Friday, October 30, 2009

NOW That's What I Call Pitching: Vol. AJ

Wow!


Yankee fans, including myself, had basically gnawed their fingernails to the bone by gametime yesterday, fretting over the big question: would we got good AJ, or bad AJ? If the latter, our season would be on emergency watch. But our worrying was in vain; the confident, dominating AJ took the hill, complete with his ridiculous curveball. Check out this line:

7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 9 K

Pretty effin' strong, on the surface of it, especially against a lineup full of tough lefties. But take a look at those four hits:

1) 2nd inning, Raul Ibanez reaches his bat out in desperation and pokes the ball into left, where it barely stays fair and careens into the stands for a ground rule double. Lucky hit.

2) 2nd inning, Matt Stairs hits a grounder that A-Rod couldn't field. Should have been scored an error.

3) 4th inning, Jayson Werth bloops a lazy single to right.

4) 5th inning, Carlos Ruiz rips a double to left.

So of the four hits, one was truly hit hard. Otherwise, the Phils couldn't touch him. Through seven innings, this was arguably an even better performance than Lee's gem on Wednesday. Unreal.

AJ, you saved our season. Sorry for doubting you. Now please do it again in game 6.

Some things to think about for the rest of the Series:

*Currently, Philly manager Charlie Manuel has Joe Blanton slated to start game 4. This would be a huge mistake, regardless of what happens in game 3. If the Yanks are up 2-1, it pits the worst Phillies starter against CC, with a loss meaning the series is basically done at 3-1 with two games left in the Bronx. Even if the Phils take game 3 and are up 2-1, the match-up is still very, very unfavorable. If you lose that game and the series is tied 2-2, you can maybe win game 5 with Lee, fine, but then you have to win two on the road, against AJ and CC, without your ace. I can't imagine anyone but Lee on the mound for game 4; handing Blanton the ball would be a fatal error.

*This might not be Pedro's last start in Yankee Stadium. If the series goes to 6, he'll probably be on the spot again. Our offense last night was infuriating; to watch a guy who can't break 90 with his fastball stymie us on low junk over and over nearly sent me through the proverbial roof. Thank God he didn't win that game. Seriously. 38 year-old Pedro giving the Phils a 2-0 lead in our house would have been just more than I could handle.

*This may be premature, and I hope it is, but I'm worried about A-Rod. FOX threw out an interesting stat last night, which is that he had gone 93 pitches (or somewhere thereabout) without swinging and missing at a pitch. In the past two games, that's basically all he's done. He's back to flailing at low, outside junk, which was a common theme during his old postseason tours. Granted, he faced two very crafty pitchers in two days, so maybe his 0-for-8 start signifies nothing. Still, the media has already picked up on it, and I'm hoping it doesn't gather steam in his head and became an 'issue.' He needs to come out hot in game 3 to put this story to bed.

*IMPORTANT NEWS: Joe Girardi has braces. Apparently, his 8 year-old daughter needed them and was terrified. To mollify the frightened gal, Joe promised that he'd get them too, and they could suffer alongside one another. Awwwwwwwwwww!!!!

In related news, Charlie Manuel went out of his way to slaughter a puppy en route to Yankee Stadium yesterday.


That's all for today. Sunday brings with it the apotheosis of the New York-Philly rivalry, with Giants-Eagles at 1, and Yanks-Phils at 8. The good news: Joe Buck won't be able to announce both games. Have a great weekend and a happy Halloween. Stay safe.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

About That Sweep...

I will now go on record and say that the Yankees will NOT sweep the Phillies. Please ignore yesterday's post.

You know those games when you get all riled up, where it seems like your team should win but everything keeps going against them, when victory is a shadow existing just over some near hilltop, but surmounting that hill is a continual frustration? When you alienate friends, girlfriends, and neighbors with loud cursing and furious exhortations directed toward the gentlemen on tv? Where events seem to align against a preferred result in what feels like a malicious conspiracy?

Well, last night was not one of those games. The Yanks got dominated the old-fashioned way. To the delight of those outside Yankee Universe, I'll say it:

Cliff Lee is a bad man.


That was as dominating a performance in a World Series game as I've seen since Beckett in 2003. Pinpoint control, intelligent selection, filthy stuff...it was so convincing, so early, that my blood pressure never really spiked like it would in a normal playoff game. By the second inning, it was obvious that CC would have to labor through the tough Philly lineup, while things were going to come very easy for Lee. Sitting alone on my couch, I faced facts: the Yanks have struggled against average pitching all playoffs. Someone of Lee's caliber wasn't going to have a ton of trouble mowing through the order. The only noteworthy emotions I felt in four hours were resignation, at each of Utley's two home runs, and mild pride, when Jeter kept getting hits (3-4 by night's end) and proving again that he's one of the great postseason offensive weapons ever.

And here's something else: Lee was so fucking cool while he dominated. His behavior was almost casual. It was exactly the kind of demeanor you want to see in an ace, like he was protected by a little bubble, safe from the pressure and the stakes and the buzz of an enemy crowd. The way he casually caught a looper to the mound, like he'd been waiting for it with patient expectance, or the way he tagged Jorge on the backside after jamming him into a weak grounder, like dispatching the great catcher was his birthright, and he wished him no ill will, or the way he fielded the shot up the middle behind his back, in a simple twisting maneuver, like the ball belonged to him...all of it gave me a feeling of claustrophobia. We were constrained by his great ability.

Anyway, I didn't have time to get upset, if that makes sense. It happened too quickly, which is how a great ace does business. You don't experience a series of accumulating disappointments; you're overwhelmed, and before you know it it's the 7th inning and you can't even imagine a scenario where your offense could score 1 run without a lot of luck. We got that luck in the 9th, when Rollins made a throwing error that allowed Jeter to score, but by then Phil Hughes had pulled his choke act one more time, and it was way too late.

CC did an okay job, only conceding the two long balls to Utley, and working out of some dicey situations early. But to compete with Lee, he would've had to be perfect, and his command wasn't entirely there.

So, what's the official diagnosis? We're in a bit of trouble, if I'm being honest with myself. Here are a few reasons why:

1) Cliff Lee may throw in games 4 and 7, too. We managed to induce 122 pitches from his left arm last night, and he's never gone on 3-days rest in his entire career, so it's impossible to tell how effective he'll be. Still, if it even approaches last night's virtuoso job, we could be in for more long games.

2) The Philly lineup is very, very selective. With few exceptions last night, they were not biting at CC's change-up. and that's an amazing pitch. Almost every batter he faced became an out he had to earn with a lot of sweat. CC is a great pitcher, and he weathered the storm fairly well. But how will AJ Burnett do, he of the short fuse? It's just so, so easy to see him being flustered by the Philly bats, resorting to walks and unfavorable counts that lead to big hits. I'm not looking forward to tonight.

3) Pedro Martinez. The mystery. Yesterday, he gave a press conference, and I have to admit it was fantastic. He showed some regret about past events, like the Zimmer incident (which, by the way, was never Pedro's fault; it always looks bad when you throw an old man to the ground, but what was he supposed to do?), and he also displayed a surprising amount of introspection. It's so easy to cast certain athletes as villains, but to hear them speak about how that hurt them in the past is unsettling. It makes you take a hard look at the way players are dehumanized...not that I'm going to stop calling Phil Hughes a choker, or anything, but you get my point.

Anyway, the stage and storyline is set for Pedro to have a really, really good game and cast out all the Yankee demons that have been plaguing him forever. It's just too perfect, and that scares me. You know Joe Buck will be rooting him on like an adoring father from the booth. The entire country will tune in hoping to see the old man experience a brief return to glory. At this point, it would even feel classless to boo Pedro when he takes the mound. Granted, Yankee fans will boo him. Lustily. But still...

4) The horrific Yankee bullpen. A purported strength has turned into a glaring weakness. Who's our 8th inning guy? Our 7th inning guy? Hughes is useless. Bruney is useless. Joba is shaky, approaching useless. Coke is useless. Aceves is useless. Right now, the options are Robertson, who gave up a big but admittedly unlucky hit last night, and Marte, who suddenly seems to be reliable against lefties. The whole situation is a huge turnaround from the lights-out crew that blistered through the regular season. Watching Hughes come off the mound last night, screaming at the umpire, showed just how unsuited he is to the big moment. Stumble out of the pen, fail under pressure by walking two batters, and blame your troubles on the ump. Immature, embarrassing, awful. There's no reason to think he can succeed in that environment, and if Joe G. is smart, we won't see him in a crucial situation again.

Tonight is enormous. AJ Burnett has been back-and-forth all year, shooting chaotically over the spectrum between greatness and unreliability. This game will define his season; if he can't weather the Philly bats, I'll consider his 2009 campaign a failure. Also, our chance at a World Series will have been reduced to a severe longshot. But if he comes through, and we manage a win, the Series is back on.

Believe me, I'm nervous.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Fall Classic

Boy howdy, I am one excited twenty-six year old American male. There are several points I want to hit today, including a rather incendiary World Series prediction, but let's hit the ground running with another episode of...

SOCIAL COMMENTARY

Here's something that's bugged me for a long time: Americans who voluntarily wear a Soviet-era "CCCP" shirt/jersey/jacket. CCCP is the Cyrillic acronym for the old Soviet Union, and the letters (yellow on red) come complete with the hammer and sickle logo you used to see on about 50% of books and movies in the 80s. The first time I saw this was in the movie "Clerks," made by the talentless hack director Kevin Smith. One of the counter-culture losers wore the Red Army jersey while they played street hockey on a roof. Since then, it's popped up intermittently throughout my life, most recently this morning. On every occasion, bar none, you could tell simply by looking at the person's face that he was a complete and utter asshole.

