When Youkilis attacks

Back in July of 2008 I was lucky enough to sit in box seats for a Yankees-Red Sox tilt. It was hot and hazy, the kind of day where you can’t see the sun behind the cloud cover but you still need sunglasses. We settled into our seats on the third base side, over the Red Sox dugout, halfway between third base and home plate. It was a fantastic game, a much-needed win for the home team, and when it was over Kevin Youkilis taunted me.

The Yankees had lost the day before when Darrell Rasner got slapped around by Boston on the Boss’ birthday. They had fallen to 45-42, good for nine games back of the division leader Tampa Bay Rays and good enough for fourth place. The Yankees needed a win, and they were sending Mike Mussina to the mound to oppose youngster Justin Masterson. The two hurlers couldn’t have been more different. Mussina was 6’2″, 185 pounds soaking wet, and Masterson was 6’6″ and every bit his listed weight of 250 pounds. Mussina was in the last year of his professional career and Masterson was in his first. Mussina got by on a fastball well short of 90 mph thanks to his ability to keep batters off-balance with a myriad of offspeed offerings. Masterson was a classic sinker/slider pitcher; everything seemed hard and fast. Mussina was deliberate, slow, and almost artful in his over-the-top delivery. Masterson was more or less a sidearmer, and seemed to release the ball halfway to home plate.

The game turned out to be a pitcher’s duel, to my delight. Moose and Masterson were spectacular. Mussina went 6 innings, giving up 4 hits, walking 1 and striking out 5. Masterson was no pushover either, and his sinker was working well. He went six innings, walking 2 and striking out 2, and getting 11 ground balls. The Yankees were able to get two runs off him, from a Melky single that scored Giambi and a Brett Gardner sacrifice fly that scored Wilson Betemit. Going into the seventh inning the Yankees led 2-0.  As crazy as it sounds now, Jose Veras and Kyle Farnsworth were in charge of the seventh and eighth inning. Here’s the crazier part: they held the Red Sox scoreless. We had made it to the ninth inning. The familiar tones of  “Enter Sandman” rang out and #42 came running in. Game over, we thought.

JD Drew led off the top of the ninth inning and singled to center. Next up was Manny Ramirez, and Rivera promptly plunked him. This put a runner on first and second with no one out. Brandon Moss came in to run for Manny, and Mike Lowell came to the plate and promptly singled to right, scoring JD Drew and moving Moss to second. Now the score was 2-1, with no one out and runners on first and second. Kevin Youkilis came to the plate and Rivera hit him too. Now the bases were loaded and no one was out. The Yankees had a one run lead.

I can’t tell you what went through the crowd with the bases loaded and no one out, with Rivera struggling with his control, with the Red Sox threatening to ruin our afternoon and keep us in fourth place. No one can tell you what a group of people is feeling at a given point in time, let alone fifty thousand people. It doesn’t matter how intuitive they are or how skilled they are at putting words down on paper: it inevitably becomes a generalization, a shaping of the facts to fit the narrative. It falls short. I won’t do that.

All I can do is tell you what I felt like. I didn’t feel brash confidence or psychic dread. No, I felt the annoying sensation of “Oh, you HAVE to be kidding me. Of all the games I go to, of all the times I get to sit in box seats, NOW is when Mariano decides to melt down? He couldn’t have just, I don’t know, waited a week to blow the lead against some other team?” It was that fundamentally New York feeling of being personally aggrieved by the conspiratorial forces of the universe, the forces actively attempting to just ruin your day. It was the same feeling I get when I’m waiting for an A train that just will not show up. That’s how I felt. What my other 50,000 friends felt, I can’t say.

Coco Crisp stepped to the plate and I was feeling this feeling and also a good amount of nervousness. I didn’t respect Coco Crisp as a professional hitter, but Rivera was suddenly a rare combination of hittable and wild. There was still nobody out and the tying run was 90 feet away. But something happened. Maybe Rivera found his control, maybe he remembered that he was Rivera, maybe he decided to stop screwing around. I don’t know, but he somehow got it back, and struck out Coco Crisp. One out.

