Friday, June 19, 2009

Bad Friday

The first order of business, before I get to whining, is to direct your attention to the New York Times Sunday Magazine, where Cynthia Gorney writes a fantastic article on Rafael Nadal. It tracks his rise through the tennis world, visits his childhood, and features illuminating interviews with close friends and family. There's also an examination of his recent injuries, and how they might affect the trajectory of his career. This lengthy piece could be called the answer to David Foster Wallace's 2006 treatise on Federer. Gorney doesn't quite approach the poetry of Foster Wallace, but there's substance galore. You'll have to excuse the awful title:

Ripped. (Or Torn Up?)

It's interesting, though, that both Foster Wallace and Gorney published their articles as the subject found himself at the onset of a slight decline. After his shocking loss in the French, and following the revelation of severe tendonitis in both knees, Rafa lost a grass exhibition match to Lleyton Hewitt yesterday. All reports had him a "step slow." He has one more against Stanislaus Wawrinka, today, and if he loses again it's likely he'll withdraw from Monday's first round at Wimbledon. That would be extremely sad, both for Rafa and tennis fans, and would completely re-define the summer Grand Slam circuit. Even if he chooses to play, the question of his health lingers. How long can he be expected to survive?

Regardless, Gorney's article is worth the time.

A certain New York baseball team, however, is not worth my time, and thus I officially declare the year's second Yankee Hiatus. As if Wednesday's humiliating two-run performance against a rookie pitcher wasn't bad enough, last night we were shut out by Craig Stammen and the Washington Nationals bullpen. Shut. Out. The reasons are the same as always; arrogance pervaded the line-up, and the Yanks operated under the illusion that they could swing for the fences and chase Stammen early. Instead, the entire team is slumping at the same time and the free swinging approach gave another mediocre pitcher an easy night. When Stammen left in the seventh inning, he'd thrown a mere 82 pitches. We showed no commitment to actually working, going deep in counts in the hope that it paid dividends later. Instead, the second time through the order, most batters hadn't yet seen more than two or three pitches.

Meanwhile, Joba keeps proving that he doesn't have the brain to be a starter. And maybe not the velocity, either; the days of 98 mile per hour fastballs seem a long way off, and their flat, motionless 92mph derivative is causing severe insecurity that results in debilitating walks. He lacks the confidence to challenge big hitters, and pitching around entire line-ups is like walking on a high wire in a wind storm; it's only a matter of time before disaster.

The lowlight of Joba's evening came in the top of the 4th, when Will Nieves came up with two outs and the bases loaded. Nieves is a fine defensive catcher, but he can't hit his way out of a wet paper bag. If nothing else, he needed to be challenged with fastballs. But Joba the Dim started throwing junk; outside sliders, fading change-ups. On 3-2, he could not summon the courage to throw a strike- in a defining moment of wilting character, he walked the Nationals' worst hitter, forcing in a run. It's the kind of mental mistake good pitchers just don't make, and it may be time to question just how suited Chamberlain is, intellectually, to be starting major league baseball games.

The upshot is that we just lost two of three to the worst team in baseball, at home. No matter what happens the rest of the way, it's hard to imagine last night won't be the season's nadir. And that calls for a hiatus.

So this weekend will be spent at other diversions. If the rain holds off, as it appears to be doing today, the US Open might actually go off. We'll see. At the moment, Tiger is on the 12th hole and three shots off the pace, but the USGA hopes to play two rounds by sunset, so the leaderboard should undergo some drastic changes.

Enjoy the weekend, see you Monday.

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