I try not to be judgmental. I try hard. I have zero fashion sense, but I'm open to just about anything. I give the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. Here's why the CCCP jersey pisses me off: it's the legacy of a really brutal empire, one that's responsible for more murder and savagery than any other ruling power in human history. Stalin alone killed more people than Hitler, and the entire Soviet era, from Lenin to Gorbachev, was characterized by forced imprisonment, execution, sinister propaganda, paranoia, tyranny, and widespread economic deprivation.

Now, imagine if someone made the rounds wearing a shirt with the Nazi eagle and swastika. It'd be sickening, and people would roundly condemn it and assume that the wearer was a member of a white power group. But somehow, the CCCP logo is a fashion statement for 'defiant' types. Seeing it gives me the urge to fight them on the spot. So, let it be known: wear a Soviet CCCP jersey, and you will incur my secret wrath.

END OF SOCIAL COMMENTARY

Let's get to baseball, eh?

Weather Watch: it's wet and miserable in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and has been that way for two straight days. The dark clouds are rolling strong, and the rain shows no signs of abating. However, weather.com is calling for the precipitation chance to drop to 20% by game time. The field will probably be a mess by then, but if the skies dry up, you know the Yankees will try their damndest to get this thing played. A suspension tonight means CC won't be able to pitch three times, even on short rest, and the boys and girls in management are none too keen on that reality.

Seth Curry Saves Duke forecast: 80% chance of baseball.

Okay, let's get on to the World Series prediction. It's the moment a nation has been waiting for, and I hope they (and you) buckle up, because I'm about to slip on my renegade jacket. You'll call me crazy, but:

YANKEES IN 4.

There is method to my madness. Obviously, this is the sort of pick that can be nullified within three or so hours, and I risk playing the fool. But hear me out:

Game 1: CC vs. Lee. Two great arms with nothing to prove. It'll be a pitcher's duel, or so you'd expect. So what's the difference in this one? I can think of two factors heavily favoring the good guys: first, we're at the Stadium. The Yanks had the best home record in baseball during the regular season, and are dominating to the tune of 5-0 in the playoffs. A win for the visiting team, under any circumstance, is a tough task. Second, Philly is rusty. It's been a week since they finished off the woeful Dodgers, while the Yanks have had only two off days. Further, guys like Teix, Damon, and Melky seem to be emerging from their slump at the right time, while Philly's hot bats have now had seven days to cool off. I think the Bombers jump on the defending champs early, and win by a score resembling 5-2.

Game 2: AJ vs. Pedro. Come on. Unless AJ drops an absolute stink bomb (which, mind you, is possible), there's no way we lose this game at home. Pedro was fine in Los Angeles, but this is a different world, one full of history and memory, and he won't stand up to the Yanks. We'll win 7-4.

Game 3: Andy vs. Hamels. Hamels just doesn't have it anymore. His ERA in 3 starts this postseason is north of 6, and the Yankee lineup dwarfs the lightweights he's faced. This will be the disheartening blowout game, when Philly realizes the repeat dream is over. Andy will be solid enough, lasting about 6, and the Yanks take it 13-4.

Game 4: Gaudin vs. Lee. Up 3-0, Joe G. will save CC for full rest, and throw Gaudin to the wolves at Citizen's Bank. Lee will look strong at first, eventually giving up 3 runs in 6 innings on short rest. The Phillies will get everyone excited by scoring 6 on Gaudin, and by the 4th inning Girardi will be in his pen. And this is the game where the problematic Philly relief squad blows it. The Yanks will chip away, assaulting everyone Manuel brings from the pen, finally scoring two runs off Brad Lidge to take a lead in the top of the 9th. And then...Enter Sandman, for #27.

So that's the call: a clean sweep for the greatest baseball team since the 2000 Yankees. Laugh away, cheer away; do what you will. I'm on the record.

It's go time, boys and girls. There's nothing quite like a Yankee World Series, and I'm just about bursting at the seams.


LET'S GO YANKEES!



Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I Shall Risk the Asters

A little point-by-point this morning, a day before the Fall Classic begins. Warning: content may be haphazard, scattershot, and wayward.

*During the course of my daily debate with my pal Brian on g-chat yesterday (topic: was Pedro Martinez effective against the Yankees?), I wound up at this site. It's a top 10 list of the greatest Game 7s in World Series history. Great read, and the author also goes through the best Games 1-6, links you can find at the top of the page. The Yankees are involved in 5 of those game 7s, and lost 4 of them. Overall, the Yanks are 5-6 in Game 7s, with a lot of heartbreak thrown in (which can usually be summed up in one name: Podres, Mazeroski, Gonzalez). My stepfather still talks about the 1960 series (#2 on the list above) as one of the biggest sports disappointments of his life.

Interestingly, the Pittsburgh Pirates have won 5 championships, and each has gone to 7 games. They've only lost 3, the last one in 1927, but none of those went the distance, so the organization is a perfect 5-0 in game 7. Their opposite is the Boston Red Sox (surprise!), 0-4 in game 7 historically, though they did win a deciding game 8 in 1912 after one of the earlier games was called due to darkness in the 11th, tied at 6. Apparently they didn't finish suspended contests back then. Reading up on the 1912 series, I found this interesting tidbit on the game 2 tie, from Wikipedia: "Baseball's National Commission ruled that the players were not entitled to their regular share of the gate receipts due to the game not being played to a conclusion— a decision that caused much discontent." And they wonder why gamblers were able to fix the World Series seven years later...

And what the hell, I'm going to copy and paste the blurb from game 8, since it's pretty amazing. First off, Fenway Park was only half full, due largely to a boycott by a group of fans called the "Royal Rooters," who were pissed that game 7 tickets were double sold, forcing them to stand along the left field foul line. In the 11th inning, the Giants scored a run in the top half to take a 2-1 lead. The Red Sox had three outs left to score on Christy Matthewson, one of the greatest pitchers of all time. The first batter popped out to center, but the ball was dropped. Snodgrass, the CF, caught the next one, but Matthewson walked a batter, setting up first and third with one out. Take it away, Wiki.

Tris Speaker, who hit an even .300 in the 1912 World Series, popped up foul on the first base side, but neither first baseman Merkle nor pitcher Mathewson nor catcher Meyers could get to the ball. Fred Snodgrass later claimed that the Red Sox bench jockeys disrupted the players' timing. According to Harry Hooper (who would have been on that bench), Mathewson called for catcher Meyers to take it, but he couldn't reach it and it fell to the ground. Speaker then shouted, "Well, you just called for the wrong man, and it's gonna cost you the ball game!" Given new life, he singled in the tying run, and Yerkes advanced to third base. Mathewson walked Lewis intentionally, setting up a force out at every base, but the next hitter, Larry Gardner, hit a fly ball to Devore in right field. Yerkes tagged and scored, and the Red Sox had won the 1912 World Series. Fred Snodgrass' error would go down in history as "the $30,000 muff", that being the difference between the winning and losing shares.

Emphasis my own on that quote, since it's a badass and hilarious thing to say in the final game of a World Series.

*In the past two days, I've read at least five 'position-by-position breakdowns' between the Yankee and Philly squads. When the Yanks are in the World Series, I'm usually on board for any and all hype, but I can't over-stress the absurdity of this type of analysis. In a baseball series, there is one position that's worth such a breakdown: pitcher. That's it. To say something like "the Yankees have a 5-4 lead in position players" is utterly useless, because you're matching them abritrarily.

Why would you bother to compare, for example, the third basemen? For the Yankees, A-Rod bats clean-up and is one of the best players in the game. For the Phils, Pedro Feliz is a weakish hitter and an average fielder. So yes, the 'nod' here goes to A-Rod, but Pedro Feliz is Philly's #8 batter. They play different offensive roles, and giving a point to the Yanks is just silly. Why? Because it's balanced out elsewhere, like in CF where Shane Victorino is superior to Melky Cabrera. The only thing these 'position-by-position breakdowns' should judge is defense, but that isn't how they're used. I don't suppose this journalistic technique will ever become extinct, since it's an easy graphic, but everyone should be aware that it's totally meritless.

More interesting, and more useful, is a lineup comparison. It still doesn't account for pitching, and it eschews defense entirely, but at least it gives a decent idea of the respective offensive ability of each team from 1-9 in the order. I'm stealing the following chart, showing the OPS+ of every player, from a Yankees fan forum I frequent in the down hours:

1: Jeter (129) >> Rollins (85).........NYY
2: Damon (123) > Victorino(109)........NYY
3: Teix (146) > Utley (135)..............NYY
4: Arod (143) > Howard (139) .........NYY
5: Matsui (128) > Werth (127)...........NYY
6: Posada (130) = Ibanez (130)........PUSH
7: Cano (126) > Francisco(115) ........NYY
8: Swish (126) >>> Feliz (80) .........NYY
9: Melky (97) < Ruiz(103)..............PHI

By that look, the Yanks have an edge in 7 of the 9 spots in the order. Again, this doesn't account for the very important element of pitching (or current streaks and slumps, or league differences, or situational/clutch hitting, or a whole boat-load of others), but there it is anyway. If nothing else, I think it effectively proves that the Yanks have a stronger lineup on paper.


