I was hoping the Rangers could help us out with a win over the Red Sox. After Wakefield was removed in the eighth it looked possible as Blalock singled off Papelbon for his first blown save of the year. That was just the tieing run though and the Rangers’ former closer Francisco Cordero made quick work of allowing the winning run. My opinion of the Rangers is that they aren’t a very good team and it occured to me that the American League has only about 5 really good teams: the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Tigers and White Sox. And I still think the Tigers and Blue Jays are dubious. So basically when it comes down to it, the AL has only three teams who could weather serious postseason competition. And unless the submarine teams Cleveland and Oakland surface and bomb everyone they play in the second half, which seems to be their annual strategy, we only have three teams with legitimate chances at success in the playoffs: Yankees, Red Sox, White Sox. Even factoring in the White Sox pitching troubles of late, I think their defense and power gives them the edge over the Yankees and Red Sox. However, in the last few weeks, the Yankees have played amazing baseball, some of the best baseball I’ve seen played in awhile. They became that organized, economic dynamo and found what makes it click. I honestly see the World Series in this teams 2006 future and I want Melky Cabrera for World Series MVP. Whoa! Take a deep breath Charles. Calm down for a few secs. Yeah, it’s only June. 4 months left. And if history repeats itself, everything I just said will prove incorrect as I have never been adept at forecasting events, performances, etc. But still, I love how the Yankees have played lately and I think they have mountains of untapped potential. The best is yet to come.
I like Tim Wakefield. He’s a Hall of Fame baseball player in my book. I don’t know why that is because his career numbers wouldn’t look good on a plaque: 148 wins, 130 losses, career ERA of 4.27, less than 2,000 strike outs, not particularly good in October. But when Wakefield has control of his breaking pitches, he enters the ranks of those pitchers who are literally throwing unhittable pitches to the plate. That knuckleball and curve ball and whatever else he magicked slippery tonight that turned bats into fly swatters reminded me of why I love watching him. Each and every delivery through seven innings was identical, fluid and effortless. I suppose a criticism is that he isn’t pitching as much as he is simple-mindedly lobbing balls no faster than 70 miles per hour with random, uncontrollable movement, but that criticism doesn’t bother me. So I guess his career isn’t Hall of Fame material, but I think whenever he took and continues to take the mound the chances of him being the best pitcher in the game are 50/50. He reminds me of a softer throwing Gagne.
During the Rangers game yesterday, the game which they lost a 7 run lead over the Royals, the commentators mentioned Reggie Sanders as an outfielder the Yankees might be looking at. My feeling is that Reggie wouldn’t be much of an improvement and the only deals that make sense are if the sought after player is at Sheffield’s level. If Cashman is on the hunt for an outfielder, he needs to get an All-Star outfielder instead of some mediocre Joe. And sacrificing prospects and current roster members on a superstar outfielder is probably not worth it.
I remember three starts ago after Randy Johnson blanked the Tigers through six innings people were claiming that the Yankees once again had their ace back in the rotation. Then after pitching so-so into the eighth against Baltimore, fans saw the imminent return of the Randy of old. A few skeptics such as myself reserved a couple more outings to know for certain. I think it’s written in stone that from now till the end of the year Randy Johnson is going to be on again, off again. Mostly off. He’s making too many mistakes. He’ll strike out the side and then look to have another perfect inning before serving up a juicy one for some guy who’s never hit a home run to golf out of the park. He’s really erratic and when pitted against a menu of good hitters he struggles and struggles to escape from jam after jam. For example, he had a good April. In 4 starts he pitched 28 innings, allowed only 6 runs and struck out 21. That makes for a 1.92 ERA. But those starts were against the A’s, the Angels, the Royals and Orioles: all teams below .500. Good pitching from our ace nonetheless. However, I’ve omitted two April starts in which he allowed 13 runs in 8 plus innings. Who were those against? Toronto. He has trouble with the powerhouses, the "real teams" who we need to beat in the second half. Come May he beats the Devil Rays (even though he allowed 5 runs), loses to Boston, loses to Oakland, pitches horrible against the Mets, but gets lucky with the no decision, beats Boston (even though he allowed 5 runs) and pitched brilliantly for the win in Detroit. He’s made 14 starts and what we’ve seen is what we’re gonna get. If we’re going to the World Series, which we must, another good arm must be added. Winning the ALCS with our current rotation would be one shocking, yet awesome, miracle.
Papelbon blew his first save. Todd Jones blew his third save. Gary Majewski blew his fourth save. Rheal Cormier blew his third save. LaTroy Hawkins blew his third save. Ryan Dempster saved his tenth game. Isringhausen saved his nineteenth. Ambriorix Burgos saved his eighth. Huston Street saved his twelfth. Bobby Jenks saved his eighteenth. Trevor Hoffman saved his fourteenth. J.J. Putz saved his tenth. Mike Gonzalez saved his ninth.
