austin Romine and more hits from Jesus Montero, who is showing that he will be ready to join the big club on a full-time basis next year. And I was truly shocked that AJ Burnett was the one to put the Red Sox on the brink of disaster. He finally came up with that dominating performance versus Boston that we’ve waited nearly three full years to see, although I couldn’t help but wonder if Burnett was really that good or the Red Sox were really that bad.

The Yankees played hard all weekend, but they didn’t put their A-lineups out there for every game. Joe Girardi did a very good job of mixing veterans and rookie call-ups in both games of the doubleheader, but resisted the temptation to bring either Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez off the bench in the second game when he had chances to win. I think it was a wise move on Girardi’s part since he obviously didn’t want either player to get hurt after sitting on the bench for so long. But it also showed that he wasn’t going to take any risks for a win that didn’t mean much to his team, even though the Yankees had their foot on the throat of the Red Sox.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Random baseball thoughts

I know someone usually takes the fall for an epic collapse like the one the Red Sox are currently experiencing. The Saux are in serious danger of missing the playoffs because of their terrible play, with only the fact that they still have a 1 ½ game lead with only five games left in the season the one thing they have going for them right now. But the notion that Red Sox manager Terry Francona should lose his job over this September swoon is just insane.

Before Francona, the Red Sox were best known as a bunch of dysfunctional losers that hadn’t won a World Series in 86 years. With him, the Red Sox ascended to the top of the baseball world twice, once at the expense of the New York Yankees. Sure, 2007 was a long time ago in the baseball world (and the Yankees have won another world championship since then), but no manager has handled the unmerciful Boston media and the expectations of Red Sox nation better than Francona. If the Red Sox decide he should take the fall if the team misses the playoffs, I think that’s a decision they would regret very quickly.

• If the Yankees hadn’t been playing the Red Sox this weekend, I would have already gone to see Moneyball. I’m curious to know how they turned a book that was often a very difficult read into a movie that is getting rave reviews. I’m sure having Brad Pitt star as Billy Beane helps a lot.

• Just when I thought Major League Baseball was finally rid of another steroids guy, comes word that Manny Ramirez is seeking reinstatement into the game. Ramirez famously quit on the Tampa Bay Rays rather than serve his second suspension, this time a 100-game ban, for testing positive for a banned substance. He probably needs the money to pay for the lawyers who will defend him against domestic violence charges. But I hope that Bud Selig can find a way to decline the reinstatement request. If that can’t happen, I hope no baseball team chooses to sign him. His “me-first” attitude was already getting old even when he was knocking balls out of the park and carrying teams into the playoffs. I doubt anyone’s going to have the patience for a washed-up version of Manny being Manny.

• Speaking of Selig, he is finally making his big move in his quest to rid his sport of Frank McCourt, asking a bankruptcy judge to reject McCourt’s plan to auction the television rights to broadcast Los Angeles Dodgers’ games. I’m rooting for Selig to win this battle and find an owner that will restore the Dodgers to glory rather than use them as his personal piggybank.

• I’m really glad Major League Baseball and the players’ union are embracing the idea of a one-and-done wild card round in the playoffs. I love the idea of having two teams duke it out in a sudden death game for the right to advance in the postseason, ensuring that the playoffs do not drag out any longer than necessary and creating even more excitement in the September division races.

Thanks to SixFourThree via Wikipedia for the image.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Random Yankee thoughts

I'm starting to think that the biggest opponent for the New York Yankees this year is not the Red Sox, but Mother Nature. She has imposed on the Yankees with several hours-long delays and postponements, forcing the Yankees to play a brutal schedule of doubleheaders with little time off down the stretch. At least Major League Baseball didn't force the Yankees and Red Sox to wait until 11pm and start the game in the rain. With Joe Girardi convinced that Russell Martin got hurt because of a bad playing field the day after that epic wait, you know the Yankees were fighting MLB to call the game early and keep the field in good playing condition for the rest of the weekend.

• Brian Cashman is getting the last laugh on the Red Sox after their offseason battle. The Yankees general manager admitted that he only had lunch with Carl Crawford’s agent to drive up the price for the Red Sox on the free agent, which makes total sense to me. I never believed the Yankees would want to spend that much money on an outfielder they really didn’t need. But Boston was desperate after missing the playoffs last year and overpaid for Crawford. Even though he is having a rough first season in Boston, I think he might still be a good player, but his expensive contract will hang around the Red Sox’ necks for another six years. Just more proof that the Rivalry goes beyond the field and into the front office.

• I guess it was bound to happen. Derek Jeter is now the subject of a series of one-act plays. Some are meant to be humorous although a few actually deal with serious family issues. I’m tempted to go see the plays myself, but hesitate because I’m sure Jeter is thrilled at this latest attempt by someone to cash in on his fame.

• Two former Yankee greats are receiving well-deserved honors this weekend. Oklahoma Christian paid tribute to Bobby Murcer, who helped revive the school’s baseball program, by naming its new indoor practice facility after him. Murcer was not only a great former player, but a wonderful broadcaster. I love watching old Yankee games just to hear his voice. And hopefully the rain will not force another postponement of the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Roger Maris breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record at Yankee Stadium today. Every time I think about Maris, I can’t help but think of two things: the movie 61*, which clued me in to the enormous pressure and hatred Maris endured during his pursuit of the record, and the kids of Maris being hugged by Mark McGwire after he surpassed Maris in home runs. With the subsequent revelations of steroid abuse by McGwire and Barry Bonds, Maris to me is the true record holder and worthy of such an honor.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Will Yankees put Red Sox out of their misery?

