The glorious return to .500

On Sunday, June 3, the Yankees defeated the Red Sox 6-5. The game took over four hours to play. That Friday night, June 3, they won 9-5 in a 3-hour, 53-minute bout. Even against the lowly-hitting White Sox and Pirates, the Yanks weren’t able to get the games under three hours.

Last night’s billing of Webb vs. Wang, however, was sure to be different. They’re economical pitchers, both throwing just 3.5 pitches per batter faced. They also both throw a good percentage of strikes: 65% for Webb, 63% for Wang. And guess what? The game clocked in at a hair over two and a half hours (2:34). That was especially nice, considering the near-hour rain delay.

The weird thing was, though, that Wang recorded more flyball outs than groundballs: 10 to 9. It was billed as a night many worms would die, but Wang seemingly had different plans. It didn’t hurt his overall effectiveness, though, as he allowed six hits in seven innings, striking out two and walking none. He threw 64% strikes, which is always a blessing.

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Yanks head into well-deserved off day with another win

I haven’t felt this good about the Yankees since we swept Cleveland. Finally, the Yankees have exploited a weak spot in their schedule and have rattled off six straight wins, and nine of their last 11. We’re finally back in second place, a half game ahead of the Blue Jays, and just a game below .500. And we have the second most runs scored in the majors, behind only Detroit (who are hugely benefiting from Gary Sheffield).

It’s a commonly held belief that you never want to ruin the momentum of a winning streak. If you’re hot you’re hot, and you want to keep rolling until the streak ends. However, I must disagree and say that today’s off-day comes at an opportune time. This is the team’s first day off in June, a month in which they have scored 74 runs. A day off to get collected is going to be a blessing. There’s simply no way the team can keep up with that torrid pace, so an interruption may be just long enough to recharge the batteries — especially since there’s no travel involved.

(Or maybe I’m just throwing darts because I’m so damn happy that we’re winning.)

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Rocket relaunch live-blogged

On May 6, the Stadium erupted when Roger Clemens announced his return. Today, on a hot, muggy day in New York, Clemens is just a minute or two away from his debut. He’s facing the Pittsburgh Pirates, and I’ll be here live-blogging. So let’s get to work.

Seventh Inning: The Yanks score three runs in the top of the sixth, and Brian Bruney is on the hill in relief of Clemens. Cairo is at first, and Melky makes up for last night’s error with a great play to lead off the inning. That’s it for the live blog. We’ll have some Clemens analysis later on. Let’s hope the Yankee bullpen can nail down another win.

For the rest of the live blog, continue reading below.

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Why can’t the Pirates develop pitchers?

Today won’t be as much of a recap as a rail on the Pirates and their history with pitchers. The idea came up after I got a text message or two during the game asking if Gorzelanny is really that good.

The answer is yes. The kid can flat deal. The question, though, is whether the Pirates will screw him up like they have nearly every other promising pitcher that has gone through their system.

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Moose whines more than we do at our host

Mike Mussina has been with the Yankees for nearly seven years now. He’s seen 619 of Joe Torre’s 2000 wins and 1027 of Joe’s games. Yet, for some reason – some reason I can’t fathom – Mike Mussina was pissed off after getting taken out of a 1-0 game in the 7th inning.

Now, why was Mike Mussina whining? Because he had thrown just 79 pitches and wanted to throw more. He wanted to, as he told Tyler Kepner of The Times, throw 110 pitches. And that’s just ridiculous.

Mussina, the Stanford-educated crossword-puzzle aficionado, is a smart guy. He probably knows that Joe Torre has something of a quick hook (as Joe noted earlier this afternoon). We’ve certainly been critical of Torre’s bullpen tendencies in the past, but last night, he made the right move. Mussina should know that.

Moose had just come off of a few bad outings in a row. Entering last night’s game, he was 2-3 with an ERA north of 6.20. But in six innings, he looked great last night. He had given up two hits while walking no one and striking out four. The seventh started out promisingly enough; he gave up a slow roller to Jim Thome.

But – and this is a big but – with the Thome shift on, Robinson Cano was in no position to field the ball, and Miguel Cairo, hustling all the way, couldn’t range from the second base bag to the second base hole and throw out Thome. It should have been an out, and that look crept onto Mike Mussina’s face. It was that “I’m out of my comfort zone” look. It’s the same look I’ve written about in the past.

I knew what would happen next. Mussina doesn’t get an out; he stops making the pitches. The next batter – Paul Konerko – rocketed a single off of Mussina. And that was the end of him for the night. His final line read 6 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 4 K. He didn’t get the win, but that’s no big deal as the Yanks crushed the Sox bullpen later on.

After the game, Mussina grumbled like a cranky old man. “Why am I upset? Because I threw 80 pitches and I think I could have thrown 110. It was the first mess I had. I just felt like I could have kept going,” he said. “I understand his thinking, but seventh inning with 79 pitches? I know I haven’t been pitching that well, but oh well. Gotta earn it back, I guess. Gotta earn it back.”

That’s right, Moose. You have to earn it back. You have to suck it up when a squibbler goes for a base hit, and you have to take your lumps like the rest of the team.

And here is just one more nail in the Mike Mussina coffin. Enough already, Mike. Just pitch. You have almost as many excuses as this guy, and we don’t like him too much.

Late edition: Yanks take second straight

Heh, it’s nearly 11 a.m., and there’s no recap of last night. D’oh. So, since it’s later in the morning and the draft is rapidly approaching, I’ll keep this short and sweet.

There are three men upon whom I’d like to heap some praise: Chien-Ming Wang, Alex Rodriguez, and Johnny Damon. While nearly everyone played a role in last night’s win, those guys are really stepping up when the Yanks needs wins the most.