Lots of good in tonight’s win. Moose ends what he starts, crunching six inconsequential hits on the side like soda cans and sitting down 5 Tigers on the K. The only Detroit run was unearned and came in the ninth after A-Rod’s throwing error let Polanco reach base. But how can you fault a guy that went 3 for 4 with 2 RBIs? Timely hitting from a jumble Yankee lineup trickled in 4 runs in the eighth and ninth, padding that save situation lead of 2-0. Mariano pitched a beaut last night, 3 inning relief, and the Moose gave his bullpen some pillows to rest on. Giambi’s bat swung for 3 hits, outwitting the shift strategem. Cabrera, Cairo, Phillips and Long took the field, aiding fellow Yankees with bigger names in recuperating. Overall, a beautiful ballgame, the whole roster utilized and winning together in tandem with Moose’s pitches, elusive and twinkling until that high thump of a fastball meeting leather and the umpire pulling the trigger.
The Giambino slung two loopers through gaps between third and second, responding to an impenetrable defense of gloves to his right. I remember a game last year in which Giambi bunted down the line. Just as we see Cabrera developing in the bigs, it’s a thrill to watch Giambi solve the puzzle and make that shift decision more iffy. I hope he keeps it up and normalizes that infield.
There came a play put on by Detroit in the late innings when first and second were occupied with no outs I think, and Leyland optioned for a bunt toward the charging first baseman. This allowed Phillips an empty and crystal clear path to throw out the runner at third, which he did. If the bunt was directed toward A-Rod, and if it was hit equally hard, then the only play would’ve been to first. I don’t think gambling on complications beats the sure out at first. That could’ve made a huge difference. With one out and two runners in scoring position a single could empty the bags, drastically altering the game, maybe forcing a move to the bullpen, instead it setup a potential twin killing. I don’t recall what actually happened but whatever happened allowed Moose to charge ahead unscathed and calm the home crowd to a murmur. If you were watching the game, what did you think of this play?
And what did you think of Phillips pushing for a double in the ninth? The ball wasn’t deep and a quick bobble by the outfielder didn’t add the seconds needed to slide in safely. It was 4-0 at this time, Phillips was the leadoff, and I think he should’ve settled at first base. Hustle and aggression are important though for October bound teams and seeing that from a bench player is good news, signs of the talent Torre has at his fingertips to tap at a moment’s notice. I bet that down the road in a clutch spot in a big game Phillips tries that again and pulls it off.
Chad Cordero saved his 8th game, Trevor Hoffman his 11th and Papelbon his 19th.
Boston needs to keep Papelbon. They don’t need advice, but I think being the team with the unhittable, unsolvable, dead end closer after Mariano leaves the Rivalry in a few years will play a huge part in gaining ground on New York in the bragging race. Obviously he’ll help them win and will streamline Francona’s bullpen plans during a game, but he will also serve as the trophy Boston can taunt every club with. As New York has boasted the game’s best closer during the last decade, Boston has the chance to replace them, to boast the ownership of the new pitcher who literally stops the game a few innings short. The pitcher who makes every manager leave for the clubhouse when he comes in. The pitcher who is simply the best.
I’m glad Roger stayed with the Astros. His presence will be more important and more noticed in Houston. Going to New York or Boston would give Roger more pressure than he needs, considering it would stoke the fires of this already blazing rivalry. Helping the Astros recover from their slump and challenge a National League brimming with playoff contenders will make this last season, if it is indeed his last, easier and more fun. Won’t it be awesome if he leads them to another World Series? I’m rooting for it. Go Rocket!
Boston beat a D’Ray pitcher who hasn’t won a game all season. In fact, I hear he hasn’t won a game in his last 13 starts dating back to last year. Doug Waechter’s his name. He went 5-12 with a 5.62 ERA last year. He looked pretty good today. Kept the BoSox to 3 runs. Of course a win is a win, and I’m just bitter Tampa didn’t hand Papelbon his first blown save. Maybe Waechter won’t be pitted against a pitcher like Josh Beckett next game and he’ll get the cushion of some run support. That would be pure paradise for Doug. Might be enough for a win, might not. If it’s Randy Johnson he’s facing, then the D’Rays will probably bat around in the first and Dougie will take the mound with an 8 run lead. Then he’ll leave in the 8th, proud that he kept the Bronx Bombers off the board. But in his revelry he’ll forget the Tampa Bay bullpen likes to joke around. The Yankees will win on a majestic walk-off, pinch-hit grand slam by Mariano Rivera, filling in for Terence Long who tripped on a baseball in the dugout. I hear Mariano practices running down fly balls with the outfielders and that he runs very fast.