The Boston Red Sox come limping into Yankee Stadium tonight. Will the Yankees finally put them out of their misery and knock them out of the playoffs?

Probably not. It's not because the Yankees can't do it, but mostly because the Yankees won't go full throttle this weekend. Joe Girardi & Co have already decided that CC Sabathia won't start against the Red Sox, but will pitch in a simulated game on Sunday. I also expect to see all the Yankees regulars get at least one day off this weekend as Girardi rests his guys in preparation for the playoffs.

If the Yankees are not willing to start their ace against their primary rival, that's a pretty good indication that the outcome of this weekend's games means very little to them. And why should it? The Yankees have already won their division and are thisclose to locking up home-field advantage for the American League playoffs. They shouldn't risk injuries to key players by playing them more than they should for the last six days of the baseball season.

Not that there won't be any excitement at the stadium in the Bronx this weekend. Russell Martin has made it clear that he wants to knock the Red Sox out of the playoffs this weekend. Why? Because he hates them and his willingness to express those feelings and risk angering the Red Sox just permanently won him the affection of the Yankees faithful.

Perhaps the Red Sox are stumbling so badly that the Yankees don't need to put their A-lineup on the field to beat them. We’ll know for sure starting tonight.

Posada's teammates, Yankee fans in his corner

When Jorge Posada came through with a clutch pinch hit to knock in two runs and help the New York Yankees clinch the American League East division, you could see and feel the excitement not only in the stands, but in the Yankees dugout.

Even the normally stoic Derek Jeter was elated by Posada's clutch hit. In speaks volumes not only about Jeter's affection for his long-time pal, but also to the way the rest of his teammates feel about him. It seems that Posada has not engendered any lingering harsh feelings in his clubhouse after his unwise decision to pull himself out of a game against the Boston Red Sox.

Not that I expect any of these good feelings to sway Joe Girardi. The Yankees manager will make his own decision about putting Posada on the postseason roster and emotion won’t play any part in it although some will say Girardi’s lack of affection will (probably the reason he didn’t let Posada catch Mariano Rivera’s record-breaking save). But Girardi indicated that he would put Posada on the playoff roster, probably acknowledging that having Posada’s experienced, battled-tested bat on the bench would be an advantage in the postseason.

But no matter what happens with Posada in October and beyond, he can take comfort in the fact that his teammates and Yankee fans are firmly in his corner.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Yankees prove all the doubters wrong

The New York Yankees just won the American League East division title, proving that pre-season predictions mean absolutely nothing.

Before the start of the 2011 baseball season, many “experts” handed the AL division crown to the Boston Red Sox. Why? Because they had a good offseason, trading for young superstar Adrian Gonzalez and signing free agent Carl Crawford. In contrast, the Yankees were jilted by Cliff Lee, who took less money to join the Philadelphia Phillies’ super rotation. Brian Cashman’s response to that rejection was to sign Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia. Though Cashman might still secretly wish Lee took the pile of dough the Yankees were offering him, he couldn’t be happier with the performances of Colon and Garcia, who deserve a lot of credit for helping to keep the Yankees rotation from falling apart.

What makes the Yankees ascension to the AL East division throne so impressive is the multitude of injuries and the way other players stepped up to fill the voids. Phil Hughes was projected as the #2 starter, but spent most of the first half on the disabled list with inflammation in that valuable pitching arm. But up stepped Ivan Nova, a candidate for the fifth starter spot who forced his way into the Rookie of the Year debate by unexpectedly going 16-4 with a 3.62 ERA in baseball’s toughest division. The Yankees also survived multiple injuries to Alex Rodriguez, their cleanup hitter who has been MIA for most of the second half, and a calf injury that sidelined their captain Derek Jeter, though that was probably a blessing in disguise as Jeter has been on fire since his return.

It’s like Mariano Rivera said yesterday, the Yankees overcame a lot of adversity to get where they are. Calling 2011 a challenging year would be a major understatement. But they never felt sorry for themselves or took their eyes off the prize.

However, the Yankees know this is merely a first step. Next on the agenda for Joe Girardi & Co is securing home-field advantage through the American League playoffs while at the same time resting his regulars during the last week of the season. Thanks to the early division clinch, Girardi can be very judicious in prepping his team for the postseason.

With the playoffs will come more doubts from the “experts.” Some will say that the Yankees will not survive October with their makeshift rotation, that there are too many questions about starters not named CC Sabathia. I say it’s a chance for the Yankees to once again prove all the doubters wrong. Bring it on!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Burnett shows lots of nerve questioning Girardi

AJ Burnett's nerve is a lot stronger than his control.

Overshadowed by Mariano Rivera's historic feat was another typically terrible, frustrating performance by Burnett. But even more appalling than Burnett having another bad outing was that he actually had the gall to openly express annoyance about Joe Girardi's decision to remove him shy of five innings, depriving him of a chance for a victory. More accurately, Burnett’s own pitching performance deprived him for a shot at a win.

