Robertson’s uncommon ninth inning

Yesterday’s game was an almost complete pleasure. The Yankees received their World Series rings with Hideki Matsui in the park. They hit around Ervin Santana and by the ninth inning had put seven runs on the board. All that remained were the final three outs. Joe Girardi tasked David Robertson with the assignment, and given what we’ve seen of Robertson so far in his young career I doubt anyone expected what came next.

Bobby Abreu gets high-fives all around after his salami | Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Robertson allowed three straight singles to load the bases with none out. The first two were a bit questionable, a weak grounder that neither A-Rod nor Jeter could field in time to get Howie Kendrick. The next batter, Jeff Mathis, laid down a bunt that Robertson hesitated in fielding, resulting in another single. Brandon Wood, batting under .100 at that point, singled to right in the next at-bat. Luckily, Kendrick did not score on the play. After a strikeout of Erick Aybar, though, I thought Robertson would get out of the inning with minimal damage.

That, of course, did not happen. Bobby Abreu crushed a fastball over the right field fence, plating four runs and putting his team within two. With the save situation in effect the Angels had little chance. They had just two outs remaining and had to face Mariano Rivera. He made quick work of Torii Hunter and Matsui, capping the Yankee victory, but the bit about Robertson still stung a bit. How did he let the game get away from him so quickly?

Instead of focusing on the why, though, after the game I wondered more about the what. Namely, the sequence of events that led to the Angels’ four runs. Robertson had allowed three singles and a home run in succession. How many pitchers had actually done that before? I thought it rare, since a runner on second will score on a good percentage of singles. Thankfully, there’s a rough way to check on that. I headed over to Play Index and ran the linked query. To recount:

I set hits to equal four, runs to equal four, and home runs to equal one, with the IP being a third of an inning or less. I also set extra base hits to equal 1*HR. That way I ensured that the three other hits were singles, meaning it was most likely that the home run scored all of the hitters who had singled. The only thing I couldn’t set, due to Play Index’s limited input fields, was limit walks to none. I accomplished that by sorting the results, though.

Since 1920, only 34 pitchers had experienced such a sequence of events. Thirteen of those failed to record an out. The other 21 got through a third of an inning, though only five of them accomplished that with a strikeout, as Robertson did. This information, while interesting, does not represent the oddest item I found on the list. What really stuck out was one name: Mariano Rivera.

On September 4, 2004, the Orioles visited the Stadium, sending Sidney Ponson to the mound to face Mike Mussina. The Yanks, for whatever reason, could not hit Ponson. He pitched a complete game two-hitter, walking just one. Mussina didn’t fare so poorly himself, finishing seven innings while striking out eight. He allowed just two runs, but when the other pitcher is going as well as Ponson it’s not good enough for the W. In any case, Torre wanted to keep the game close. He brought in Tom Gordon, who pitched a scoreless eighth. Then, in order to preserve the comeback possibility in the bottom of the ninth, he brought on Mo.

Here’s why I think Robertson’s sequence was a bit rarer than Play Index indicates. Mo actually gave up the home run to lead off the inning, to Rafael Palmeiro. Javy Lopez and David Segui followed with singles, and then Jay Gibbons sacrificed them to second and third. Larry Bigbie singled home Lopez, and that brought Torre out of the dugout. He sent in Bret Prinz to clean up the mess, but Brian Roberts immediately homered, bringing home Segui and Bigby and leaving Mo charged with four runs.

If anyone knows of a better way to check on the single-single-single-home run sequence, please let me know. We know that, at most, it has happened 33 times since 1920. I have a feeling that the actual number falls a bit below that.

Scenes from the destruction across the street

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Over the last few years, I’ve been a vocal opponent of the new Yankee Stadium. I didn’t approve of the political process or the kickbacks the wealthy Yankees received from the city for the new park, and I didn’t believe old Yankee Stadium was beyond repair. Yet, from the day, Mayor Bloomberg announced his support of new ballparks for the Mets and Yankees, I was fighting a losing battle.

When the new stadium opened, I reluctantly embraced it. The Yankees, after all, would be playing in the stadium on the north side of 161st St. for the bulk of my adult life, and I could either choose to leave behind the Yankees or swallow the sting of losing the old House that Ruth Built. Not yet prepared to give up on the Yankees, I enjoyed my first year as a fan in the new ballpark. Although parts of it seem sterile and very much the same as any of Populous’ new ballparks that dot America’s baseball landscape, it’s very much a unique Yankee Stadium, modernized for the 21st Century.

The Bat Remains Yesterday, I steeled myself for some tough sights as I made my way up to the Bronx. Throughout 2009, old Yankee Stadium remained a familiar sight across the street. Crews were too busy ripping out the stadium insides to knock down any of the walls, and I could pretend that my old home – the place I spent so many nights growing up – wouldn’t be gone any time soon.