*Two other debates I had with Brian yesterday:

1) Who is the team of the decade? If the Yanks win the World Series this year, my argument is that we take the crown. We'd be tied in WS totals with the Red Sox (2), have the most pennants (4), and most division titles (8). His argument is that the Red Sox should win because they finally broke the long drought, and the story was more compelling and more widespread.

2) Is the New York-Philly rivalry now hotter than the New York-Boston rivalry? I say yes, though it goes in cycles. Starting with the Philly World Series title last year, which pissed Mets fans off to no end, continuing with the Eagles defeat of the Giants in the playoffs, and peaking this Sunday with a mindblowing double feature (Giants-Eagles, Yanks-Phils) in the City of Brotherly Love, I'd say it now takes the cake. The last cycle, when Boston-NYC was predominant, culminated with the '07 Boston title and the wonderful Giant Super Bowl victory over the Pats in January '08. Since then, it's been less present. Brian countered with the fact that the two most intense rivalries in consideration are Yanks-Sox and Jets-Pats (since Cowboys-Giants is arguably bigger than Giants-Eagles), and that these two will always ensure the ascendancy of the Boston-NYC side.

Lastly, to return to the first debate mentioned above, here are Pedro's regular season stats, lifetime, against the Yankees:

32 Games, 11-11, 216 IP, 77 ER, 3.20 ERA

There's only one other American League team that Pedro does not have a winning record against: Boston. 1 Game, 0-1, 3 IP, 18.00 ERA. Here are his postseason stats against the Yanks:

6 Games, 1-2, 34.1 IP, 18 ER, 4.72 ERA

I think those numbers speak for themselves. There's a reason Yankee fans used to chant "Who's Your Daddy?" every time Pedro took the mound; he's never had the same success with the Yanks that he enjoys against the rest of the league, despite some isolated gems.

Can't wait to see you in Game 2, Pedro!

"They beat me. They're that good right now. They're that hot. I just tip my hat and call the Yankees my daddy"

-Pedro, 2004


Monday, October 26, 2009

PENNANT!









Classic. Big Game Andy delivers. Robbie Cano (don't ya know?) locks in. Swishalicious doesn't kill us. Postseason Mo stamps his name. A-Rod continues the dream. What a game 6. What a team. What a pennant.

THE PHILADELPHIA WARNING:

We are not the Colorado Rockies. We are not the Los Angeles Dodgers. And we sure as shit ain't the Tampa Bay Rays. The Commissioner's Trophy has been wandering for nine years, away from its rightful home. Get ready for a real World Series. Get ready for a fight. Get ready to enter the hostile confines of a slaughterhouse. These are the New York Yankees. I hope you understand the gravity of the trial you're about to endure. You're in a tunnel, and the bright light of history is barreling down. Be humbled. Be afraid.

The Ghosts Have Crossed The Street.


Friday, October 23, 2009

The Choke Roster

STARTING IN RIGHT FIELD:



STARTING AT PITCHER:



AND MANAGING:



I'd add Joba, but I don't think you can call it a choke when the player just isn't good anymore.

Am I being harsh? In Girardi's case, maybe. But not having Eric Hinske on this roster is killing us. Swisher needs to be replaced in right field, big time, but there's no good option. Brett Gardner has a lot of speed, but his bat is weak and it's hard to imagine him getting on base without being subbed in as a pinch runner. Believe me, I'd still take him at this point; that's how bad Swish has been.

But Hinske would be the perfect option. He's got power, he hits for decent average, and you can hide him defensively in right. Instead, Joe took Freddy Guzman, a speedster with absolutely no hitting skills that can't function as anything but a second pinch runner. It was a misguided attempt to counter the Angel running game, when the sad fact is that he should have left at least one fearsome bat on the bench. Instead, our go-to pinch hitter is Jerry Hairston, Jr.

God.

Oh, and a last thing about Girardi: AJ Burnett is the one guy on our roster who always, always, always makes a bad situation worse. It happened in the first inning, when he put is in a huge hole by letting a rough start snowball into a 4-run deficit. So heading into the 7th with a lead, any manager in his right mind evaluates him on a batter to batter basis. After he gives up the single to Mathis, you DO NOT let him stay in to walk Aybar. You DO NOT. This is what AJ does. He makes mountains of molehills. Yank him, yank him, yank him. I'm still furious about this.

Let's keep that fury rolling like a tumbleweed right onto our so-called 'set-up' man. After a terrific, essential, utterly dominating regular season, Hughes has managed to completely lose everyone's faith in two weeks. (Postseason line: 4.2 IP, 9 hits, 3 ER, 5.79 ERA, 1 L) Aside from a strong outing in game 3, he's had a miserable postseason. Last night capped it off; after the Yanks took a miraculous 6-4 lead in the 7th, Hughes inherited a guy on third, two outs, and a 6-5 lead after Damaso Marte somehow managed to do his job. With a 1-2 count on Vlad Guerrero (who had just looked idiotic flailing at Hughes' gravity-abusing curve), he shook off Posada's sign. Three times. In my living room, I had the sinking sensation that he was about to throw a fastball. To "surprise" Vlad, I guess, which is fine if the heater is high and unhittable.

Actually, who am I kidding? It's not fine. A curve ball would have struck him out. There's just no room for debate. That's what Vlad does- strike out on nasty curves. Anyway, Hughes threw a fastball down the middle, Vlad got the single, and before the inning was over we'd lost that World Series fast track.

Nick Swisher: Good Lord. After an 0-5 night, he's now batting .118 for the ALCS. And he keeps coming up in clutch situations. It's uncanny. It's like a baseball God is so mystified by Girardi's loyalty that he wants to see just how far it'll go by putting Swisher on the spot over and over and over. And he keeps failing. It's no exaggeration to say that if Swish were batting .200, rather than .118, we'd already have won this series. He's honestly cost us both games with his gagging act. He even managed to make two outs in a single inning last night.

But the most egregious example of his playoff failure came in the 9th, with the bases loaded and two out, yanks trailing 7-6. He managed to work a full count, by virtue of hitting two weak grounders that barely went foul and then praying for balls. In the 3-2 situation, Fuentes has to throw a strike. Has to. A walk, and the game is tied. There's no option besides a fastball right down the plate. You can't risk any breaking stuff. Swish has his chance to sit dead red and tee off on the cheese.

So, what happens? The fastball comes, Swisher hits a weak pop-up to short. Game over. The guy can't even make solid contact when he knows the fastball is coming. Playoff pressure is just wrecking him, and it's awful to watch.

I'm totally fed up with last night. We're still in the cat-bird seat, up a game with the last two played in the Bronx. But a lot rides on game 6 now. If we go to a deciding game 7, CC will have to pitch, and even if we win, we lose him for game 1 of the World Series. Which means you can only use him twice against Philadelphia at most. Which means Gaudin starts game 4. Which is not something you can afford against a team with the second-best lineup in baseball.

But it's time to forget Philly, and it's time to forget the World Series. The Angels aren't going away, even though our foot was on their throat last night (and in game 3). Andy Pettitte pitches game 6 against Joe Saunders Saturday night. The pressure is completely on the home team, and if I know pressure, it's going to spotlight some guys who don't excel in tense conditions. Let's just hope the old reliable Texan southpaw comes through, and the functioning bats in our lineup put the game out of reach early.

By the time I post Monday, either the Yanks will be in the World Series, or the 2004 nightmare will have reared its teratoid head and gnashed a dream season to pieces.

How about it, Andy? One more win...for old time's sake? We need that pennant, and my champagne is lonely.




Thursday, October 22, 2009

We See You, Philly

One of two things just happened in that NLCS:

1) The Dodgers, a mediocre team disguised as a good one, lay down and died against a team they should have beaten.

2) Philly's relentless offense and surprising pitching battered the Dodgers, reducing a very good team to mediocrity.

The truth is somewhere in the middle, I guess. Or else it's unknowable. For example: did the Dodger bats go to sleep at the wrong time, or did Philly's bullpen suddenly improve? Is Pedro a viable playoff starter, or did he take advantage of a slumping offense?

In any case, LA should have won game 1 (Torre left Kershaw in for too long) and game 4 (Broxton blew the save). Meanwhile, Philly should have won game 2. It's a confusing series all around, and I'd probably be wise not to analyze the outcome. The bottom line is that the defending champs are back in the Fall Classic, waiting for us, and they'll be the toughest squad we've faced yet.

SOMETHING CRUCIAL: Beating the Angels in 5 or 6 games. If it drags out to 7, CC will have to take the mound on Sunday night to keep our hopes alive. Even if we win that potential elimination game, it means he can't pitch until Game 3 of the World Series. Cliff Lee, meanwhile, will be ready to start Game 1 for Philly. I'm not saying AJ can't go toe to toe with anyone in Yankee Stadium, but CC has proved he's on a slightly higher echelon this October, and a championship becomes a lot harder if he's riding the pine in the Bronx.

Speaking of the big man, yesterday I ruminated on possible nicknames for him (beyond CC, which is an abbreviation), with the only rule being that they must pay homage to his bear-like appearance. 'Grizzly' was the best I could muster at post time, but even then I knew it didn't quite work. Well, after some discussion with my top advisers (Emily and Carrie), I'm happy to report that a moniker has been chosen. Behold:

URSA MAJOR


Why Ursa Major?