I can't say that I blame Girardi at all for that move. The New York Yankees manager clearly has lost faith in Burnett (join the club, Joe, the rest of us lost faith in Burnett a long time ago). Perhaps if Burnett pitched slightly better, he wouldn’t find himself on such a short leash. Burnett denied that he was mad at his manager for a quick hook in an earlier game, but his anger is palpable now.

With the baseball season set to end in about a week, it seems clear that Burnett has pitched his way out of the Yankees’ postseason rotation plans. Say whatever you will about the Yankees other starting options after CC Sabathia, but they are all far more reliable than AJ Burnett. And even Joe Girardi knows it now.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Jorge, YES snubs can't steal Mo's shine

Monday was Mariano Rivera’s special day and not even two noteworthy snubs could ruin it.

It’s clear from Joe Girardi’s decision not to allow Jorge Posada to catch Mo for the historic save that the manager of the New York Yankees cares nothing about Yankee legacies or about Posada’s feelings. Girardi could have sent a clear message that all slights (real or imaginary) were forgiven, that everything was well and good between him and Posada, could have lessened the blow that will come from leaving Posada off the postseason roster by simply allowing the long-time Yankees catcher to get behind the plate one last time to partner with Rivera in closing a Yankees victory. But Girardi couldn’t bring himself to make that simple goodwill gesture, even with the Yankees holding a comfortable lead in the division race. It says a lot about Girardi’s character. But Jorge handled the snub with grace, stopping to happily acknowledge Russell Martin on his way to the mound to congratulate Mariano Rivera.

Even more appalling than Girardi’s refusal to allow Posada to catch Mo was the YES Network’s cutting off Mariano’s press conference right after he took one question in Spanish. As a Puerto Rican Yankee fan celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month, I was incredibly insulted. I have to say that it’s not the first time I’ve felt snubbed when watching a YES press conference (they have often asked Spanish-speaking reporters to wait while the players answered the questions of all the English-speaking journalists first), but I was completely shocked that they would cut away from Mo on the day he broke the all-time saves record. I don’t remember Derek Jeter being cut off on the day he went five for five to pass 3,000 hits.

The full press conference is now up on the YES Network website and Mo apparently did some interviews with Spanish-language outlets afterwards. But I think Mo deserved to speak all day if he wanted (not that he would because he is way too humble for that) and the rest of us deserved the opportunity to listen to everything he had to say, whether it was said in English or Spanish. The powers that run the YES Network may not have even realized it nor did it on purpose, but their decision to cut off Mo’s press conference was incredibly offensive. They owe us better than that.

Even with the snubs, Rivera’s accomplishment ruled the day. I just wish Girardi and the YES Network bosses had truly appreciated it and cooperated fully in the celebration.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Humble Mo on top of baseball world

All you need to know about Mariano Rivera came in the aftermath of his notching save #602 to break the all-time saves record.

His New York Yankees teammates Jorge Posada and Alex Rodriguez had to force him back to the mound to accept the rousing standing ovation he received from the Yankees faithful (damn my job for not allowing me to be there this afternoon). A humble and slightly embarrassed Mo clearly didn’t know what to do standing all by himself on the mound, but he also seemed genuinely touched by the applause from the crowd and from the classy Minnesota Twins.

In his post-game interview, Rivera was asked about someone breaking his brand-new mark -- like that's ever going to happen -- and all Mo said was that he hopes whoever does it has the same respect for the game of baseball that he does. That tells you something else about Rivera, that his love and respect for the game that he grew up playing is more important to him than being considered the greatest closer in baseball history.

Mariano Rivera is on top of the baseball world and it couldn't happen to a better, more humble guy. Congratulations, Mo!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Mo's brush with destiny a sight to see

I can't tell you how happy I am that I was in Toronto this weekend to watch Mariano Rivera achieve baseball immortality.

In reality, he was already a baseball immortal. But watching him officially tie the all-time saves mark was such a thrill for me. I screamed myself hoarse, hoping Mo could hear and feel the support of me and all the New York Yankees fans who made the journey north to watch him fulfill his destiny.

The Toronto crowd was quite subdued in that historic moment and failed to give Mo the ovation he rightfully deserved. I don't think Blue Jays fans were at all comforted by the fact that they were watching history. They were too busy bemoaning the inability to hold a five-run lead. Too bad they didn’t have Mo on their side.

But not even the New York Yankees losing two out of three games this weekend could spoil the moment for me (I was hoping the Yankees would win by at least four runs on Sunday so Mo could have a shot to break the record at home this week). Whatever. Watching Mo fulfill his destiny was a beautiful thing to see (and well worth navigating Customs!).

Friday, September 16, 2011

Yankees do women justice in magazine tribute

So I finally finished reading the entire edition of Yankees Magazine honoring women (hey, it was more than 200 pages thick) and I have to say the New York Yankees did a terrific job in paying tribute to the women working behind the scenes in the organization and the female family members of several famous male athletes as well as highlighting the accomplishments of some of the greatest female athletes of our time.

