When a game ends in a walk-off, it’s easy to forget what came before. Last night’s game was a tense one right up until Hideki Matsui relieved it with a blast into the bleachers. The game remained tied from the bottom of the second to the bottom of the ninth, and it seemed as if Baltimore was just about to break through on a couple of occasions. But the Yanks fended them off, taking their third straight game by the score of 2-1.

Andy Pettitte gave up a run in the first, a homer to Nick Markakis on a ball that was around his shins. That was not a sign of things to come, as he retired 12 of the next 13 batters he faced. Troubled brewed in the fifth after a walk and a Matt Wieters single put runners on first and third with one out, but Pettitte escaped that. A pair of double plays erased a couple of singles in the sixth and seventh, but then Pettitte faced a second and third, one out, jam in the eighth and Joe Girardi thought it best that someone else get out of it.

(Taking this space to give Eric Hinske props on a good play on Roberts’ double. He knew he wasn’t going to catch it, so he didn’t over pursue. He let the ball ricochet and played it well. I can’t help but think another outfielder might have chased it all the way in the corner and let Wieters get to second, or worse, let Izturis score. Also, his homer was brutal. Absolutely crushed. Love to see that.)

What follows is an ode to defense and determination. With Phil Coke on the mound in relief, Nick Markakis stepped up, ready to hit. Coke threw a 93 mph fastball on the inside edge, and Markakis turned on it, bouncing the ball hard to Mark Teixeira at first. It seemed like Teixeira wanted to tag first and go for the double play, but he knew he had time only for the lead foe. He fired to Molina, who reached around to tag Izturis and record the inning’s second out.

The play amazed on every level. First, Teixeira fielded the bouncing ball quickly. Second, he decided he had enough time to throw home. Third, he threw an accurate bullet. Fourth, Molina laid down the tag right on Izturis’s spikes, which cannot be a pleasant feeling. Fifth, Molina actually held onto the ball, which was at the edge of his webbing. Everything went right, and the Yankees kept the game tied.

That eased some tension. Now the runner couldn’t score from third on an out. Coke could just concentrate on the batter and get him. So what does he do? The catcher’s worst enemy: a fastball in the dirt. Molina got down for it, but sometimes there’s just no blocking it. It squibbed away and Brian Roberts came charging from third. Molina recovered and flipped to Coke who, like Molina on the play before, was in perfect position. Roberts, seeing a glove waiting there to tag him, tried to get around, but Coke would have none of it.

The star of that play was home plate umpire Adrian Johnson. When Roberts popped up after his slide, Johnson looked at him and explained exactly what was going on. Coke had tagged him before he got to home plate. With just two pitches Coke had set down the Orioles in bizarre fashion. The game was still tied.

In the end, Matsui was the star. Jim Johnson dealt him a 95 mph fastball on the inner half, and Matsui laid into it, sending it up into the bleachers and causing a ruckus in the Bronx. Group celebration at home plate, pie in the face, the whole nine yards as the Yankees won their fourth straight game. A 6-3 Red Sox loss in Texas means that they’re back in a tie for first place in the AL East.

While the offense sputtered a bit again, the Yankees’ pitching delivered. After a couple of poor starts, Andy Pettitte came back with a strong performance at home. The bullpen, without Hughes and Mo, finished it off for him. The Yanks have to feel good after that one. Everything seemed to be working just when it needed to be.

Categories : Game Stories
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Neil Medchill was named NY-Penn League Hitter of the Week, while Adam Warren and Trenton Laire shared Pitcher of the Week honors. Meanwhile, Brett Marshall was placed on the disabled list. He had been pitching pretty poorly of late, so maybe this explains things.