1) It's a constellation. And what's in a constellation? Stars. CC is a star.
2) It has the word 'Major' in it, a nod to CC's size.
3) In Latin, it means 'Great Bear,' fulfilling the only qualification of our little project.
4) The constellation contains the Big Dipper, which is also an apt description of CC's size and pitching style.
5) It creates a vacancy for another Yankee, of similar but smaller pedigree, to be called 'Ursa Minor.'

Perfection, no matter what the doubters say. Start spreading it to the masses.

So, tonight. AJ vs. Lackey. We'll find out if the vital force is completely drained from the Angel machine after Tuesday's merciless shellacking, or if it just riled their feistier cogs. One thing is beyond debate- a quick start ensures that the crowd of fake SoCal fans will be defiantly out of the game, thundersticks stowed querulously between seats, fingers working like mad on self-pitying text messages. And the disembodied head of Pat Sajak will stare ominously from behind the plate...perhaps in DODGER'S GEAR??????????? GASP!


EXPOSED.

It also looks like he maybe has an Orioles hat in his lap. And now that I look at the URL, which is an Orioles fan site, that suspicion is confirmed. Pat Sajak is a mercenary bastard, whose loyalties fluctuate with the wind (read: the camera). Who better to symbolize the entire Angel fanbase? Or, indeed, the city of Los Angeles?

That's about all for today. The champagne is on ice in my refrigerator (not metaphor, not exaggeration), and here's hoping the cork pops tonight. If nothing else, a good party should get Swish out of his slump.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Bucket of Ice and Some Plastic Protective Covering, Please

Cuz we 'bout to get messy with some bubbly, y'all.

Carsten Charles, the 161 million dollar man, delivered AGAIN last night, shutting down the Angels on 3-days rest to give the Yanks a crucial victory and hoist us to within one game of the pennant.

I have to say, yesterday's game was one of the most fun I've watched all year. The RISP hitting woes disappeared after the 4th inning, and it just became an exhibition of why this team is so great. All the so-called momentum from yesterday's Angel walk-off disappeared beneath the huge, sweeping arm of CC. What can you say about this guy? His fastball hit 97 on the gun. His slider stayed low and unhittable. And his change-up...oh mama, that change-up. A devastating dying quail that looks and acts just like the heat, except it's 10-15 mph slower and has a bottom that vanishes about a bat's length away from the plate.

Quick aside: CC needs a nickname. First, check out a picture of the man himself.


I'm not one of those people who sees an animal in every human face and body they encounter (though those people fascinate me), but I have never seen a more bear-like creature than CC. First, he's huge. But it's a kind of lumbering size, and his movements when he's not exerting himself are slow and almost plodding. Second, he's fat, but again, it's the kind of fat you'd see on a bear; the kind that doesn't look grotesque or slothful, just natural and really powerful. His body is rounded everywhere, especially at the shoulders and hips, endowing his kinetics with that slow sinuous movement you've seen a thousand times on nature documentaries. Even his head is ursine; the circular shape, the slightly protruding ears, the broad nose, the small, dark eyes, and the fleshy innocence of the face.

I realize this description keeps getting stranger, but the guy honestly looks like a big, cuddly bear. His whole physical presentation screams 'gentle giant.' And then you see him in athletic locomotion, and it's flabbergasting that such a large, slow creature can move with effortless agility, speed, ferocity, and grace. Frightening and awesome.

I can say, after combing through memory, that no human has ever reminded me of a bear as much as CC. His nickname must do honor to this resemblance. The obvious choices would be 'Black Bear' or 'Brown Bear.' Unfortunately, these are tainted by uncomfortable racial connotations. Also, a black bear is more vicious, narrow, and sinister than the other variants of its species, so that doesn't work anyway. I just looked up the eight types of bears in the world, and there's one called 'Sun Bear,' which would be pretty perfect since CC is from Southern Cal. Unfortunately, the sun bear has a streamline, otterish countenance that doesn't quite work. As far as I can tell, the only choice is "Grizzly Bear." It's not quite perfect, though. If anyone has a better idea, sound off.

Okay, returning to last night's game...A-Rod is LOCKED IN. There's no better formulation than that tried and true cliche to describe how this man is hitting. His eyes literally lock onto the ball, and the bolt mechanisms activate across his body, transfer to his bat, and fix lumber onto leather. Hard contact is inevitable. It's gotten to the point that I'm aware of his presence in the order two or three batters in advance, and I start actively rooting for scenarios where first base isn't open; that way, he can't be intentionally walked. Last night, when Teix led off the 5th, I thought, "I hope he doesn't get a double." Teix singled, and then A-Rod hit a two-run homer, an act that will only to serve to reinforce my strange thinking. And if I'm hyper-aware of his presence, imagine how other teams feel.

Favorite quote from A-Rod's press conference last night, after the question "how do you explain yourself in regards to this turnaround?":

"Well...I don't really have to explain myself anymore. Which is a good thing."

The only negative I take from last night is the curious case of Nick Swisher. While trying to explain CC's success in the postgame interview, Girardi said something like "he's always the same person. He never gets too high or too low. Some guys, they get so pumped up that they can't really focus, but CC's never been like that." It was hard not to imagine him thinking about Swisher as he spoke of that hypothetical player. The right fielder's intense, chaotic energy seems to be working in direct opposition to the team's goals.

While Teix, Damon, and Melky look to be emerging from their slumps, Swish keeps striking out, hitting weak grounders, and wasting RISP opportunities. And last night, he got picked off second, except he was called safe before karma served the Angels when he was incorrectly cited for leaving third early. Later in the game, he almost got picked off first. Later, he backed up three steps on a shallow fly ball that ended up landing five steps in front of him.

These mistakes are mental and inexcusable. They're the type of gaffes that can lose a game. While Teix goes through his offensive troubles, he continues to rescue us with his amazing glove. His focus is razor-sharp in the field, betraying no residual effects from his plate struggles. Swisher, meanwhile, is all wound up and seems to be completely out of sorts. He needs to calm down and stop aggravating his hitting woes. He's been a huge negative for the Yankees all postseason, and Girardi needs to bench him for game 5 to send a message: get your emotions in check, or you don't have a place on the field.

Okay, time to deal with the nonsense of the day:

MARIANO SPIT ON THE BALL! OH MY GOD!!!!!! WHAT A CHEATER!!!!

This video, captured and commented upon by some pathetic, desperate Angel fan, purports to show Rivera spitting on the ball in an attempt to gain an unfair advantage in game 4:


Pretty compelling, right?

Well, sure, until you consider the following:

1) Mariano has never been seen or accused of spitting on the ball in the past.

2) If he did want to spit on the ball, he surely wouldn't have done it in such an overt, idiotic way, in front of eighty billion cameras on live TV.

3) Spit doesn't do a damn thing to the movement of a ball, which is why the chief ingredient in a "spitball" is vaseline, or sometimes pine tar. The term itself was coined in the early 1900s, and never meant to be taken literally. As someone on a Yankee message board put it, saying you throw a spitball by spitting on the ball is like saying you babysit by sitting on a baby.

4) Mariano throws a cutter with very specific right to left movement, to an incredibly consistent degree, while a "spitball" makes a ball move unpredictably.

But still, all that being said, there's the video, right? Why focus on logic when there's compelling evidence that one of the classiest players in the game CLEARLY SPIT ON THE BALL.

Except that he didn't. As you can see in this link, the spit clearly misses the ball. And the above video, slowed down, shows the same thing beyond the shadow of a doubt:

Ahhhh, unfortunately the video has been taken down. But the photographs in the link above are enough, and it's time to end this absurd conversation. Angel fans and Yankee haters will have to find something else to blame. Try the umpires, or if things get really bad go for that old reliable hobbyhorse, payroll.

In the NLCS, Philly looks to wrap things up against the Dodgers tonight and ruin my postseason predictions. Their walk-off win in game 4 was beyond huge, and though LA could extend the series, I can't see them winning three straight. Especially with Cliff Lee on reserve for game 7. I'm already thinking about the Phils...I went to two interleague games at Yankee Stadium with the defending champs this season, and their fans are the absolute worst. And yes, that includes Boston. I'm pumped and angry. Just one more from the Angels, and we're going to sack the city of Brotherly Love.

I leave you now with this .gif captured from Fox's coverage last night.


The poor girl, obviously distraught and now something of an internet sensation, shows us a few things:

1) The Angels have at least one real fan.
2) The "Mariano Spit!" crowd have a spokesperson for their cause.
3) Good parents teach their children to root for the Yankees.

To be serious for a second, I feel for her. I remember the days before alcohol and beating my girlfriend, when the only way to deal with a miserable loss was to shed a few tears.

But honestly, little girl?

Grow up. It's a hard world, and this is Yankee Universe.





Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Trouble

Here are 3 reasons why we lost last night's game, in order of importance:

1) Poor offense.
2) Andy Pettitte's 2-2 pitch to Vlad Guerrero.
3) Girardi's pitching change.


First, and most crucial, our offense looks terrible. In the past two games, we've scored 8 runs. One of them was on a Robbie Cano triple. Another was on an error. The other 6 came via the solo home run. Our stats with runners in scoring position are abysmal. Last night, in both the second and fourth inning, the Yanks had runners on first and second with no outs. In both cases, Cano hit a lame ground ball to make it first and third with one out, and Swisher followed with an unproductive out (short fly to left, strikeout). Melky couldn't clean up on either occasion with two outs, and the Yanks left those hugely important runs on the table.