There was the typical self promotion in the issue such as the six-page piece on the charitable endeavors of the Steinbrenner women and short descriptions of the good works done by the wives of several current members of the New York Yankees. I was looking forward to reading about the Steinbrenner women, but in talking to the magazine, they seemed to forget George Steinbrenner’s old adage: if you do something nice for someone and more than two people know about it, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.

The stories I enjoyed the most were the profiles of the wives of former Major League Baseball players talking openly about both the joys and the struggles of life. My personal favorite was reading Rachel Robinson, Jackie Robinson’s widow, talk candidly about the difficulties he encountered in breaking baseball’s color barrier, including the terrifying death threats. Mrs. Robinson also faced a problem in her marriage that is unfortunately still typical for a lot of working women: that her desire to have her own career created tension in her marriage. But she didn’t let that stop her from pursuing a successful career in nursing, which is truly inspring.

I also enjoyed the piece about Arlene Howard, wife of Yankees great Elston Howard. Her vivid descriptions of her husband and the way the game was played during his time were both enjoyable and enlightening, particularly for younger baseball fans who might not have much appreciation for how much the game has changed.

The issue is not all about baseball, of course. There’s a column by Tara Sullivan about gender equality for women covering sports, something we female baseball fans probably take for granted since we see Kimberly Jones covering the Yankees on television almost every night or listen to Suzyn Waldman broadcasting Yankee games on the radio. There are also plenty of profiles about famous women athletes and coaches such as Jennie Finch, Mia Hamm and Billie Jean King. But the magazine eventually gets back to baseball with a story of a father’s first baseball game with his young daughter, which I thought was a sweet story although I couldn’t help but wonder how the family got selected for such an extensive profile.

Female baseball fans of all ages should enjoy reading this special edition of Yankees magazine. But set aside some time because reading it will take a while.

Thanks to White House photographer Eric Draper via Wikipedia for the photo of Rachel Robinson.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Yankees benefit from Red Sox freefall

The New York Yankees lost another baseball game last night, but they didn’t lose any ground in their quest for the American League East title. Why? Because the Boston Red Sox also lost, squandering an opportunity to get a game closer to their archrivals.

With Mariano Rivera finally getting the attention he deserves for closing in on the all-time saves record, the Yankees pursuit of another division title has temporarily become a secondary topic in the Yankees universe. The Yankees have managed to put and maintain some distance between themselves and the Red Sox even though the Yankees lost two games against the lowly Baltimore Orioles last week and suffered a tough defeat in Seattle last night.

If we were paying attention to the Red Sox, we would see that their struggles have left them completely incapable of gaining ground on the Yankees. Tim Wakefield managed to get his 200th victory after 20 tries (ok, maybe not that many although it sure seemed like it), but little else has gone right for the Saux in the past few weeks. The Red Sox got swept by the Tampa Bay Rays, who are chasing the Red Sox for the American League wild card, and will face that talented young pitching staff again starting tonight. Boston’s fire-throwing young stud Daniel Bard blew a big game last night. But the Red Sox will get their ace Josh Beckett back on the mound Friday and if they can split the four-game series with the Rays, they will be in good shape in the wild-card race. My hope is that the Red Sox and Rays batter each other into submission so that whoever makes the playoffs doesn’t have much left in the tank.

Of course, the Yankees are not out of the woods yet. They have a brutal schedule down the stretch, with three games remaining against the Saux and seven against the Rays. But if the Yankees can play .500 ball during that time, they assure themselves of first place and possibly home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. But with the postseason right around the corner, I’d like to see the Yankees head into October playing their best baseball of the year.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Posada should catch Mo's record save

I can't even describe to you the feeling of pure joy and excitement I experienced on Saturday night watching Jorge Posada don the catcher's gear for the first time in 2011. The only thing that could surpass that good feeling is watching him put on the gear to catch Mariano Rivera's record-breaking save.

Rivera is only one save away from 600 and three saves away from surpassing Trevor Hoffman for the all-time saves record. Having Posada catch Mo for that one inning would make reaching that mark even more special than it already will be. Posada has been on the receiving end for 368 of Mariano Rivera’s saves so it would truly be like a fairy tale to have Posada catch him just one last time. With Derek Jeter out at shortstop, the three longest-tenured members of the New York Yankees, who have celebrated and suffered so much together in their years in baseball, deserve the chance to enjoy the historical feat together.

Judging from Posada’s obvious joy after the game on Saturday, he still has catching in his heart. With this likely being his last year in Yankee pinstripes, I bet it would mean the world to him to be on the field with his friend and long-time colleague for such a remarkable occasion. It might take some of the sting out of what has been a really tough year for Posada.

Kim Jones indicated during last night’s game that Joe Girardi flatly dismissed the idea of putting Posada behind the plate for Rivera’s record-breaking save, reiterating that Posada is only an emergency catcher and Saturday was an emergency. But perhaps Girardi will have a change of heart. In truth, I think it would go a long way toward mending whatever bad feelings Girardi and Posada may have for one another.

I will be in Toronto this weekend so I can hopefully watch history, a moment that will be even more special if the Key Three can celebrate it all together on the field.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Mets score big with touching 9/11 ceremony

Say what you will about the New York Mets, but last night they put together a beautiful, touching tribute to the victims of 9/11, the families they left behind and the brave first responders who searched and searched for survivors until there was no more hope.