Next up was Jason Varitek. It was 2008, but his decline was already in full bloom. Rivera got him to pop out and there were two outs.

So now Julio Lugo stepped to the plate and the place was rocking. The bases were loaded, and with two outs Rivera just went ahead and struck Lugo out. Ball game over, Yankees win, all is well. The place went nuts, and “New York, New York” came over the loudspeakers. I was standing near the Red Sox dugout and I was feeling euphoric, and relieved. As Kevin Youkilis began his slow walk to the dugout from second base, I yelled at him. I don’t remember what I said, but I do remember wanting to properly escort him back to the dugout and out of the stadium. I wanted him to know that I took a fair amount of personal pleasure in seeing this game resolved satisfactorily, and that I didn’t particularly care for him or his team.

Kevin Youkilis has always struck me as someone who doesn’t take things well on the field. Much like the way I was feeling with the bases loaded and no one out, Youkilis takes it all personally. Some say that he’s never had a third strike called against him: the ump got it wrong, man, those pitches were all balls. I dislike seeing him complain about balls and strikes, I dislike his facial hair, his batting stance, the stilted way he runs, and his perpetual refusal to fight Joba Chamberlain. I freely admit that I’ve love him if he was a Yankee, but that’s neither here nor there. What’s important is that I dislike him now and I disliked him then.

Probably one of the biggest reasons I dislike him, apart from the whining and the facial hair and the batting stance, is what happened as he walked towards the dugout from second base. He saw me taunting him. I was, after all, in the expensive seats, even if I didn’t happen to be acting like I belonged. As Youk took off his helmet he looked me right in the eyes. And then he held up up four fingers, wiggled them, and raised his eyebrows.

Although it would soon change, the Yankees were in fourth place.

And then he disappeared into the dugout.

An earlier version of this story appeared at TYU last year.

Late night, another loss

At least Miguel Olivo did that.

The Yankees had multi-run leads against Michael Pineda and Felix Hernandez in the last two games, and they lost both. The days of pounding bullpens are apparently long gone, as they again couldn’t touch the various cast-offs Eric Wedge called upon after Hernandez was out of the game. The Yankees had their chances, but they again just refused to capitalize. Oh, and Ivan Nova is terrible. Same story, different day. They suck*.

(box) (WPA graph)

* Right now.

A win at every level (almost)

Make sure you scroll down for tonight’s game thread. Melky Mesa has been placed on the disabled list for an unknown reason, and DeAngelo Mack took him place on the Double-A Trenton roster.

Triple-A Scranton (4-3 loss to Louisville)
Austin Krum, CF: 1 for 4
Ramiro Pena, 2B: 2 for 3, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 K, 1 HBP – homered off a brand name too
Jesus Montero, C & Brandon Laird, 1B: both 1 for 4
Jorge Vazquez, DH & Kevin Russo, 3B: both 0 for 4, 2 K – JoVa has struck out in 11 of his 19 at-bats
Justin Maxwell, RF: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 1 RBI – threw a runner out at second … second straight game with a bomb
Dan Brewer, LF: 1 for 4, 1 K
Luis Nunez, SS: 0 for 3, 1 BB
Andrew Brackman, RHP: 4.1 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 6 BB, 8 K, 1 WP, 1 HB. 4-1 GB/FB – 49 of 96 pitches were strikes (51.0%) … had his first 1-2-3 first inning of the season … that’s his season high in strikeouts and season low in hits, but also a season high in walks … so he’s got to get that under control
Ryan Pope: RHP: 1.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1 Balk, 1-1 GB/FB – eight of 14 pitches were strikes (57.1%)
Amaury Sanit, RHP: 1.2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 1 HB, 2-1 GB/FB – 16 of 27 pitches were strikes (59.3%)
Kanekoa Texeira, RHP: 0.1 IP, zeroes, 1-0 GB/FB – five pitches, three strikes … welcome back