We're now 3 for 28 with runners in scoring position in the ALCS. 3 for fucking 28. Girardi will take a lot of flack for point #3 above, including some from me in a second, but make no mistake; last night's loss was on the offense. Like I said in yesterday's post, you can sometimes win without great hitting. It happened in game 2. It's happened before in an entire series. But then again, sometimes you can't, and last night the Yanks were finally exposed. Our preternatural ability to hit clutch home runs continued with Posada's 8th inning blast, but it wasn't enough.

Here are the playoff stats for our regular line-up:

1. Jeter: 8-26, .308, 3HR, 5RBI
2. Damon: 6-28, .214, 1BB, 1RBI
3. Teixeira: 3-25, .120, 6K, 1RBI

4. A-Rod: 8-23, .348, 4HR, 9RBI
5. Matsui: 6-18, .333, 6BB
6. Posada: 7-21, .333, 4RBI
7. Cano: 5-25, .200, 1RBI
8. Swisher: 3-22, .136, 9K, 1RBI
9. Cabrera: 5-25, .200, 9K, 0RBI


The players in bold represent our 'black holes,' chunks of offense with absolutely no production. And as bad as they are, the numbers don't even tell the entire story. Teixeira and Swisher are utterly useless at the plate. Pitchers are throwing them low curves (outside, in Teix's case) and watching them flail away helplessly. It honestly looks like there's no chance for them to get a base hit. For an MVP candidate like Teix to be so totally outmatched in every plate appearance is mind-boggling and very frustrating. His defense has been stellar, and it almost saved us last night, but where's the production? Swish, for his part, has been so egregiously bad that it might not be an awful idea to give Gardner a start. If Girardi had carried Hinske on the post-season roster, rather than Guzman (??), you can bet he'd be getting a shot in right.

Cano, meanwhile, is good for a weak ground-out every time a runner is on base. I've given up trying to defend him. So much talent, but at this point he's too mentally frail to deal with pressure. I do believe that aspect of his game will improve as his career continues, but there's no good reason to expect a sea change in the next few games. Cano can't cut the mustard. If he comes up again with men on 1st and 2nd and no outs, like he did twice yesterday, Girardi would be a fool not to have him bunt.

Damon, despite his poor numbers, had a home run blast yesterday, so hopefully his slump is on its dying breath. Melky is Melky...he's going to swing for the fences, and most of the time he'll come up empty.

Considering the collective underachievement of 5/9ths of this lineup, it's not a miracle that we lost to the Angels last night; it's a miracle we'd gone 5-0 up to that point.

Second, Andy threw a 2-2 meatball with Abreu on first in the 6th, and Vlad crushed it to tie the game at 3. It was a mistake. A huge mistake. But Andy pitched an amazing game otherwise, and for the savvy vet to hold the Angels offense to 3 runs through 6 and 1/3 is fantastic. His momentary lapse changed the game and the series, perhaps irreparably, but in the bigger picture he gave us a solid outing that should have been enough.

Third, Girardi the Over-Manager took out a cruising David Robertson after two outs in the 11th to bring another righty, Alfredo Aceves, to face Kendrick. Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, announcing on FOX, immediately called this move into question. So did I. So did every Yankee fan with a tv, radio, or gamecast. Robertson has better stuff. They're both righties. It didn't make sense. And it backfired; Kendrick hit a single up the middle, and Mathis ended the game with a double to left.

In the press conference after, Joe was asked why he made the move. "Well, we liked the match-up better," he said. The report asked him to elaborate. "It's just...different stuff to show those guys," he mumbled.

Which is all bullshit. Here's what happened: he looked at his book of match-ups, and saw that Kendrick was 1-2 lifetime against Robertson. Meanwhile, he'd never faced Aceves. To call this a small sample size would be a gigantic understatement. But Girardi, who's never seen a move he wouldn't make, pulled the trigger.

Here's the thing: I think Girardi's a decent manager. I think he's done a nice job with this team. He built a great bullpen and he shows a lot of faith in his players, which has paid huge dividends. But right now? He needs to settle the fuck down. There was no reason to pull Robertson, a better pitcher with better stuff and better success in these playoffs, for the weaker Aceves because of a freakin' 2 at-bat history. CALM DOWN, JOE. Just because there's a move out there to be made doesn't mean you have to make it. This has been the ongoing complaint with Girardi; over-management of the bullpen. We finally paid the price, and hopefully he's learned his lesson.

One more point about managing, courtesy of my friend Spike. He introduced me to a new term on g-chat last night, and that term is "dome." It's a verb. If you 'dome' someone, you've crawled inside their head an outmaneuvered them. Last night, Scioscia domed Girardi big-time in the top of the 8th. Matsui walked, and Girardi sent in Gardner as a pinch runner. On the second pitch, Scioscia called a pitch-out, and Gardner was caught stealing at second.

On its surface, this is a minor dome. But behold, the implications: because of the caught stealing, A-Rod lost the protection of Matsui behind him in the lineup. That allowed Scioscia to walk A-Rod in the 9th with two down, and get an easy out when Hairston pinch hit for Gardner, essentially taking the bat out of A-Rod's hands. So you have to wonder: did Scioscia walk Matsui intentionally, knowing he'd not only get a free out when he minor-domed Girardi on the pitch-out, but that he'd also be rid of a good DH bat and nullify A-Rod later on in the game? Was this the ultimate dome?

As Spike himself said, "that's some pretty high level stuff."

This loss is trouble, believe me. The Angels are a proud, strong team, but they wouldn't have come back from 3-0. The last thing you wanted to do was give them life, especially the exciting, momentous variety derived from a walk-off win. CC throws on short rest tonight against Kazmir, and if we lose this one, all the sudden we're counting on AJ Burnett, on the road and facing John Lackey, to give us an edge going back to the Bronx. I don't like it one bit. Tonight is a must-win.

Let me take a brief detour into positive territory to recognize Mariano Rivera's unbelievable escape act in the 10th. After inheriting a double and committing an error to make it first and third, no out, he somehow navigated the heart of the Angel order without conceding the game-winning run. Breathtaking stuff, classic Rivera. The legend continues.

Tonight, our fate is in the hands of CC. There's no reason to anticipate an offensive explosion against Kazmir. He's pitched 19.2 innings against the Yanks this year, allowing only 7 ER and accumulating 2 wins. We can hope for a few solo shots and not much more. It's all about Carsten Charles. Not only do we need a win, but we need a long performance to save this poor bullpen. It's not an exaggeration to say that the season is on the line.

(For a good laugh, take a close peek at this SI pre-season cover; look beyond the big man.)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Staring at a Corkboard

Where for some reason I've applied two tacks and a small metal coil to simulate a smiling face. This is your depressing Monday morning work image of the week. And here's your depressing representative clip-artish feline pictorial emoticon:


Not depressing: the Yankees got their pie on yet again Saturday night, with a 4-3 13th inning win over LA. That makes it highly, highly difficult for the Angels to come out winners in this one, and if this afternoon's 4pm game goes well, we can officially start talking pennant.

As you've probably detected, my mind is a bit scattered at the moment. I'm in the midst of the drudgery of grad school applications, and the sheer horrible responsibility of it all has produced an effect where my chief desire is to huddle beneath my desk, lean my head against the maternal computer tower, and hum snippets of children's songs. So bear with me while I try to deliver some content here...

First, some football. The Giants laid supine yesterday for the vaunted Saints offense, conceding 48 points the easy way. It's been a long time since I've seen such a shabby defensive effort from the G-Men; the movement of Brees' offense can best be described as an effortless 'swoop,' rather than a traditional drive. The offense was not stellar, but then again they didn't ever time to establish anything before facing a significant deficit. This one is squarely on the defense. Between the miserable pass coverage and the utter absence of a pass rush, even a perfect offense could hardly have done more than keep pace. Still, it'd be nice to see one Giants game (I refuse to count the Raiders victory) where the O came out clicking on all cylinders. It always seems like Eli and company build up to full speed gradually. That's fine against weak competition, but against the likes of New Orleans you need to go 0-60 in a heartbeat or you'll be choking on dust all game. Hopeless stuff from the boys in blue yesterday. The schedule does not get easier, either, so Coughlin would do well to shake off the complacency from a deceiving 5-0 start.

But it's hard to be too depressed about the loss, and the Yanks ensure that excitement is the chief emotion of the day. Andy throws in today's game (watch me prove that I'm a "true" Yankee fan: I'm so pissed off that we're not playing in prime time), and looks to continue what has been an unbelievable string of starts since the playoffs began. CC and AJ have wholly justified the big bucks, and their emergence this year has flipped a switch on the time machine, turning the emphasis back to pitching.

It's been said a million times, and the truth never seems to diminish: it's tough to hit in October. Not only is the caliber of pitching very high, since teams need that element to reach the playoffs; there's also a lot of pressure, and it's friggin' cold. Pressure can sometimes work against a pitcher, but the best guys know how to use it to their advantage. Cold will always hurt the batter, delaying reaction time by what can be a crucial margin. Unless you get lucky and face a pitcher on an off day, it will be hard to score runs. All year, there have been mutterings that this Yankee offense might be one of the best of all time. And here are our run totals (through 9 innings) in five playoff games: 7, 3, 4, 4, 2. The league average for runs scored per game this year was 4.6. We've had exactly one game where that total was exceeded, and it was against a Minnesota club coming off a marathon game and late-night travel the day before.