Bless the Mets for figuring out a way to put aside all their dysfunction to put together what was truly a heart-warming ceremony. From having members of the inspirational 2001 team participating in the ceremony to having current Mets and Chicago Cubs players come out of the dugout holding hands with a child who lost a parent on 9/11 to Marc Anthony singing the national anthem as he did 10 years ago, everything was perfect. It made me really sorry I didn't think to head to Citi Field to join in honoring all those who were lost and the brave individuals who risked their lives and health to try to find them.

However, I am completely baffled as to why Major League Baseball wouldn't let the Mets wear the caps of the New York Police Department, Fire Department and Port Authority as a way to honor those who lost their lives trying desperately to save others. I am constantly amazed by MLB’s cluelessness and insensitivity. So what if they have a contract with New Era—does the company really want to be known as the reason the Mets players couldn’t wear those hats in tribute to the true heroes of New York City?

For one night only, I was a Mets fan again. I really was rooting for a walk-off victory in the late innings of the game, if only to see the smiles on the faces of all the first responders, military folks and the children in attendance. Alas, it was not meant to be because this is the 2011 version of the Mets, not the 2001 Mets led by Mike Piazza, who never hit a more memorable home run than he did to win that first game back after the attacks.

The Mets don't often get a lot right, but they did something truly beautiful and unforgettable last night.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Baseball makes 9/11 feel a little better

Today, on the 10th anniversary of the darkest day in American history, baseball made things a little better.

I woke up today and quickly turned on the television, which I don’t normally do on Sunday mornings. But I wanted to watch the 9/11 remembrance ceremonies and offer silent prayers for the victims and their families. And cry. I couldn’t help feeling the sadness and pain all over again as I sat there listening to the names being called one after another. The hardest part was watching the kids who lost parents participate in the roll call. I do know what it’s like to grow up without parents, but I didn’t lose mine in such a horrific, unimaginable way. I can’t even imagine how tough this day is for them.

But baseball has a way of easing some of that pain, just as it did 10 years ago. Somehow just watching two teams putting all they have out there on the field has an inexplicable way of making a lot of people feel better. It started with the moving ceremonial first pitches by the first responders throwing to Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera of the Yankees and Torii Hunter, Mike Scioscia and Jered Weaver of the Angels.

Then there was a game of baseball played under clear blue skies, much like that horrific day in New York City 10 years ago (that’s one of my clearest memories of 9/11, walking up Broadway and thinking about organizing a mass hooky party at work for an afternoon of volley ball before the world changed). It wasn’t the crispiest baseball every played, but that hardly mattered, especially with the feel good story of Austin Romine’s first major league baseball game. Imagine being that kid, unexpectedly receiving a call from Joe Girardi calling him up to the big leagues to play in a game against his older brother, who plays for the Angels, 10 minutes from where he grew up, with his parents in attendance. The game ended with the newest Yankee catching the oldest, the great Rivera as he closes in on the all-time saves record. Really, does it get any better than that?

That’s the beauty of baseball. Somehow watching a baseball game today made me feel better, just as it did 10 years ago after our world was torn apart. So a day that started with sadness ends with a little bit of joy, just as it should.

Thanks to Derek Jensen via Wikipedia for the photo.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Random Yankee thoughts

Very classy move on the part of the Angels to honor Derek Jeter becoming the first member of the New York Yankees to hit his way toward the magic 3,000 mark. The Angels gave Jeter what looks like a lovely painting and he seemed very pleased by the gift. I think Jeter has taken a lot of pride in this particular achievement, even if he doesn’t talk about it anymore.

There was talk of a pre-game ceremony honoring Jeter, but that apparently got scratched due to pushback (some of it quite nasty) from Angels fans. I understand their bewilderment at the thought of honoring an opposing player (and a Yankee no less), but I would have thought Jeter was well liked enough around baseball that such an honor wouldn’t be so controversial. Plus, they shouldn’t be that hostile toward the Yankees since the Angels beat them twice in the playoffs in 2002 or 2005. Perhaps they are still upset about the American League Championship Series in 2009.

• Nice of the New York Times to catch up to me in wondering why Mariano Rivera’s pursuit of the all-time saves record is not getting much play. But the Times made an interesting point in that the baseball world might not be paying much attention to the pursuit because Rivera is already widely considered the greatest closer in baseball history and surpassing Trevor Hoffman is a mere formality. I would say that perhaps Rivera can get a nice painting from an opposing team as a tribute after he notches the record, but the last road trip of the year goes through Tampa Bay so I won’t hold my breath.

• Francisco Cervelli is a tough guy, but there was no way he was coming out of that direct hit to the head on Thursday without another concussion. I felt physically ill just watching that collision at home plate. It was a brilliant, gritty play, even if it did come in a losing effort.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Yankee bat boy's book full of fun tales

Many people who pick up Clubhouse Confidential, the recently released book of former New York Yankees bat boy Luis Castillo, will be eager to read the behind-the-scenes tales of mischief by some of the biggest stars in pinstripes. Believe me, there are plenty of those. But my favorite stories are the ones Castillo shares about some of the less famous Yankees.