Triple-A Scranton (8-1 loss to Columbus)
Kevin Russo, Austin Jackson, Yurendell DeCaster & Frankie Cervelli: all 1 for 4 – Russo & Jackson each swiped a bag … DeCaster doubled & K’ed … Cervelli K’ed
Ramiro Pena: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB – played CF as well
The Duncans: both 0 for 4 – Eric K’ed
Colin Curtis: 3 for 3, 1 BB
Romulo Sanchez: 3.1 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 1 Balk, 4-5 GB/FB – 46 of 82 pitches were strikes (56.1) … not what they needed on a night when they had only one fresh reliever
Anthony Claggett: 2.2 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 4-3 GB/FB – 20 of 41 pitches were strikes (48.8%)
Edwar Ramirez: 2 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 2-2 GB/FB – 16 of 24 pitches were strikes (66.7%)

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Categories : Down on the Farm
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WTF … offense?

Categories : Game Threads
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At the All-Star Break last year, the Yankees were 50-45, six games back of Boston for first place and 5.5 back of Tampa for the Wild Card. They opened the second half on a tear, winning their first eight games, two of which were against the Red Sox in Boston (lest we forget the Joba game). The Yankees look to build a similar post-break streak this year, as they’ve won their first three. The difference, of course, is that the Yankees were 51-37 at the break. That, and they’re fielding a much stronger team this year.

Next on the ledger is the Baltimore Orioles, the team which derailed the Yanks’ efforts last season. The Yanks lost the series finale to Boston, which is understandable, but then dropped two of three to Baltimore before embarking on a mediocre August. That put them pretty much out of the race.

They’ll lead things off against rookie right-hander David Hernandez. A 2005 16th round draft pick, Hernandez traveled the minors a level per year, posting ho hum results until last season in AA. There he threw 141 innings to a 2.68 ERA. His strikeout rate was a ridiculous 10.6 per nine, though he walked 4.5 per nine, which is always a concern. His strikeout rate actually jumped when he moved to AAA this season, 79 in 57.1 innings (12.4 per nine). The difference is that his walk rate dropped below the 3.0 mark.

As is the case with many minor leaguers, the strikeout rate hasn’t yet translated to the majors. The only appearance in which he recorded more than three strikeouts is a 2.2-inning relief appearance against Oakland in June. He has a solid 93 mph fastball which he can dial up to 95. He also has a changeup and a slider, though FanGraphs’ Pitch Type Values pegs the latter as his weakness.

Hernandez looks like the prototype of the kind of pitcher the Yanks struggle with: they’ve never seen him before, he’s on a crappy team, and he’s posted mostly middling results. If he can hit his spots tonight, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Yanks struggle. Then again, maybe the offense is ready to feast on a neophyte after facing two of the league’s best in the past two days.

Strangely, Posada caught all three games this weekend, including CC in a day game after a night game, yet Molina gets the call to catch Pettitte, one of the pitchers vocal about how he enjoys pitching to Jorge. The message from Girardi is simple: you’ll pitch to whoever is catching on any given day.

Lineup:

1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Johnny Damon, LF
3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Hideki Matsui, DH
6. Robinson Cano, 2B
7. Eric Hinske, RF
8. Melky Cabrera, CF
9. Jose Molina, C

And on the mound, number forty-six, Andy Pettitte

Categories : Game Threads
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Forty years ago, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. While The Onion will always have the last word (NSFW) on the moon landing, baseball had its place in this historic moment.

As Wezen-ball detailed today, baseball teams announced the moon-landing as the games went on. Larry excerpts from this New York Times article about the Yankee reaction to the moon walk. Bob Sheppard, of course, played a key role:

“Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please,” came the voice of Bob Shepard, the public address announcer. The umpires, according to prior arrangements, waved their arms and stopped play.

Announcement Cut Short

‘You will be happy to know,’ Shepard continued, ‘that the Apollo 11 has landed safely…’

And a tremendous cheer drowned the words ‘on the moon.’

The cheering continued for about 45 seconds. On the scoreboard, the message section read ‘They’re on the moon.’ People stood. They waved the bats back and forth. Shepard kept talking, but his words could not be made out through the din.

On the field, the players seemed confused, or impatient. Most did not turn toward the scoreboard. Finally, the announcer could be understood and he asked the crowd for a moment of silent prayer for the safe return of the astronauts.

