The other side of The Collapse

(click to embiggen)

That was Tropicana Field last night, shortly after the Rays beat the Yankees by the score of 5-2. The majority of the 18-something-thousand fans in attendance stayed at their seats after Red Sox-Orioles game was put on the big board, just in time for the final two outs. The fans collectively groaned when Dustin Pedroia drove in a run, then booed when David Ortiz followed that with an infield single. Adrian Gonzalez flew out for the second out of the inning, and that drew a ton of cheers.

While all this was going on in the stands, the Yankees were in their clubhouse without a care in the world. You’d never know they had just lost a game to a division rival, they were too busy poking fun at the rookies for their early-90’s music costumes. Russell Martin told a story about how he asked the home plate ump if he had stretched before the game because he (or his strike zone) was a little tight. Joe Girardi vaguely explained his pitching plans for the next two days. Phil Hughes zipped up Austin Romine‘s Madonna outfit. They were a team with nothing to play for at the moment, and it showed.

Outside though, outside that clubhouse, it was a celebration. Jed Lowrie had swung over a Jim Johnson sinker for strike three, the 27th out in Boston’s latest failure to distance themselves from the Rays. Less than 24 hours earlier, Jacoby Ellsbury was being hailed as the no-doubt MVP for his game-winning, 14th inning homer off Scott Proctor in the Bronx, but now he was a goat. A goat because of this …

The ball was in glove, and then it wasn’t. The result was the first inside-the-park homerun by an Orioles player in Camden Yards history, a three-run number by Robert Andino that turned a 3-2 lead into a 6-2 lead. The Trop exploded when  Lowrie went down swinging, a thunderous combination of cowbell, cheers, and whatever the hell that foghorn thing they play after homeruns and wins is … all combined with great acoustics (hooray for the dome!). The press box was literally shaking, and honestly, it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced at a ballpark.

This collapse is just … it’s unthinkable. I mean, 2004 was just completely different. That was a short series where the proverbial “anything can happen” happened. This Red Sox collapse is a month-long stretch of ineptitude, a team beating itself with bad defense, really bad pitching, and just not enough offense to makeup for it. Boston has gone from nine games up with a 99.6% chance of making the postseason on September 3rd to tied in the loss column with a 63.3% chance of making the postseason just 24 days later. Take a second to wrap your head around that.

As Yankees fans, we’re conditioned to hate the Red Sox and laugh at their misfortune. It comes with the territory, so this collapse is right in our wheel house. No sympathy, nothing. But we don’t ever think about the other end of The Collapse (has to be capitalized at this point, right?), the team that did the catching up. I got to experience that firsthand last night, or rather I got to observe fans who experienced that firsthand last night. It wasn’t about the suffering of the Red Sox, it was about the excitement of the Rays. A young, exciting, and likable team that legitimately qualifies as an underdog doing things underdog teams do. It was a very different view of things as a Yankees fan, a view of a world where winning isn’t a birthright. Apparently that way of life can be fun too.

(Ellsbury .gif via @bubbaprog)

Rays beat Yanks to tie Sox for AL Wildcard

Best loss  of the season? Best loss of the season. I can’t believe I’m saying such a thing, but with everything already clinched, I have no issues with the Yankees losing a game so the Rays could tie the Red Sox for the wildcard lead with two games left in the season. This is pretty amazing, folks.

Don't worry Hector, you did good. (J. Meric/Getty Images)

Gassed

Hector Noesi has done a really nice job for the  Yankees this season, but the only problem is that the vast majority of his work has come in low-leverage relief spots. Because of that, it’s not much of a surprise that he looked completely gassed after his pitch count crept north of 40-45 or so. Noesi allowed three runs on five hits and two walks in two innings and change, throwing 59 pitches. Tough spot for the kid, but what can you do. His overall body of work has been encouraging this season.

Raul Valdes relieved him and retired two of the three lefties he faced. The one exception was Johnny Damon, who pulled an outside slider through the right side of the infield for a ground ball single. Good process, bad result. Since coming to New York, Valdes has faced a total of 14 left-handed batters, and he’s given up four hits (one double, the rest singles) and struck out five. There’s talk that he could make the postseason roster, but I have no interest in seeming them carry a second LOOGY in the playoffs unless it’s a legit shutdown guy (which they don’t have). Joe Girardi won’t be able to help himself with the matchups, and having an inferior pitcher (like Valdes) out there in a potentially big spot just because he happens to throw with the correct arm isn’t in the team’s best interests.

Back To The Bullpen

With his inflamed back keeping him out of action for the last two weeks or so, Phil Hughes returned to the Yankees as a reliever in this game. It’s hard, if not impossible to differentiate between what was rust and what was Hughes  being Hughes, but the end result is that he threw 36 pitches across 1.2 IP, allowing one hit (a double) and two walks against two strikeouts. His fastball velocity was in the 92-94 range, so no significant spike. Girardi indicated that Hughes might pitch again Wednesday, but I’m not sure that will happen after this pitch count. I bet Phil makes the ALDS roster, but he almost certainly shouldn’t.