Ramiro Mendoza, the invaluable reliever/spot starter for the Yankees in the late 1990s gets his own chapter and he deserves it. It was great to read about Mendoza’s humility and down-to- earth nature, spending time with and signing autographs for the kids in Castillo’s Bronx neighborhood, taking the young bat boy fishing and on vacation to his modest home in Panama. One of the funniest stories in the book is about Mendoza tricking the young Castillo into eating an iguana. I kid you not, it’s in the book and it’s hilarious. It’s clear that Castillo has an undying affection for Mendoza, to whom he remains close.

Castillo doesn’t have nearly the same affection for Alex Rodriguez. Although he doesn’t directly say it, it’s clear from the book that ARod is probably Castillo’s least favorite player. The chapter about ARod is titled Look at Me, Will Ya? He doesn’t really tell us anything we don’t already know about ARod, but his many tales of ARod’s selfishness and high-maintenance ways are astounding just because of the sheer number. Castillo details the many reasons why ARod’s teammates didn’t like him and the third baseman’s strange habit of copying the behavior of his teammates, particularly Derek Jeter. Castillo derisively refers to ARod as “His Magnificence”.

Castillo managed to do something that I didn’t think was possible. He actually made me feel sorry for Jason Giambi. I was never much of a Giambi fan, initially because I resented that the Yankees pushed Tino Martinez (a personal favorite of mine) out to make room for him. Later in his Yankee career, the constant physical breakdowns and revelations of steroid use made me really anti-Giambi. But Castillo makes a compelling case that the higher ups in the Yankees hierarchy were unfair and downright cruel to Giambi.

Of course, Castillo has his own problems with the Yankees, namely their firing of him and their failure to give him a World Series ring. Just hearing his side of the story, I don’t think he has much of a leg to stand on about his curt dismissal. But I do feel bad for the kid not being rewarded with a ring for his many sacrifices and hard work for the club. His lingering bitterness, along with what I’m sure was a nice advance payment, was probably what compelled Castillo to write the book. Whatever his reasons, I’m glad he did. It’s a terrific read.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Why is Mo getting less love than Jeter?

Quick question: why is Mariano Rivera's pursuit of the all-time saves record getting less love and attention than Derek Jeter's quest for 3,000 hits?

The New York tabloids couldn't get enough of the race to 3,000, publishing stories every day about how close Jeter was getting. But they have been remarkably silent about Rivera's chase of baseball's saves record. Jeter's feat, though truly incredible, was accomplished by 27 other baseball players before the captain of the New York Yankees joined that club. In contrast, Rivera is trying to become only the second reliever to get to the 600-save mark and blow past Trevor Hoffman to become the all-time saves leader.

Perhaps it has to do with the fact that some baseball writers still can't wrap their heads around saves. They generally have trouble assessing the greatness of closers, as seen by the difficulty pitchers such as Lee Smith have getting into the Baseball Hall of Fame despite saving hundreds of games.

Or maybe the media is taking its cues from Rivera, who is the epitome of a low-key guy. Rivera has made it clear that he couldn't care less when or if he gets the record as long as he is doing his job. But Jeter was equally as quiet about his pursuit, only admitting after the fact that he was both nervous with and preoccupied by it. The New York tabloids didn't let that stop them from making a big deal about it.

I'm sure Rivera's record won't slip the minds of the New York Yankees. The Yankees and Major League Baseball have a full page devoted to the countdown. Since he could match and surpass Hoffman before the end of the current road trip (hopefully in Toronto because I will be there =), the Yankees will have a nice ceremony planned for him when he gets back home.

It hasn't slipped my attention either. Mo is my favorite Yankee and I will be at the stadium on whatever day the Yankees choose to honor him, just like I was there for Jeter's special ceremony.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Baseball endangers players with forced game

Major League Baseball did a real disservice to the New York Yankees, the Baltimore Orioles and the unfortunate fans holding tickets for yesterday’s game by forcing the teams to play in such treacherous weather conditions.

Bud Selig & Co are very lucky that none of the players was injured running the bases, playing the outfield or chasing pop-ups, normal parts of a baseball game that become extremely dangerous because of the soggy tracks and grass and steady, and at times heavy, downpour. I watched last night in a state of complete dread, terrified that one of the Yankees or Orioles was going to slip or pull a hamstring chasing a ball. If someone had gotten hurt, Selig would have been crucified for ordering the teams to play in those conditions.

I know baseball wanted to get the game in, but ordering the teams to play in that type of weather is just inexcusable because it put the players in serious jeopardy. I know that the baseball calendar is running out of days and there aren’t a lot of good options, but baseball should have allowed that game to be postponed and played at the end of the season if it mattered in the division race. But Selig apparently refused to consider that possibility, probably out of fear it would wreck the new postseason scheduled designed to make baseball’s television partners happy.

I wish Selig would have shown the same consideration for the fans, who were forced to wait out horrid conditions. I’ve been at Yankee Stadium when it’s raining and it’s terribly cold and uncomfortable and if you’re holding tickets for seats in the upper deck there’s really no place to go to get away from the bad weather. The Yankees tried to make it up to their fans by offering free tickets for next season, but those hearty souls who endured 7+ hours of hellish conditions should have been given an extra bonus for sticking around to root for their guys (free food, Yankee gifts and a personal apology from the baseball powers that be).