The crowd stilled. After a few seconds of silence, a recording of ‘America the Beautiful,’ sung by a chorus, blared through the loudspeakers. At the end of the song, another mighty cheer arose, just like the one that usually greets the completion of the National Anthem before a game.

The game resumed at 4:21 pm. McMullen bounced into an out at the plate, and exactly one hour later the Yankees scored the winning run.

The Yankees of 1969 weren’t very good. They finished 80-81, good for fifth place 28.5 games behind the Orioles. But on July 20, 1969, those 32,933 fans who saw the Yanks win in 11 innings heard history as it should only be delivered: straight from the voice of Bob Sheppard himself.

Categories : Days of Yore
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  • Marte rehab tour heads to Scranton — UPDATE: Wang feels pain
    By

    Could the Yankees be getting lefty reliever Damaso Marte back in the near future? He started a rehab assignment last week, and while it got off to a sputtering start, he cruised through his second appearance. Carig tweets that Marte’s next stop is in Scranton on Tuesday. The Yanks have plenty of time to evaluate Marte — his rehab assignment can last through mid-August — and it looks like they’re eager to see how he fares against the best minor league competition. There’s nothing further on when he’ll return, but I’d assume the Yanks want to see him on back to back days first.

    Update: It seems Chien-Ming Wang felt pain today while throwing. PeteAbe said Girardi mentioned the rotator cuff, while Hoch says biceps soreness. Either way it’s not a good deal. Girardi then went on to say that Aceves would be easier than to return to the rotation at this point. Which brings up an important question: Do you make the easier move or the better move? I find it hard to believe that even the most staunch B-Hughesers would think that Aceves would be better in the rotation than Hughes.
    · (118) ·

On Friday, just hours before Phil Hughes struck out six Tigers in two innings, Ben lamented the loss of the young righty’s changeup. Not that he really had one in the first place, but that’s the point. One key to Hughes’s future success, many postulate, is his development of a serviceable changeup. He can play that off his fastball to keep hitters off balance. Now that he’s in the bullpen, though, he’s not using the changeup at all, opting to with the two-pitch combo: fastball/curveball. Could this focus on just two pitches hurt his development?

Both Ben and Marc Carig seem to have a concern about this. Honestly, I did too. How can Hughes learn a changeup, I wondered, if he’s never throwing it in a game? As Carig puts it: “Had he stayed in the minors, Hughes could have kept throwing the changeup in game situations, where the real learning of pitches takes place. But as the primary bridge to Rivera, he does not have that luxury for now.” It would appear that he doesn’t.

It appears, though, that perhaps I was asking the wrong question, and that Carig was making a few assumptions. Rob Neyer steps in with his own opinion, which runs contrary to what many of us thought.

I’ve read quite a bit about changeups and their development — especially while working on this — and I agree that “an effective changeup is often a matter of feel” … but I’m not sure that “the real learning of pitches takes place” in game situations.

In fact, quite the contrary. In game situations, the pitcher usually doesn’t have the luxury of learning things. He’s on an island in the middle of the field and big guys with wooden clubs are trying to kill him. Sure, it’s a little different in the minors, but nobody wants to get embarrassed out there. A power pitcher like Hughes, even if he’s actively trying to learn to throw a changeup, will throw how many of them in a game? Five? A dozen, tops?

My understanding is that athletes generally “learn” things during (relatively) stress-free practice, with the new skill perhaps reinforced in the heat of battle. I think you have to learn how to throw a changeup first, and then you have to learn to throw it during games. Well, it doesn’t sound like Hughes has done the first of those yet. Not really. He doesn’t have the feel for a changeup yet.

He might never get it. Some pitchers don’t. But if he does get it, it won’t be during a game against the best hitters in the world. It’ll be in the bullpen, when he’s getting in some work. Or in the outfield before a game, when he’s fooling around with his teammates. And he can do all those things whether he’s a starter or a reliever.