[Read more…]

Game 50: The King

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

So, Felix Hernandez. He’s pretty good at this pitching thing, winning the Cy Young Award last year thanks to a 8.36 K/9, 2.68 BB/9, and 3.04 FIP. King Felix has actually been even better this season, posting some gaudy peripherals in his 11 starts: 8.92 K/9, 2.43 BB/9, and 2.31 FIP. He also has a history of crushing the Yankees, in case you were thinking upset. Here’s the starting nine…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Russell Martin, C
Jorge Posada, DH
Nick Swisher, RF
Brett Gardner, LF

Ivan Nova, SP

Tonight’s game can be seen on YES locally or MLB Network nationally. If you’re home and still wake, try to enjoy.

Schedule Update: The Yankees and Twins will make up their April 6th rain out on Monday, September 19th at 1:05pm ET. That’s not terrible for New York, who will be coming back from Toronto that Sunday night and waiting for the Rays to come to town that Tuesday. Sucks they lose an off day that late in the year, though.

2011 Draft: Bell doesn’t want to sign, Stilson hurt

Via Conor Glassey, high school outfielder Josh Bell has informed the Major League Scouting Bureau that he doesn’t intend to turn pro this summer and will instead follow through on his commitment to Texas. I wrote about Bell as a potential signability guy back in March, and this obviously plays right into that. He is considered one of, if not the top prep bat available after a big spring, though the Scott Boras client is primed to fall now. Some team will grab him late and throw a bunch of money at him anyway, maybe even the Yankees.

Meanwhile, Jim Callis reports that Texas A&M righty Josh Stilson will miss the rest of the season and may need surgery after suffering a SLAP tear in his shoulder. He was expected to go in the first round, but that’s not going to happen now. Callis makes note of Stilson’s insane workload, and let’s not forget that Barret Loux (another Texas A&M pitcher) had arm issues last year. So, what’s going on with the Aggies?

Open Thread: Hang on to the roof!

Apparently you can embed MLB.com video now, so we’re going to have a lot of run with this. I was a few weeks shy of my 14th birthday when Don Mattingly hit that homer, and that’s pretty much the first time I can remember feeling nothing but pure, unadulterated joy thanks to a baseball game. For those too young to remember, that was the sixth inning of Game Two of the 1995 ALDS, which the Yankees entered down 2-1 to the Mariners. Ruben Sierra led off the inning with a solo homer to tie, then Mattingly hit that bomb to give the Yankees the lead. Bananas. It was amazing.

Anyway, keep yourselves busy with this open thread until the regular old game thread comes along a little later. I loath these west case weekend night games. You all know what to do, so have at it.

The Obvious Next Step

While the Yankees’ winning ways have returned a little bit, I can’t be the only one who’s still worried about their production. Even when the Yankees win, there’s places where improvement could be had. A weak outing by a starter, a fat 0-fer in the middle of lineup, a barely-avoided bullpen meltdown – it’s these kind of things that the Yankees have to knock out of their system to become the champions we all know they are. A World Series team has no weakness, never loses, and always gets strong production out of the lineup 1-9.

I think it’s safe to say that the Yankees have probably pushed as far as can without external help. It’s silly to expect recoveries out of Posada and Jeter, and equally ridiculous to believe that Ivan Nova will actually start striking people out on his own. Likewise, it’s perfectly reasonable to suspect that Bartolo Colon will keep his ERA nice and reasonable and that Curtis Granderson will hit approximately seven gazillion homers, mostly off lefties. But what they’re doing now, even if it stays the same, needs to be helped out. This is where you and I come in, noble fans.