If MLB officials were really worried about the impact of these rainouts, they wouldn’t schedule so many games in the Northeast during rainy months. If they were smarter about the scheduling, the Yankees wouldn’t be forced into a situation where the best option is to play a game in weather conditions that carry a serious risk of injury. Bad judgment by a commissioner who should know better.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Bitter Showalter a real bummer for Orioles

Have the troubles of the Baltimore Orioles finally driven Buck Showalter off the deep end?

Perhaps it’s the stress of managing a team that is now 31 games behind the first-place New York Yankees (boy, does that feel good to say!), but Showalter really seems to be losing it. He has said some things recently that were completely out of line.

The worst comment was when Showalter accused the Yankees of being disrespectful to former Orioles pitcher Mike Flanagan, who committed suicide right before their recent series in Baltimore. The Yankees and Orioles engaged in a bitter war of words over the O’s refusal to play a day-night doubleheader during the first day of the series in anticipation of Hurricane Irene. But as Michael Kay and Joe Girardi discussed on the most recent episode of the manager’s show, the Yankees weren’t even aware of the tragedy at the time the doubleheader suggestion was first made.

I thought it was despicable that Showalter invoked Flanagan's name in the context of this dispute, but I was willing to write that off as sadness and just plain raw emotion over the tragic news of Flanagan’s suicide. I have less patience for Showalter’s dismissal of the impressive performance of young Jesus Montero, who hit two homers and had the game-winning RBI in yesterday’s game. Showalter reluctantly acknowledged Montero’s talent before taking a swipe at the Yankees benefitting from their higher payroll. Aside from being unnecessarily hostile, Showalter’s comments made absolutely no sense as Montero is not (yet) a big-money player and is a homegrown Yankee product.

I don't remember Showalter being this bitter when he was the Yankees manager in 1995 and had young, talented players such as Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte on his radar and roster. Perhaps Showalter’s resentment toward the Yankees has to do with the way he was dumped by then-owner George Steinbrenner, which is perfectly understandable. Showalter deserves some of the credit for laying the groundwork for the 1990s Yankees dynasty so maybe he’s upset that he hasn’t been given the recognition he feels he deserves.

Or maybe the losing ways of the Orioles have finally taken their toll on their manager. But he really shouldn’t be so bitter about that since he knew what he was getting himself into.

Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the photo.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Yankees unfairly drag out rotation decision

Instead of actually making a tough call, Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman have once again deferred a decision on trimming the New York Yankees six-man rotation down to five starters.

Girardi had pledged to make a decision after the series against the Boston Red Sox and claimed that one start would not make or break a pitcher’s chances of staying in the Yankees rotation. But he appears to have had a change of heart, largely because AJ Burnett’s decent outing against the Red Sox has given Girardi and Cashman cover to keep him in the rotation if he can come through with a solid start this week. They have seemingly been reluctant to pull Burnett, despite his consistently bad pitching, because of his enormous contract, his fragile ego and a concern that he will not be able to contribute out of the bullpen. Phil Hughes, on the other hand, has proven that he can be a successful reliever. Bartolo Colon, the other candidate for a seat in the bullpen, has pitched way more innings this season than he has in the previous three years combined and the thinking is that he could use the rest to be ready for October.

But the inability or unwillingness of Girardi and Cashman to make a firm decision is unfair to all the pitchers involved. Imagine having to pitch games in front of 40,000+ with this cloud hanging over your head, knowing one bad pitch could get you banished to the bullpen. Think about what a burden it is to constantly have to answer questions about the possibility of losing your job. I think that’s why we saw Hughes uncharacteristically testy following his start against the Red Sox. The uncertainty of the situation outweighs whatever relief they get from getting one more turn in the rotation.

Even CC Sabathia is adversely affected by the inability to trim the rotation because it is disruptive to his routine. Sabathia, being a good soldier, said he would take the ball whenever the Yankees hand it to him, but he has previously made his feelings known on this topic and can’t be happy about the lack of decisiveness by his manager and general manager.

Someone will be hurt by whatever decision they make, but at least it’s only that person who is affected by the move. Girardi and Cashman need to stop dragging this out. They are going to get criticized no matter who they send to the bullpen so they should simply make a decision, put it behind them and concentrate on winning the division and getting ready for the playoffs.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Yankees should prep Robertson for next gig

With David Robertson having mastered the 8th inning, the New York Yankees should start prepping the flame-throwing righty for his next gig: closing games on a full-time basis.

Hopefully, we are nowhere near the day Mariano Rivera decides to call it quits. In the euphoria of winning the World Series, Rivera said he wanted to pitch another five years. He is signed through the end of next season, which makes it three years. Will Mariano want to keep pitching beyond the end of his contract? If he doesn’t, then the Yankees have to be ready.

Robertson may be just the right guy to take the legendary closer’s place. He has a wonderful temperament and has shown that he doesn’t succumb to pressure, proven by his ability to wiggle out of trouble, often of the bases-loaded variety, by striking out hitters left and right. He’s called Houdini for a reason.