Carl Crawford also runs fast. He had a big game against Boston. A 3 hit night following his 5 hit performance yesterday. He also stole his 19th bag. The Tampa Bay clean-up guy, Huff, is hitting .161. Just like the Seattle clean-up guy Sexson, who’s horrifying pitchers with his .208. Those numbers are usually seen at the bottom of the order. Unless you play for Dusty, who puts Juan Pierre and his .269 OBP to bat leadoff. I guess it doesn’t matter. Their tops in RBIs is Aramis with 23. The managers of these subterranean teams need to shake up their batting orders. Draw the names from a cap or just ask the guys where they want to hit that day. "Blanco, you want to leadoff? Thanks for stepping up. A fine day to be a hero. Zambrano, you want to hit second? Good stuff, now we’re getting somewhere".
I shouldn’t be making fun of these bad teams. Now that the Royals have lost 13 straight, they’re prime for an inexplicable explosion of amazing baseball. The baseball gods must be feuding with Steinbrenner or something, because they’ve dragged Kansas City through a nightmare just to make them their 2006 season highlight: a three game sweep at Yankee Stadium. Thanks baseball gods. Why can’t KC suffer three more games? A 16 game losing streak is an accomplishment in its own unique way. Just like Dimaggio’s 56, the Royals could post an impressive 20 to 30 game losing streak for the ages. Actually, the Royals face a relatively easy schedule after New York: Oakland, Seattle, Texas, Tampa Bay, the Angels, Houston, Pittsburgh. All teams hovering around or drowning below the .500 mark. The wins can wait till then. So baseball gods, how ’bout it? Please don’t humiliate us. I know you want to.
So today, 6 games, 4 succesful save conversions, 2 unsuccesful. Gordon got his 14th, Chad Cordero his 7th, Chris Ray his 12th, Papelbon his 16th. Calero of Oakland and the Royal Burgos were the unlucky ones, stricken with the abbreviation BS next to their names in the box score.
Rangers Duplicate What Yankees Did
Texas staged its own comeback win tonight. Oakland was ahead 7 to nothing in the 6th. At that point the Rangers only had 3 hits until the catcher Barajas blasted a grand slam. Then rookie Ian Kinsler, fresh off the DL, hit two homers and Teixeira decided to slingshot a round tripper for the first time in 18 games. Then in the bottom of the 9th with two outs, game tied, Phil Nevin, who’s hitting .226 with 7 homers, looks up and sees fireworks and kids piling on a ball in centerfield. He just took Street deep. Nevin literally walked to first base carrying the bat, a look of shock on his face. Texas is wild right now. I live in Austin and everyone here thinks we won the World Series. Of course I joke.
The Fenway Phenom Papelbon has dropped his ERA to a very pretty 0.39. In 23 innings he’s allowed 11 hits and struck out 21. 3 walks and 1 run are the only evidence that he’s human. Boston has watched their young closer finish off more than half of their wins but according to the laws of baseball he’s going to jog in from the bullpen someday this season and exit with an introduction to the blown save column. It’s what all closers go through unless they’re a freak of nature like Gagne and even he’s done it on occasion. Rivera had a 30 something streak snapped last year and Brian Fuentes of the Rockies had a 20+ streak going into this season snapped at the end of April. But a few blown saves won’t scar dominant pitching and Papelbon has the pure intensity to spearhead his way to a 40 save rookie year. While I think the only way to evaluate a closing pitcher is by their consistency over several seasons, Papelbon looks more than promising as a knock out closer in years to come and he’s a keeper.
Another closer in the AL East nailing the door shut is B.J. "Blue Jay" Ryan. He’s in his 9th career season but only his 2nd as a fulltime closer. It’s easy to overlook him but so far he’s converted 11 saves in as many opportunities for Toronto and touts an ERA of 0.42. Pretty darn good and will play an equalizing role if Toronto threatens Boston and NY for first place.
Other closers getting the job done tonight were Todd Jones for his 14th, Cordero for his 6th, Frankie Rodriguez for his 11th, Hoffman for his 8th and Isringhausen for his 15th.
I recently finished reading The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty by Buster Olney. It narrates Game 7 of the 2001 World Series and relates it to an analytical behind the scenes look at the Yankee organization. Though resurfacing those Game 7 memories made me teary eyed, it was a great read and I highly recommend it.
Alright. Leave comments please if you’re reading. You can leave a blank comment if you wish or just a brief, "Hey, you spelled ‘Pierzynski’ wrong" type thing. Just want to know how many hits I get a day.
The Mariano Career Saves Counter: 388