The best way for a fan to help their team of choice is to appease the baseball gods for games to come. I’m not talking about actual god (Mariano Rivera, blessed lord of the cutter, ruler of the bullpen, etc), but rather those magical beings up in the sky who give Cliff Lee doubles and have Jay Bruce fly out with Wilson Valdez pitching in the nineteenth inning. When annoyed that a pitching duel turned out to be anything but – look at Halladay v. Lincecum in the 2010 NLCS after one thew a no-hitter and one whiffed 14 – your wrath should be pointed at the baseball gods. My sources are trying to track down why the baseball gods love Edgar Renteria (2-time WS MVP) so much, but no dice yet.

It’s time to sacrifice one of our dear Yankees to the baseball gods above. Trust me, I know it’s not easy to bring this topic up, but there’s nothing else we can do. The Yankees have reached the limit of improvement that can be gained through normal options such as talking to Kevin Long, taking extra BP, and learning extra pitches. Supernatural options are the only options left. The question becomes – and this is the most important question – who?

When picking your sacrifice to the baseball gods, you need to toe some very careful lines. On one hand, sacrificing your stumbling, scuffling and occasionally-benched DH is like laughing at them, like throwing them your trash. Here, we don’t need this! Maybe you can do something with it. The baseball gods are not the waiver wire, and they demand respect. On the other hand, you don’t want to be sacrificing your star prospects or monstrously powerful cleanup hitters. After the sacrifice happens, after all, you still need some power in your lineup. A sacrifice will improve the way the baseball gods look at your team, but they’re not going to have Eduardo Nunez slug 30 homers. Then, there’s the matter of team history: a rule five pick or a half-season rental really has no attachment to the team, whereas a pointlessly long and overpriced contract is a burden on both the team and the gods.After a long and rigorous selection period, I’ve narrowed down exactly who should be sacrificed:

Pitching

In many ways, this is a totally obvious answer and required very little thought on my part. There is only one pitcher on the Yankees staff that is good (but not too good), could be replaceable (but not easily), and has the mystique and aura of the team all bundled up inside of him:  Joba Chamberlain.

(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Joba’s strong numbers from this year make him a worthy candidate, and his Yankee history makes him as sentimentally valuable as any family heirloom. No one else on the current 25-man has been hailed as both the next Mariano Rivera and the next potential number one starter, all while suffering a role-changing injury. On top of that, Joba’s farm heritage and extensive history of being ripped by the New York media about everything to his performance to his weight make him a quintessentially Yankee sacrifice. In basically every way, Joba is the perfect sacrifice to make sure Bartolo Colon’s arm doesn’t fall off andhave Nova learn a strikeout pitch in a vision. Also, the baseball gods love a good fistpump.

Other alternatives: Phil Hughes (pending injury), Ivan Nova (pending effectiveness)

Hitting

This one was tougher, but I made the decision and decided the best option was Brett Gardner.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

While Gardner may not seem the best option at first, a longer look at his numbers and history prove he’s the right choice. He got off to a terrible slump, he’s managed to pull himself together over the past couple of weeks and has created a slash line acceptable for a sacrifice (.262/.350/.404). Like Joba, Gardner is a product of the Yankees farm system and was part of the magical 2009 World Series team, despite his less-than-stellar numbers in the postseason. Gardner makes a prime target because he doesn’t hit home runs, and sacrificing him is an implicit agreement to forgo smallball and acknowledge that homers are the only way anyone will score this season. Additionally, Gardner wears high socks, and there’s nothing the baseball gods love more than a ballplayer in high socks.

Other alternatives: Nick Swisher (pending ability to hit the ball), Mark Teixeira (too many homers)

It’s tough when a baseball team has reached this point in its life, but with the obvious solutions looming in front of both the team and the fans, there’s nothing any of us can do but follow through. Knowing that both these players will most likely go to baseball heaven is, of course, one of the few positives. In baseball heaven, Joba truly is the number one starter we all know he can be, and Gardner never gets caught stealing.

(note: Emma Span of baseball prospectus helped formulate this idea.)