(J. Meric/Getty Images)

Leftovers

The entire Yankees offense was basically Robinson Cano. He hit a first inning solo homer to dead center and then singled in another run in the third, going 2-for-4 on the day. The other ten hitters (counting a defensive replacement and a pinch-hitter) went a combined 4-for-27. Jamie Shields has been shutting the Yankees down all season, nothing was different in his final regular season start of 2011.

How about home plate ump Paul Schrieber showing up Russell Martin during that fifth inning ejection? No, you can’t argue balls and strikes, but Schrieber stopped play, walked in front of the plate, and got in Martin’s face. That’s definitely over the line. If you’re going to toss a guy, then toss him. Don’t make a spectacle out of it. I’m sure Schrieber will be disciplined in a timely manner. (nope)

Oh, and speaking of Martin, I sure hope someone gave him a stern talking to after he slid head-first into first to beat out an infield single in the second inning. Everything’s clinched already, why risk  some broken fingers? Playing smart > playing hard.

Get this, Jorge Posada made not one, but two nice defensive plays throwing runners out at the plate in the first three innings. He’s really going out with a bang; the game-winning hit in the AL East clinching game, the homer off Wakefield on Sunday, and now the two plays in this game. Neat stuff.

Obviously the Red Sox lost to the Orioles, allowing the Rays to tie them for the wildcard. In other out of town news, the  Tigers walloped Cleveland, so if the Rangers win tonight, they’ll remain one loss up on Detroit. If they lose, the two teams will have the same record. This is important because the Yankees will face whichever team finishes with the worse record in the ALDS. If they finish with the same record,  it’ll be Yanks-Rangers  because Detroit won the season series over Texas. The Rangers are playing the Angels out on the west coast right now, and you can follow that game here.

And finally: holy Desmond Jennings! When Derek Jeter doesn’t hit .300 this year, that will be why. What a catch.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Box Score

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the nerdy stuff, and ESPN the updated standings. You don’t really need to check them, the Yankees are still in first.

Up Next

The second to last game of the season, that’s what’s up next. Bartolo Colon will start against Jeremy Hellickson on Tuesday night. Another loss would not be upsetting. At all.

Postgame Notes: Rookie Hazing

(Photo via the Yankees)

The story of the night is clearly what happened on the field, but that’s between the Rays and Red Sox. The Yankees (finally) got busy with their annual rookie hazing tonight, dressing the kids up as various 80’s and 90’s musical megastars. Jesus Montero broke out the parachute pants and was MC Hammer. Brandon Laird was Slash from Guns n’ Roses. Andrew Brackman and Dellin Betances were Milli Vanilli. Hector Noesi dressed up like Prince and George Kontos was a different George, George Michael. Austin Romine drew the short straw; he had to dress up like Madonna and go out on a date with Alex Rodriguez. Okay, I made that last part up, but Romine was definitely the material girl. Phil Hughes zipped him up.

I’ll be honest, the Yankees are getting soft. Who cares about dressing up in the middle of the series? They’ve got to get these kids dressed up when they’re hanging cities, preferring to or from Toronto so they have to go through customs. Weak  sauce, Yankees. Someone needs to step up next year and take the bull by the horns.

Anyway, there’s wasn’t too much to talk about as far as the actual game, so let’s recap…

  • Russell Martin asked home plate ump Paul Schrieber if he stretched before the game, because he “seemed kind of tight.” Schrieber was not too pleased, so that’s what led to the  ejection. I’ll  give Russ some creativity points, but the zone really wasn’t that  bad.
  • Other than possibly Phil Hughes, none of the team’s playoff pitchers will pitch on Wednesday. Joe Girardi wants to give them two full days off before the ALDS begins. A player might manage that game, but only if it doesn’t mean anything in the wildcard race. Based on what happened tonight, it absolutely will, one way or the other.

Game 160: Bittersweet

Just as charming inside as it is outside. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

The end of the regular season is very bittersweet. No one wants to see it end because man, it’s baseball and we don’t want it to go away. But then again, wooo postseason baseball! This game means nothing to the Yankees but everything to the Rays. Just sit back and enjoy it. The games will get a lot more stressful in a few days.  Here’s the lineup…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Robinson Cano, 2B
Alex Rodriguez, DH
Jorge Posada, 1B
Eric Chavez, 3B
Russell Martin, C
Eduardo Nunez, RF – have fun with the roof, Eddie
Brett Gardner, LF

Hector Noesi, SP

First pitch is scheduled for a little after 7pm ET and can  be seen on YES. Enjoy.

Pregame Notes: Going through the motions

Air conditioned batting practice. What a country.