How huge of a break was it to not use the bullpen at all last night? Of course, you have 13 guys in there because you plan on using some of them every game, but when you can give the corps the night off, you’ve just done them a great service. Now you can go Proctor-Bruney-Mo tonight if Moose holds up through six. Hell, you could go Britton-Proctor-Bruney-Mo if he only goes five.

Wang pitched the game in his traditional manner, recording 15 groundballs (for 16 outs counting a double play, of which he has had at least one in every game), four strikeouts, allowing five hits and walking just one. The dude is on right now. I know it’s been mentioned in just about every outlet imaginable, but his slider is really working for him this year. And it’s showing in his strikeout totals: 4.16 per nine. That may not be stellar, but it’s an improvement for Wang. He could probably whiff more, too, if he worked his four-seamer and change more often.

You’ll be lucky to see even a handful of balls hit as hard as Alex’s single last night. I’m surprised it didn’t put a baseball-sized hole in the left field wall. Even Alex looked surprised at his own strength, straggling behind a moment (probably because he thought he had jacked it for a salami) before being tagged at second. Officially, he was out. But it was pretty clear that the Yanks got hosed on yet another call at second base. It’s not just me, right? We have been getting hosed on an inordinate number of calls this year.

And then we have Johnny Damon, who doubled in each of his first two at bats. It sucks that Vazquez came back to strike out the next three hitters in the first. But his RBI double in the third started the rally that won it. Both he and the captain have been hitting over the past couple of days, so maybe they won’t be at the bottom of the “Last 7 Days” section yet again.

That’s a wrap, folks. It’s always so much easier to write a recap of a game like this, because it was just a solid win. I always try to pick the three most remarkable aspects of the game to focus on, and when those are pretty straightforward, well, it makes my job a little bit easier.

Moose vs. Contreras tonight. Let’s keep rollin’, boys!

Last 7 Days
Abreu: 476/607/810 — like a snap of the fingers, he’s turned it around
Melky: 409/440/727
Alex: 391/481/739
Posada: 360/370/680
Cano: 333/440/619
Matsui: 292/333/333
Phelps: 273/385/273
Damon: 261/346/391
Jeter: 207/207/379 — Okay, so they’re still at the bottom…

In the words of Johnny Drama: Victory!

On Monday, we were frustrated because the Yankees couldn’t put anything together between the first and ninth innings. Last night, they strung together 17 hits for seven runs, and wiped out the White Sox 7-3. We’re back to six games under .500, which really is as bad as it sounds. However, with two games left against the uninspiring White Sox, we could hit the four-games under mark by Friday. And then we get some sweet National League action (remember how the Red Sox plowed through the NL last season? We’re going to have to do it this year).

Clippard got quality results through five innings last night, striking out four and allowing just one earned run. The three walks are concerning, but he managed to work around them and the five hits he surrendered. He threw 60% of his pitches for strikes, which isn’t great, but it’s also not DeSalvo-esque. I really wish Torre had let him pitch the sixth with a four-run lead; he had only thrown 89 pitches, and could certainly use the extra work. If he keeps hovering around 85 to 90 pitches per outing, he’s really going to be gassed later in the season if he’s called on for extended work.

The night did not go by without disappointment. Farnsworth did his best to blow the four-run lead he was handed, loading the bases in the eighth. That said, there are worse things than walking Jim Thome. Yeah, we discourage leadoff walks, but Thome is the only true threat in the lineup. Everyone else is struggling mightily or just plain sucks, so you stand a much better chance against them than Thome. The single to Pierzynski didn’t look like a bad pitch (Gameday had it as a 98 m.p.h. heater that maybe caught a little too much of the plate — but certainly not down the ‘pike). The first pitch to Konerko was a little too perfect, so you can kill him for that one if you want.

Looking at Gameday again, Mackowiak’s at bat wasn’t bad, either. He missed with the first pitch, but every other pitch was on or near the edge, and it resulted in a dinky grounder that would have been wonderful…had the bases not been loaded. For some reason, the pitch tracker died in the middle of the Uribe at bat, but the first three pitches were all sliders (and the third was a 90 m.p.h. slider with some nasty break). Apparently, Uribe doesn’t do so well with the bendy pitches. Only one pitch was off the edge, so it was another good series of pitches. It’s easy to kill Farns because of the results, but looking at his pitches (speed, break, and location) seems to mitigate him a bit. I wouldn’t put him out there in high leverage situations right now, but I’d certainly find ways to get him in the game.

The top four guys in the lineup combined for 10 of the 17 hits. Cano had two hits and hit the ball hard on at least one other occasion. Looks like both he and Abreu were in prolonged slumps. Yeah, it sucks, but it’s sure nice to have them back. Now, if Melky can find that stroke he had last year and Joe gets Phelps in there four or five days a week, this can once again be a threatening lineup 1 through 9. Maybe, just maybe if Rocket can pitch fractionally as well as he did the past three seasons, we can turn this thing around come August — when there’s the possibility of getting Hughes and Giambi back.

Wang vs. our old pal Vazquez tonight. Winning last night was satisfying, but it will feel quite empty if we can’t rattle off the next two.

Last 7 Days
Cano: 524/600/952 — We’re not worthy!
Abreu: 500/625/722 — Jermaine who?
Melky: 409/440/636
Alex: 348/464/696 — been said a hundred times, but it can’t be coincidence that he’s heating back up with Abreu in the 3 slot
Posada: 346/357/615
Matsui: 333/357/370 — he fits much better in the 6 spot
Phelps: 286/375/286
Damon: 261/346/435
Jeter: 172/200/345 — still have our Nos. 1 and 2 hitters at the bottom…