When you think about guys who have really come through with great (or even adequate) offensive performances, it can be reduced to three: Jeter, Matsui, Posada, A-Rod. The first three have been money in the clutch forever, and A-Rod's emergence continues to be spectacular. Aside from those guys, no regular starters are batting .250. Damon, Swisher, Melky, and Cano have been miserable. Aside from a big home run, Teixeira (an MVP candidate) has been worse: 3 for 20, .136, 1 RBI.

There are a variety of reasons why this might be happening with each individual, but the overriding fact remains that October baseball doesn't bring out the best in hitters. Pitching wins titles. If you look back at the Yankee championship teams of the late 90s, it was the same thing. Here are run totals from the 1996 win against Atlanta, for example: 1,0,5,8,1,3. And in the 5-game win against the Mets in 2000: 4,6,2,3,4. Even the 1998 championship team, one of the most dominant in history, didn't put up huge run totals. In the ALCS against Cleveland, they averaged just over 4 per game.

So, point made, no big deal, we already knew it. But it goes to show how incredibly important the CC and AJ acquisitions have become, and how thrilling it is that both are coming through with aplomb in the postseason. Because the offense isn't going to light things on fire; that's not what most playoff offenses do. It's up to the arms, and tonight Dandy Andy needs to keep it rolling.

Quick diversion: you may or may not have come across this bit of news, but Ronan Tynan, the smug Irish Tenor who sings a 17 minute version of "God Bless America" during the 7th-inning stretch at Yankee playoff games, has been fired for Anti-Semitic remarks. He wants another chance and has apologized, and etc., but career-wise, insulting the Jewish population isn't the best move in New York City.

So I was hoping maybe some of my readers could help me out...where could Ronan possibly find employment? It has to be an American city with a baseball team, but I'm struggling to imagine a good fit. Keep in mind, he's pompous, Irish, arrogant, and racist...come on brain! Ugh! Why can't I think of a city that would willingly accept an obnoxious Fenian bigot with a chip on his shoulder???

If you guys come up with anything, definitely let me know!

As a last bit of fun, here's a video I found on Deadspin. It seems a Brazilian soccer team, needing a win in their last regular season game, bought off the opponents. What transpired is a 9-goal run where the pretense of defense is truly hysterical. Honestly, watch the defenders (professional athletes all) throughout this clip and try not to laugh. Note especially the diminishing celebrations after each goal.


Oh, and let's not forget:

PART SIX!



Friday, October 16, 2009

Welcome, Stomach Butterflies, Please Make Yourselves at Home

I'm officially nervous. I was mildly rooting for the Dodgers in last night's game, and when they lost I had this deep feeling of unease that didn't quite fit. Somewhere deep in the chambers of the brain, the anticipation of Yanks-Angels got all conflated with the very slight disappointment of the Dodger failure and started producing a worried reaction akin to a Yankee loss. In other words, I'm a mixed up mess.

Hey, momentary diversion for a new Seth Curry Saves Duke! feature:

Social Commentary.

This balloon thing yesterday really pisses me off. My cousin Justin sent me the link, and I got to follow the end of the flight live on MSNBC. First, they tug at your heartstrings with the idea of a six year-old kid floating in an aluminum saucer over desert and farmland and whatever else for two hours (which is a seriously poetic visual, by the way), then they really put the smash on your soul when it lands and the fucking thing is empty. So you worry and feel down and wonder if there are any actual happy endings in life, and then it turns out the kid was hiding in the attic, and hooray!

But oh, wait...it also turns out the parents were on a show called 'Wife Swap' earlier this year, which makes them attention-seeking pop-American scum, and then it turns out the dad does something called i-Reporting for CNN, which is a feature where a supposedly legitimate news organization asks idiots to videotape themselves having irrelevant opinions. Basically, this guy does anything he possibly can to get his mug on camera. And then you think, 'hold on a second, here...if your kid went missing and was presumed in a UFO flying southeast, wouldn't your first move after calling the authorities be to check your own fucking house, meaning the entire thing, especially the attic where the kid probably hides all the time? And if it wasn't your first thought after, wouldn't the police gently insist?'

You can see where I'm going. This was staged. There's not an ounce of doubt in my mind. Maybe it'll come out, maybe it won't. Whether it was devised from the very beginning, or whether the saucer actually took off by accident and the publicity-whore of a father had his brilliant idea and planned things from there is a distinction I don't pretend to know. But it was a set-up, and now he'll get to go on Letterman and Leno and whatever else he wants, and all kinds of TV and media opportunities will follow. Great.

End Social Commentary.

Sorry for the egregious use of italics and expletives so far in this post.

Back to sports. Watching Joe Torre last night made me so glad he's 3,000 miles away from the Bronx (distance estimated). In the 5th inning, Kershaw gave up a single to Ibanez. Then he threw a wild pitch. Then he walked Feliz. At this point, as a manager, you have to sit up in your seat a bit. The playoffs are not a time to hold a loose leash. Then he gave up a 3-run blast to Ruiz. Again, this was the fifth inning and Kershaw probably wasn't lasting much longer. Any good skipper would have evaluated him during the next at-bat, and gone to the bullpen at the first sign of trouble. So what did Torre do? Sat in the dugout like a dead stone weight while Kershaw walked Cole Hamels (the pitcher), threw two wild pitches, and walked Chase Utley. When Ryan Howard stepped into the box, Kershaw had to be yanked. Had to be, post-haste, no discussion, no hesitation. But Torre sat on his hands and the slugger ripped a double into right to score two more runs.

Totally unforgiveable, if you're a Dodger fan, but also totally typical of Torre. How often did we have to sit through the same exact scenario, watching a starter torpedo and die while the man my stepfather calls the "Cigar Store Indian" did his best statue impersonation on the bench? Granted, Girardi is the opposite extreme; if a starter throws two consecutive balls in the third inning of a no-hitter, he's got Phil Coke warming up in the pen. But at least he's on top of things. Maybe he over-manages based on match-ups (Marte vs. Mauer, game 2), but his overall success has spoken for itself. Count yourselves fortunate, Yankee fans. We've got the right guy at the helm.

So the deal for tonight is this: it's wet, cold, and miserable. If there's baseball at all, which is a bit doubtful at the moment, the conditions will slow down the Angel running game. However, they could also be detrimental to CC, who doesn't like pitching in cold, sloppy weather. He's at his best when he can work up a sweat, not when his SoCal blood is freezing in an October Nor'easter.

If, on the other hand, the game is canceled, it means CC won't be able to pitch games 1, 4, and 7 (currently he's slated to pitch game 4 on short rest, and game 7 on normal rest because of the extra off day after game 5), which means in turn that Chad Gaudin or Joba will have to start game 4, giving us a severe match-up problem with the Angels #4 starter (probably Joe Saunders).

Maybe I'm fretting over nothing, but I don't like the situation either way. This next observation is highly theoretical, but Lackey seems like the kind of dude who could probably pitch a great game in a January snowstorm, and the cold would probably just keep pissing him off and motivating him to throw harder. He's the type of unsmiling badass who makes his kids survive for a week at a time in the wilderness so they don't grow up weak. In his own childhood, he probably had to attach one of those old-fashioned plows to his back and drag it across great swaths of rugged terrain in northwest Canada. For him, throwing a baseball in the severe cold is like drinking agreeable Oolong tea on a leather duvet.

Still, I like our chances. Game 1 is nothing less than crucial, and if we get off to a fast start tonight, we'll ride this Nor'easter right into the World Series. It's time for Part 4, baby.





or

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Consolidation: Jetes, Mo, Predictions

Today we wrap up a week of promises and get set for playoffs round 2.

First, a quick glance back at the Minnesota series to further lionize a couple Yankees who've been gamers since the day.

Quintessential Derek Jeter moment #1: Minnesota takes a 2-0 lead in the top of the third in game 1. In the stands, memories of recent ALDS failures travel like electric current across a blue and white expanse. We don't yet know about CC. We don't yet know about A-Rod. We don't yet know about the heart. We don't know anything except a 2-0 deficit. But after Melky reaches on an infield single, Jeter ties it up with a deep blast to right, and we know a bit more.

Quinessential Derek Jeter moment #2: Game 2, sixth inning, and we can't touch Nick Blackburn. AJ's holding off the deluge, but it's 1-0 Twins and nobody wants to visit the Metrodome for two games without a lead. Posada flies to center and we're 1/3 into another feckless inning. The scoreboard credits us with just one hit. And then Jeter steps up and turns his wrists and slashes a fastball inside-out into right center for a ground rule double. He scores on A-Rod's single, and the fight is on.

Quintessential Derek Jeter moment #3: Game 3, bottom of the 8th, Yanks up 2-1 and six outs from clinching. But Nick Punto doubles off a suddenly shaky Phil Hughes, and the Metrodome gets loud. Real loud, because this might be the last baseball game in its confines before the wrecking balls come. The last thing they want to do is go out with a loss to the Yankees. Denard Span hits a slow grounder up the middle, which Jeter fields, and it looks to be a close play at first. But the Captain, in his intelligence and hyper-awareness, has one eye on Punto, who rounds third expecting the 6-3 put-out. But the fated throw comes home, and Punto is hoisted by his own petard in the error that will end the Twins for good. Hughes won't need a third chance.