In a recent interview with Kim Jones, Rivera said Robertson has the goods to one day take his place. But Rivera also said Robertson needed to learn some things, likely referring to Robertson’s penchant for being wild on occasion. John Wetteland also had a reputation for making things interesting by putting guys on base, but he turned out to a great closer for a World Series winning ballclub. There’s no reason Robertson can’t have the same success.

Although the day may not be near, Joe Girardi and the Yankees can start grooming Robertson by putting him in the closer’s spot on days when Rivera, who is after all 41 years old even if he doesn’t show it, needs some rest. That way Robertson can learn from the master about what it really takes to be a closer and can be ready when the job becomes available in the hopefully distant future.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Random baseball thoughts

I don't know if David Einhorn was the right guy to buy a large chunk of the New York Mets, but the sad thing is that his failed bid puts the Mets and their fans right back where they started: in limbo.

• I still think AJ Burnett has to be the odd man out of the New York Yankees rotation. I only saw the highlights of his start against the Boston Red Sox, but the numbers indicate that it was a solid start (and frankly a lot better than anyone expected). But I still don't trust him over any of the other guys in the rotation and that includes young Ivan Nova, who is surely the #2 guy behind CC Sabathia if the playoffs started tomorrow.

• I appreciate Mark Teixeira and Dustin Pedroia stepping up to say that, yes, Yankees-Red Sox games are way too long. Perhaps Pedroia can have a talk with his pitcher Josh Beckett teammate to teammate and explain that he would get better defense behind him if he quickened his pace. I knew the length of the Rivalry games was out of control when I started falling asleep in the 7th inning.

• I wouldn’t be surprised to see Frank McCourt try to take a huge payout and sell his team to a Chinese-backed group, just to piss Bud Selig off. As much as Selig wants to expand baseball's popularity internationally, this is probably not what he had in mind.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Yankees could have used Pettitte vs Boston

Imagine how much better the prospects for the New York Yankees would be if they had Andy Pettitte starting against the Boston Red Sox tonight instead of AJ Burnett.

It’s a moot point, of course, since Pettitte seems to be happily retired and the Yankees are still contractually committed to Burnett for two-plus years. But I can’t help play the “what-if” game. Assuming Pettitte was healthy, he would be the guy I would most want to see on the mound tonight.

If the Yankees somehow managed to win this game in spite of Burnett, it would be a great boost to their collective confidence. After last night’s disappointing loss by Phil Hughes, leaving Boston having won two out of three games and being a mere half game behind the Red Sox would be a tremendous victory. But I seriously doubt it will happen because I think Burnett will put them in a hole they will just not be able to dig themselves out of. Imagine the outcry that will happen if Burnett fails spectacularly against the Red Sox tonight, as most Yankee fans expect, and Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman still choose not to send him to the bullpen. The vast majority of Yankee fans, sick and tired of Burnett and his drama, will be angry and unsympathetic, with one possible, hilarious exception.

Imagine how much better Yankee fans would feel about tonight’s game if our homegrown lefty was on the mound versus the Saux. Pettitte was one of the most dependable pitchers the Yankees ever had, a fact that I think us fans and the Yankee brass too often took for granted. I still think the Yankees win that 2004 American League Championship Series if Pettitte was still with the Yankees. They lost because they didn’t have a starter capable of stopping the Boston juggernaut once it got started. Pettitte, with 19 wins in the postseason, could have been that guy if the Yankees hadn’t let him walk away. But they did and the course of Yankee-Red Sox history was forever changed.

Alas, it’s not Mr. Dependable Pettitte but Mr. Unreliable Burnett who gets the ball tonight against the archrivals. But daring to dream never hurt anybody.

Phil Hughes most disappointed in himself

No one was more disappointed in Phil Hughes last night than himself.

I couldn’t help but cringe watching Hughes be interviewed during the YES Network’s post-game show. Hughes is always his worst critic, but last night was something different. He looked and sounded utterly defeated. He has always been willing to be accountable for his performance and never makes excuses (unlike one of his fellow starters for the New York Yankees), but there was a testiness that I have not seen from Hughes before. I fear that the early-season injury and the constant barrage of questions about a possible banishment to the bullpen have finally taken their toll on the youngster.

That hopelessness may come from his job being on the line every time he takes the ball and then being asked ad nauseam about it after every start when it’s clear that AJ Burnett, who hasn’t pitched a great game in about three months, should be the one headed for the bullpen. Ian O’Connor makes a terrific point in his column that the Yankees should be protecting the pitcher that has the most upside for them (Hughes) rather than the expensive and emotionally fragile Burnett, who at this point is unlikely to finish out that five-year deal as a Yankees starter.

But Hughes had a chance to it make it impossible for Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman to send him to the bullpen. A good outing against the Boston Red Sox on national television was all that he needed to solidify his spot in the rotation, but he couldn’t pull it off. Bad pitch selection, missed location and a flying moth all worked against him last night and he couldn’t overcome any of it. It’s a shame because there were a few innings where we saw the potential that the Yankees have always seen in Hughes. But it may not be enough to keep his job and Hughes knows it, which is why his disappointment was on display for the world to see.