When we looked at the schedule a few weeks ago, this series seemed like it had the potential to be pretty important, and that’s why I’m here for the three games. Things have since taken a drastic turn for the better, at least for the Yankees. These games mean nothing to them, it’s all preparation for the playoffs and hoping that no one gets hurt. Of course it means everything to the Rays, who are holding onto playoff hopes by the skin of their teeth.

Anyway, there wasn’t much going on before the game, just like you’d expect with a team that’s had a playoff berth wrapped up for close to a week now. Here’s some miscellaneous items worth mentioning…

  • Joe Girardi did say that he’s going to play his regulars this series, but he obviously won’t push it. His focus is on Friday. There’s no Mark Teixeira or Nick Swisher in the lineup tonight, but all of the other regulars are a go. Alex Rodriguez is at DH and Eduardo Nunez gets to have some fun with the roof in right field.
  • Both Jorge Posada and Jesus Montero were doing various catching drills on the field earlier this afternoon, making throws to second and blocking balls in the dirt. Gotta figure they were prepping for a potential emergency catching situation in the playoffs.
  • Batting practice was optional after the late night, but most of the regulars are on the field taking their hacks. Andruw Jones man, that dude puts on a  show.
  • I didn’t hear anything about it before the game (could have easily missed it), but Buster Olney says that Raul Valdes has an “excellent chance” to make the postseason roster as the second lefty. I’d rather see them just take a better pitcher even if he is right-handed.
  • Still no word on who will start Wednesday, but it won’t be any of the regular starters or even a B-list reliever. That figures to be a September call-up bullpen game.
  • I really can not stress this enough: Andrew Brackman is gigantic.

Levine to Cash: We want you back

It might not come as much of a surprise, but the Yankees want to bring back their general manager. Throughout the 2011 season Brian Cashman has fielded questions about his job status, because his contract expires after this season. He has expressed an interest in staying, though some in the media have interpreted his increasing candor as a sign that he’ll leave. But both Cashman and team president Randy Levine have expressed interest in a reunion.

“Clearly, we want him back,” said Levine.

“They know that I would like to come back,” said Cashman.

Previously this season, Hal Steinbrenner has been mum about Cashman’s future with the club, opting to deal with the issue when the season ends. Whether he shares the views of his team president remains unseen.

Can Phil Hughes re-emerge in the bullpen?

(AP Photo/ Bill Kostroun)

It appears the Yankees are getting a head start on their postseason roster construction. Earlier today ESPN NY’s Andrew Marchand reported that Phil Hughes will work out of the bullpen during the season-ending series in Tampa Bay this week, and will likely fill the same role in the playoffs. The decision further limits the Yankees’ options for Game 3 in the ALDS and then Games 3 and 4 in the ALCS. But it does present them with an intriguing addition to their already strong bullpen.

Hughes’s success in the bullpen is unfamiliar to no one. After an up-and-down start to the 2009 season, the Yankees moved Hughes to the bullpen, where he won the setup role on merit. Throughout that summer he decimated opponents, holding them to a .172/.228/.228 slash line while striking out 65 and walking just 13 in 51.1 innings. That earned him a spot in the rotation for 2010, and for a while he shined. Through his first 11 starts he had a 2.71 ERA and even through his first 23 he kept his ERA under 4.00. But a propensity to surrender home runs, plus an inability to put away batters with two strikes, doomed him to a mediocre finish.

After more of the same this year, perhaps it is time the Yankees moved Hughes back into the role in which he dominated two seasons ago. Many of his problems have stemmed from diminished stuff, whether it’s the cutter in general or the manner in which he loses velocity on his fastball throughout a start. A move to the pen could re-focus him on those aspects of his game that made him so dominant in 2009. There are no guarantees, of course, but it does seem as though he’d at least maintain a high fastball velocity while in the pen, which would solve one of this most glaring issues.

At this point, there seems to be no downside. There is little chance the Yankees would allow Hughes to start an ALDS game anyway, so placing him in the bullpen gives him a chance to contribute. There are still questions about the Games 3 and 4 starters, given the September performances that Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia have turned in. Having Hughes as something of a caddy will only help the bullpen absorb innings if one or both of them pitches poorly. If he does play the caddy and the Yankees advance, perhaps they would then consider him for a starting role in that round.

All of this we saw coming from miles away. In fact, it’s somewhat surprising that the move didn’t come earlier, when the Yankees were trying to transition out of a six-man rotation. Hughes might not have been the weakest link, but his bullpen experience, combined with the Yankees unwillingness to remove A.J. Burnett from the rotation, made him the obvious candidate. Now it will happen, and just in time for some big performances. They won’t need him in the later innings, since those are well covered by David Robertson and Rafael Soriano. But one more arm in the bullpen, especially one who can throw multiple innings, might be a boon this October.