Non-Yankee fans are sick of hearing about Jeter. I get that. But that's kinda too bad, because he keeps delivering in the crucial spot, and he keeps pulling these little virtuosic bits of genius from the ether. If there are brief, circular spaces of opportunity in moments of extreme pressure, Jeter is the man who's learned to find and lunge through the void without hesitation. A physical feat becomes amazing for its odd anticipation, improbable with recurrence, and transcendent in frequency. Jeter, he of the strange green eyes, is at the very least an anomaly.

So. One more thing:

Quintessential Mariano Rivera moment #1: Unlike Jeter, the Mariano Rivera phenomenon is highly explicable: he has an amazing pitch that turns out to be the best one-trick pony in professional sports. The cut fastball looks, for all the world, like any number of straight or slightly-moving fastballs a given professional hitter has seen maybe a hundred thousand times in his life. And then it moves drastically to the left, like a slider except way faster, which to put it plainly is just unfair. The ball tails away like a fading dream against right-handed batters, producing ugly flails and limp ground-outs, but it reaches a true peak of devastation against lefties. The straight fastball they were going to crush is suddenly in on their hands in an inexplicable (and probably frightening) trajectory, and all they can do is transform their long, fluid swing, honed since they were young men being groomed for fame, into a short, defensive, awkward punch of lumber.

This is precisely what happened to Mauer in the 8th inning with two outs in game 3, and the splintered wood of his broken bat and the slow dribbling ball that trickled harmlessly to Teixeira might as well have been stock footage from the Rivera archive. The cut fastball pays homage to no man, not even the MVP.

If you read yesterday's post, you know I'm riding a 4-for-4 streak in playoff predictions, only three series' away from a perfect bracket. With LA and Philly starting their series tonight in SoCal, it's time for the next round of predictions.

NLCS: Dodgers defeat Phillies, 4-1

Cliff Lee is the best starter in this series, but he can't pitch game 1, and if he pitches game 2 it'll be on 3 days' rest. Other than Lee, the Dodgers have the better rotation. Kershaw and Padilla proved their chops against a tough St. Louis line-up, and Wolf is better than he showed in game 1. I don't trust Hamels anymore, and I don't think anybody fears him. Beyond that, what? Pedro? Come on! The bullpen battle isn't even close; Sherrill, Kuo, Belisario, Weaver, and Broxton are all competent arms in Torre's arsenal, and Philly's pen, especially their closer, has looked like hell. Offensively the Phils are the best team in the NL, but the Dodgers are no slouches, and if Ethier and Manny get it going, Philly's odds get a lot longer. And let's face it: it's October, Manny's gonna get it going. This series changes dramatically if the visitors can win game 1 without Lee on the mound, but I'm seeing a quick piece of work by LA. Maybe Lee steals one game, but the Dodgers come through in five.


ALCS: Yankees defeat Angels, 4-1

These are the two best teams in baseball, and there are a lot of good reasons to be scared of the Angels. Alas, I'm not. If we can use Sabathia in game 4 on 3 days' rest, which is the current plan and will change only if a game gets rained out, we don't have to fret about Gaudin or Joba. Our bullpen is lights out as long as Hughes can overcome his recent tremors. The mini-slumps for Cano and Damon are spots of worry, but I expect Johnny to emerge in a big way. Cano, I have no idea. I love the guy, but under pressure your guess is as good as mine. The Angels have a great rotation. Lackey, Weaver, Kazmir, Saunders. All class all the way, for sure, and their pen is good-approaching-very-good. The offense is scrappy, like every Angels team ever. Scioscia is the best manager in the game. The whole team and fanbase is motivated by the story of pitcher Nick Adenhart, who died in a car crash on April 9th (and let me be the latest of many to point out that FOX using his death to promote the series is horribly, horribly tactless). There's a lot going for them, but for some reason I'm not scared. This Yankee team is on a different level than any team in baseball, and I think we'll win comfortably and end the Angels curse that's been dogging us for a decade.

And there it is. A Dodgers-Yankees series is in the cards. Old Joe vs. New Joe. New York vs. L.A. The Bronx vs. The Ghosts of Brooklyn. Sign me the hell up.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Loose Ends

Because of the high volume of fan mail I receive on a daily basis, I was forced early on to set up a secondary gmail account to deal with the overflow. My readers are a diverse bunch, and so are their comments and queries. But one request seems to pop up with strange frequency, and it's always some variation on the following e-mail, sent in by a loyal reader from Santa Fe, New Mexico:

"Dearest sir,

If one possesses slightly more than his Lord-allotted birth-share of perception, he may easily infer from your words a certain 'coolness' (if you'll permit me to delve into an urchin's vernacular). Yet the lingering question is one of degree; on idle days, one finds one's self puzzling on just how 'cool' you might be. Further hints or, indeed, outright evidence would be once, twice, and thricely repaid with the lasting currency of appreciation. Yours in athletic fondness,

-Dr. Thurgood Lazarus Mosquillera, III

PS- Coach K is a homo."

Thanks for the question, Doc. Since you and the other readers have been clamoring so long to know how cool how I am, I've decided to provide an answer.

THIS COOL:


That's from the Giants game on Sunday (obviously), and should remove any doubts that I'm the hippest dude on the blogosphere.

Moving on: quickly, I'd like to offer a heartfelt apology to TBS announcers Chip Caray and Ron Darling, who had the unfortunate task of calling the Yanks-Twins series over the weekend. Though both men are clearly consummate professionals, it was too hard for even these old pros to hide their disappointment when the Yankees had the audacity to win.

See, Chip and Ron had a lovely little storyline in their head, wherein the scrappy Twins and their scrappy payroll overthrew the evil Yankees in an improbable coup and rallied the spirit of every underdog in every nook and cranny of this great country in the most breathtaking upset since the American Revolution.

That's why Chip had to hyperventilate and gush breathlessly any time the Twins got a single, or why Ron had to bring up the Yankee payroll at least fifty times per game. Some might see this as bias, but I'm here to tell you that if anything, we are at fault. Chip and Ron worked hard to concoct a Hollywood narrative arc for this ALDS, completely in their heads, and if we expected the games to play out on the field without their help, it is WE who are biased against a good story.

Sure, when Jorge hit his RBI single for an insurance run 9th on Sunday to seal the series, Chip may have used the same tone of voice an American newsman would use to tell the country that despite a strong civilian defense effort, the Chinese Army had just overrun the state of Texas. And Ron may have spoken about Yankee players using the same distant, reproving tone most people's grandmothers employ when talking about the new neighbor who only goes to mass on Easter and Christmas, but really, how often do you get a nice custom-fit underdog story in sports?

Oh, what's that? ALL THE F#*$ING TIME??! F&$% YOU, CHIP CARAY AND RON DARLING, YOU PIECES OF DOG S^&*! THIS IS BASEBALL! BASEBALL, PR#*KS! CAN YOU DIMWIT MOTHERF#%&ERS UNDERSTAND THAT?! IT'S F*&$ING BASEBALL, NOT YOUR MOTHERFU*$%ING SH*%TY SCREENPLAY WHERE THE 'GOOD' TEAM BEATS THE EVIL F*&%ING GIANT CONGLOMERATE!! THIS IS THE REAL WORLD, A#*HOLES, NOT THE F&*#ING CITIBANK SOFTBALL TEAM PLAYING A GROUP OF UNEMPLOYED AUTO WORKERS! GET A F*%$ING CLUE, AND MAYBE A HALF F*&%ING OUNCE OF PROFESSIONALISM WHILE YOU'RE AT IT! JUST A F*&%ING HALF, MIND YOU, I'M NOT EXPECTING A FULL F*&#ING OUNCE FROM A COUPLE OF SLAVERING S$*^HEADS OF YOUR CALIBER! F*#% YOU TIMES A THOUSAND, YOU F*&%ING BA*^%RDS! THE YANKEES ARE A F*$%ING MACHINE, AND YOU'RE IN THE F*^%ING WAY! VROOM VROOM, YOU SAPPY SONS OF B*&%#ES. NICK SWISHER IS GOING TO F$*% YOU IN YOUR MELODRAMATIC *()#$%u)#$*)(@#$*)(#@$())(*#()r%*@#)$#@.

(long inhale)

Whoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo.


Seriously, those guys suck.

What else? Ah yes, my predictions! Behold, baseball Nostradamus hath delivered! Let's review the calls I made last Tuesday:

METRODOME MADNESS: Minnesota 5, Detroit 1

Close enough.

NLDS: Los Angeles Dodgers defeat St. Louis, 3-2

Correct team. Without Holliday's fumbling nonsense, this would be exactly right.

ALDS: Los Angeles Angels defeat Boston, 3-1

Correct team. Without Papelbon's incompetence, this too would be on the money.

ALDS: Yankees defeat Minnesota, 3-0

Booya.

NLDS: Philadelphia defeats Colorado, 3-1

Booya.