Emphasis mine. It certainly does appear that way. If Hughes did have a better feel for his change, we likely would have seen him throw it more when he was a starter earlier in the year. Now that he’s in the bullpen, he has a chance to utilize his best tools — a revived fastball and two varieties of curves. Because he uses the knuckle curve as his off-speed offering, he doesn’t really need a changeup while he’s pitching out of the bullpen. This leaves him plenty of time to work on it in practice.

When will he deploy it in a game? Perhaps he throws a few starts in a winter league for which he qualifies (he’s no longer eligible for the Arizona Fall League). Maybe he just works on it over the winter and starts using it during Spring Training. The point is, if Neyer is right and these guys do learn new pitches on the side rather than in the game, then Hughes has some time to get comfortable with a changeup. In fact, he has plenty more time to get comfortable with it because he’s in the bullpen and can completely cut it out of his repertoire.

Another question is of whether he actually does need a changeup to thrive as a starter. As I said, his knuckle curve is off-speed enough that he can use it to keep hitters off-balance. He also uses a tighter curve to mix things up. But what about his slider? Taking a trip in the way back machine, we learn that Phil once boasted quite the bendy pitch: “Hughes’ slider reportedly puts his other pitches to shame; it’s a power pitch that breaks hard and late and induces plenty of swings and misses, however the Yankees made Hughes keep it in his pocket in an attempt to develop his other pitches.”

(Then again, Mike called Hughes’s changeup above average at the time. I wonder if the pitch got lost in the fray, or if the scouting report was just wrong. In any case, the bit about the slider wasn’t just Mike. I believe that one came right from Baseball America — hence the “reportedly” insertion in the above passage.)

Fastball, knuckle curve, power curve, slider? That sounds pretty good to me. I do wonder what it will take for the Yankees to have Hughes break out the pitch again. Maybe they were just waiting for him to get through a healthy season…

In any case, it looks like the only concern with having Hughes in the bullpen is his innings totals. After having missed so much time over the past few years, it would be nice to finally see Hughes eclipse his career high IP total from 2006. At this pace, he probably won’t even match it. That’s a shame, because it will mean more restrictions on his innings for next year. Yet the bullpen seems to be providing Hughes a learning experience. That could be more important in the long run than his innings totals.

Categories : Pitching
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While the 2008 season ended with a disappointing third-place finish for the Yanks, Mike Mussina was a clear bright spot. He made a league-leading 34 starts, won 20 games for the first time in his career, topped 200 innings for the first time since 2003 and had his lowest ERA as a Yankee since 2001. Reinventing himself as a off-speed control artist, Mussina walked just 31 hitters, three fewer than starts made.

By all accounts, it was a season for the ages for Mussina, and when he announced his decision to hang it up after the 2008 campaign, we were both surprised and not surprised. Moose had always marched to his own drummer, and while he ended his career just 30 wins shy of that magical 300 plateau, he knew that age was catching up with him. He wanted to spend time with his family, and after 18 seasons in the bigs he had had enough.

Moose made his triumphant return to Yankee Stadium this weekend as part of the 2009 Old Timers’ Day celebration. While he didn’t pitch particularly well and was victimized by his fielders, it was still a treat to see old number 35 out there. During his trip to Yankee Stadium, Moose spoke to Dan Amore of The Hartford Courant to say that he is remaining retired:

“It’s a long way to the plate when you haven’t pitched in eight months,” said Mussina, who threw to a few batters.

There are any number of athletes who talk of going out on top but can’t resist the temptation to come back when they believe they still can. Mussina, who had a subpar season in 2007, decided before the ’08 season began that it would be his last, though he withheld his announcement until after the season. He finished with 270 wins.

“If I had another bad year, it would have been obvious,” Mussina said. “And if I had a good year, it would be the perfect way to go out. … If I came back now, it would ruin what I did last year.”

So anyone wondering about a possible Mussina comeback can dismiss that thought. “There’s less than half a season left,” he said, “and it would take me at least a month to get ready. At this point, I wouldn’t know what ‘ready’ is. It might be throwing 78 mph. I know I can throw from my knees through an L-Screen.”