As of today, I'm more than halfway to picking a perfect playoff bracket. Baseball is probably (okay, definitely) the easiest playoff bracket to pick, but still, it's not a cakewalk. This would be a small milestone in a lifetime of awful predictions. Check out some hugely misguided Seth Curry Saves Duke! headlines from history:

Auf Wiedersehen, Europe: Don't bet against the Germans in any big war this century! (January 3, 1900)

Smooth Sailing: Titanic a shoe-in for easy Transatlantic voyage! (April 5, 1912)

Buckle Up: 1920s will be known in American history as a sad, stoic era! (January 1, 1920)

Dream On, Nerds: Nazi Enigma Code can't be decrypted by idiotic Allied intelligence! (August 10, 1940)

Camel Time: Arab countries will dominate Israeli military in six days or less! (June 5, 1967)

Get A Clue, Reagan: The wall ain't coming down! (June 13, 1987)

On The Record: Y2K is more serious than people think! (December 31st, 1999)

It's been a rough go, but I'm finally on the path to redemption. The ALCS and NLCS picks are on the way tomorrow.

That's going to do it for today, we'll leave some business for tomorrow. Expect a mini-homage to Jeter and Mariano, the predictions, and a little chatter about football. Here's a picture of Chip Caray trying to be hilarious:


"Hey guys, I'm using a guitar as a baseball bat! Please like me! I'm a real loon! F*#$ me for trying to ruin the playoffs!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

My Weekend Brings All The Joys To The Yard

I think my loyal fans were due for a really loathsome post title, and boy did I deliver!

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, and in every third breath for the past week, I was lucky enough to see games 1 and 2 of the ALDS at Yankee Stadium. I went with parents and girlfriend on Wednesday, and on Friday my friend Kyle and his buddy Matt came down for the weekend. As an added bonus, we saw the Giants murder the Raiders on Sunday at the Meadowlands, which was my first regular season NFL game. Here are some highlights from what I can safely call my best weekend in sports, in case you aren't totally sick of the unrepentant boasting:

*First, let's make it official: Friday's game 2 is the best sporting event I've ever seen live. No shadows, no doubts. This isn't a matter of chronological bias, where the most recent game sticks out the most; it's indisputable fact. I'm not going to make a top ten list, but quickly, here are some noteworthy and exciting games I've witnessed in living color:

Duke 95, Kentucky 92, 12/18/01, East Rutherford, NJ: This was the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, and I was on winter break my freshman year. Kentucky jumped on us from the get-go, and at some point in the second half Coach K got so pissed that he resorted to the classic motivational ploy of pulling all his starters and putting in the scrubs. Duke was down by about 10 at that point, and the second stringers managed not to lose much more ground in four minutes, which pumped everyone up. Duke was coming off a national title, and at the time I should have been worried that Coach K was counting on storyline tactics to win games, but it was pretty exciting stuff. When the big guns came back, they used the manufactured momentum to roll over the Wildcats.

Cardinals 3, Mets 1, Game 7, 2006 NLCS: They gave all the Mets fans cute little towels at Shea Stadium, and nobody could be bothered to stand during the exciting moments, instead choosing to wave lamely from a seated position. I'm convinced the horrible atmosphere in this game is directly responsible for the 3 years of misery the Mets have endured since. The only time they showed any emotion was when Endy Chavez made the greatest catch I've ever seen, robbing a home run in dead center. But Yadier Molina homered in the top of the 9th, and Beltran struck out looking with the bases juiced to end the game.

Other than that, there were a variety of really great Duke home games against UNC and Maryland, some Syracuse games from when I was a kid that were great but that I can't totally remember, and the Yankee walk-off win against the Royals in their second-to-last regular season home game this year. Any trip to Yankee Stadium is always pretty special, too. But Game 2 last Friday easily trumped them all (in fact, game 1 probably trumped them all on Wednesday).

*Kyle and Matt had seats in the upper deck, and weren't able to find anything open near my bleacher seat since the stadium was so packed, so I was on my own and free to roam. To start the game, I moved to the right field bleachers, the craziest and most fun section in the Stadium. The fans here are generally younger, drunker, and more diehard, especially during the playoffs when the expensive seats are taken by folks with lots of money.

When the game started and the Yanks took the field, Nick Swisher ran out to his position in right with his head down. The bleacher creatures started buzzing and shouting his name, but Swish kept his stare on the grass. He maintained that posture until he was almost to the wall. Then, rising up, he gave a 'fist pump' that was actually more like a kick and a roundhouse punch done simultaneously. "Let's fucking go!" he yelled (yes, it was audible), and I found myself jumping up and down and screaming involunatrily, and noticed that everyone else in the bleachers was doing the same. Have I mentioned before that Swisher is the coolest person on Earth?

*I've never seen a stadium go apeshit faster than when A-Rod hit the game-tying home run in the 9th. At that point, I was back in the left field bleachers (a semi-angry Hispanic dude kicked me out of his seat in right), and had made ballgame friends with the people around me. When the ball shot off A-Rod's bat, there was that 'holy shit, is this happening?' moment when the entire stadium caught its breath and wondered if it had a chance. We watched Gomez keep backing up in center, and when the ball floated into the bullpen, there was a burst of noise that can only be called deafening. It's one of those scenes where you can hear the high-pitched screams around you barely standing out from the low roar of 50,000 spectators in full throat. Myself and the guys on my row and the one behind me thought about high-fiving, but instead formed a spontaneous circle and jumped up and down for about two minutes in a group hug.

*David Robertson has nuts of steel. When he got out of the bases loaded, no-out jam in the 11th, it was impossible for the Yanks to lose.

*On the streets around the Stadium after the game, the scene was semi-apocalyptic. For whatever reason, at least ten bongo drum players had set up along River Avenue and 161st, so there was a constant throbbing as people milled around in the darkness. In their immediate vicinity, vibrant dance groups sprung up, bodies gyrating in strange urgent rhythms. I passed a thin man with wild hair standing on top of a fire hydrant, holding a baseball card book and screaming out "this is the team!" People moved in roving packs, starting cheers or letting out high-pitched screams. A group of four muscular guys in pinstripes stood in the middle of River Avenue, demanding high fives from all passerby. Those pedestrians unfortunate enough to be wearing Twins gear took a verbal lashing that (thankfully) stopped short of violence. At one point, waiting to meet up with Kyle, I stopped in the middle of the road, faced the flow of foot traffic, and pretended I was some helpless authority in the midst of a mass exodus. Weird times.

*Moving on quickly to the Giants game, it was pretty perfect. Kyle and I had seats in the 5th row of the upper tier, which actually turn out to be a pretty great vantage point. And the game went just as I'd hoped; by that point in the weekend, we were on about six hours sleep in two days, wounded by the degradations of excessive cheap beer, and looking to enjoy the game in a relaxed fashion. The cool autumn weather did its part, and the Giants did theirs, ending any drama within about seven minutes against the very, very hapless Oakland Raiders. We were able to enjoy the game without committing stores of energy that were simply absent from our deprived systems.

It turned out to be a great day, complete with a solid, brief performance by Eli and dominant Giants defense. Kyle even had one line that almost had me rolling on the dirty cement with laughter. As always, the caveat is that I have a weird sense of humor, and this might only have been funny in the moment. But early in the fourth quarter, when Giants placekicker Lawrence Tynes kicked a short field goal and was greeted by lackluster cheers around the Meadowlands, Kyle clapped his hands with enthusiasm. "That's it," he said, "keep chipping away!" The scoreboard read 41-7.

*Speaking of drinking, here's how you kick off a really bad night in a bar: start a conversation with a cute red-haired girl, stick with it for about ten solid minutes, and then have her abruptly stand up, say "I'm gonna make out with that guy," walk fifteen feet away, and immediately follow through with a dude who looks like every douchebag you've ever hated. That was the beginning of Matt's Saturday adventure at an NYU college bar called Phebe's, and I got to witness the whole thing. From there, he spent maybe two hours trying to break his way into a dance circle of all girls. They rebuffed him (and all other prospective male suitors) in no uncertain terms over and over, but he wouldn't quit. I've rarely seen such misplaced persistence.

I found out later from one of the girls that the group was a bachelorette party (to give you an idea of how much fun these girl were, the blond who I pressed for info when she happened to sit down next to me made sure to be as snooty as possible in her terse answers, as though instead of saying "hey, what's the story with your group?," I'd screamed "HEY BABY WANNA COME GET LAID THE FUN WAY?") which means a lot of them probably had husbands or serious boyfriends. A truly unfortunate group to cast your lot with. Matt's night kept getting worse, and you can probably hazard a rough guess as to how it ended. But in case you can't, here's how: with him sitting at a table with three girls at 2:45, horrendously drunk, and the one nearest to him consciously leaning away every time he spoke, and me trying to drag him from the bar, thinking "man, I just met this dude yesterday, and he's definitely going to vomit in my apartment tonight."

(In Matt's defense, the night was a string of horrible luck, and he generally seems to be someone who has success with females, and also he didn't puke. However, if I didn't already feel fortunate to have a nice girlfriend, his (mis)adventures in Phebe's served as a nice reminder that I should probably propose marriage in a week or two.)

*Speaking of nothing, if you're interested in blowing about 500 dollars in a single week, go to two baseball playoff games and an NFL game, and invite friends down so you can go out drinking two nights in a row in what might be the most expensive city in America. Don't get me wrong, it was a great time. It's just too bad that I can't buy my loved ones any Christmas presents this year.

Okay, that's probably all you're interested in reading today. Tomorrow, back to basics. We'll review my (breathtakingly accurate) predictions, wrap up the other Division Series,' apologize on behalf of Yankee Universe to Chip Caray and Ron Darling, honor Derek Jeter, and maybe even say some nice things about Mariano. I leave you now with one of the funniest photos I've ever seen, taken after game 3 in Minnesota amid the Yankee celebration. It's better experienced with no context.