Moose — who curmudgeonly dismissed new Yankee Stadium as a park too small for his tastes — could have been a useful piece for the Yankees this year. With Andy Pettitte and Joba Chamberlain turning in inconsistent stretches and the fifth starter a giant question mark, Mussina would have been a nice back-of-the-rotation anchor for the Yanks this year.

But alas, his only appearance for the Yankees this year will be yesterday’s festivities. He is at home coaching Little League in Montoursville, Pennsylvania, and doesn’t see himself anywhere else. “I’m really OK with being retired,” he said to Amore, putting a final period on a great career.

(Hat tip to iYankees for the story.)

Categories : Pitching
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Over the next 12 days we’re going to hear plenty more about Roy Halladay. Whether or not the Blue Jays actually intend to trade their 32-year-old ace, the media will continue to speculate. And why not? It makes for a good deadline storyline. Brian Cashman wants to put a damper on that. Not only has he implied that the Yankees will not empty the farm for Halladay, but he also pointed out the meaninglessness of the trade deadline this year.

To those clamoring for Halladay, Cashman refers back to the Johan Santana situation:

“I’m very comfortable with the decision we made back with the Santana situation,” he said. “Right now, we’ve got Sabathia where the Santana money is, I’ve got a center fielder in Melky, I’ve got Phil Hughes performing for us, and I’ve got Swisher in right, which Jeffrey Marquez was in the deal to help me get.

“So right now, I believe the organization is in a better position because of that type of decision-making. I know people still like to debate it. Debate all they want, I think it was the smart and right move, and we’re stronger than we would have been with one player and the money attached to the player without all the extra players we have now.”

Yes, the Yankees have Sabathia with the Santana money, but remember that Sabathia was no guarantee. The Yankees had to see him actually hit free agency (as they didn’t see with Santana), and then had to convince him to come to New York. While it’s hard to see someone turning down $161 million, two legendary pitchers have in the past. The gamble paid off for the Yankees. But if the economic conditions were different, would it have been as easy to get CC to accept money over geographic preference?

Still, the plan did work. They had an idea of what they wanted to do, and it succeeded. They’ve gotten production out of Melky and Hughes this year, and turned Marquez into Swisher. The presence of those players has helped the Yankees get to where they are today, which is a strong position in baseball’s toughest division.

Some say that the Yankees are in a different place right now, and that the new circumstances call for the Yankees to pursue Halladay. Adding him, so goes the reasoning, gives the Yanks an unmatched top of the rotation. That’s certainly true, but in baseball there are no guarantees. Even a rotation headed by Sabathia, Halladay, and Burnett wouldn’t guarantee the Yankees a World Series. It sure would help, but transactions like this come with no promises.

There’s obviously room for debate on this issue, but it’s pretty clear where the Yankees come down. They could just be setting a smoke screen, as they did when addressing the question of signing both Teixeira and Sabathia. Given the way Cashman has behaved with his prospects to this point, it’s a bit difficult to call his bluff in this case.

As to the trade deadline, Cashman says that it doesn’t matter as much this year because teams won’t be so quick to put in claims. He mentions that in 2000, he and Mets’ GM Steve Phillips would put in claims to block competitors from trading for a player. With many teams looking to shed payroll, they could well let certain players, and their salaries, go if another team claims them. Therefore, there could be a bit more activity in August than we’ve seen in previous years.

It could be a rather uninteresting deadline for the Yankees. They’ll continue to evaluate the back end of their rotation, knowing they could possibly swing a trade later on. As far as Halladay goes, though, even if J.P. Ricciardi were willing to trade him within the division, it doesn’t appear the Yankees are takers right now.

Categories : Front Office
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Record Last Week: 3-0 (9 RS, 5 RA)
Season Record: 54-37 (504 RS, 440 RA), 1.0 GB
Opponents This Week: vs. Baltimore (3 games), vs. Oakland (4 games)

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