I took the D train yesterday to Yankee Stadium and didn’t have the shocking experience of seeing the old stadium in ruins from the elevated tracks as the 4 train emerges above ground after its stop at 149th St. Instead, I climbed the transfer from the IND platform up to the IRT, and the view was shocking. Fans getting their first glimpses of the destruction were silent and morose. This was a funeral for a friend, and it brought the glimmer of tears to my eyes.

It might be rare to be so sentimental over an old building, but this one featured so many baseball memories and New York City memories for me and millions of other fans. It provided solace after Sept. 11 and countless warm nights in high school when nothing mattered but the outcome of the game. The electricity of a postseason game would fill the air, and even during those early years of my fandom in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a sunny Saturday afternoon meant Yankee baseball. It meant a trip with my mom, dad and sister to the ballpark, and it meant watching Donny Baseball play the game with a bunch of schlubs around him.

Bring Out Your Wrecking Ball

New York City has a long record of tearing down its history. Parts of Lower Manhattan were settled nearly 400 years ago, but rare are the signs of anything newer than the skyscraper boom from the middle 20th Century. We tear down Penn Station; we tear down Yankee Stadium. We bury our past in picture books and minds, hoping that someone will try to save something – save Gate 2, save the dugouts, save home plate – and yet the wrecking ball brings it all down in the end anyway.

I arrived at the stadium yesterday at around 11:45 and spent some time just staring at the Yankee Stadium destruction pit. I tried to take some pictures that expressed the magnitude of the destruction, but it’s hard to capture the emotional depth of the sight. By mid-summer, the stadium will be gone, and the Parks Department will begin the process of constructing Heritage Field, a new park that, despite its name, will be without much Yankee Stadium heritage. And so it goes.

The full photoset from the Destruction of Yankee Stadium is available here on flickr. I’ve embedded the slideshow after the jump. All photos are by Benjamin Kabak. [Read more…]

Yanks hit Angels hard in Stadium return

Photo credit: Bill Kostroun/AP

Derek Jeter said it best: “It feels like the season doesn’t get started until we play the home opener.” While the past week of baseball has provided nothing but enjoyment, the man has a point. Getting off the 4 train, walking to the Stadium among fellow die-hards, ascending the staircase to the grandstands — it made baseball seem real again. It helped that the Yankees continued their hot start, slapping around the Angels, at least for the first eight innings, en route to their fifth win of the season.

Biggest Hit: Nick Johnson‘s solo shot

Photo credit: Bill Kostroun/AP

As he’s done so many times since moving to the leadoff spot, Derek Jeter swung at the first pitch of the game, a 92 mph fastball from Ervin Santana. He pulled the inside pitch to Brandon Wood at third, who tossed the ball across the diamond to Kendry Morales for the first out. The Yankee Stadium speakers then played an odd tune for a ballgame, “Party in the USA” by Miley Cyrus. It was the at-bat music for the No. 2 hitter, Nick Johnson, who had chosen it because of his daughter.

Hopefully he changes it tomorrow.

It appeared that Santana and catcher Jeff Mathis had a plan. The first, a fastball, hit the outside corner for called strike one. They went back outside on the second pitch, but that one missed considerably, evening the count at 1-1. Again Santana went for the outside fastball, but this one caught a bit too much of the plate. Johnson laid into it, crushing it into the right field bleachers for the first home run in his return to the Yankees. It boosted the Yankees’ chances of winning by 9.5 percent, a good shift for the first inning.

Honorable Mention: Jeter to the pen

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

After retiring Jeter on just one pitch in the first, Ervin Santana fell behind 2-0 during their second battle. He missed with a fastball high for ball one, and then couldn’t catch the inside corner with a backdoor slider. The next pitch he served up, a 91 mph fastball down the middle. Jeter put a pretty swing on it, and put the Yankees up 2-0. That one, according to WPA, was worth just slightly less than Johnson’s shot, a 9.2 percent increase. With Andy rolling through three, the second solo homer of the game was a good base for the Yanks.

Biggest Pitch: Juan Rivera singles in the sixth / Wood walks

Photo credit: Bill Kostroun/AP

I bet you weren’t expecting that. Most people, I’m willing to bet, would have rated Bobby Abreu’s ninth-inning grand slam off David Robertson as the biggest hit for the Angels. This presents an opportunity to explain the underpinnings of WPA. Even though Abreu’s home run put more runs on the board than any other Angels’ hit, it didn’t necessarily bring them any closer to winning the game. After he hit it, his team was still down by two runs and had the bases empty with just two outs remaining. The odds of them winning at that point, in other words, were not that good.

In the fifth inning, however, thanks to some missed opportunities, the Yankees held just a 3-0 lead. Jeff Mathis singled to lead off the inning. When the next batter, Brandon Wood, walked, the Angels brought the tying run to the plate. This represented a 6.4 percent gain in WPA, because it brought the Angels closer to tying the game. Similarly, in the sixth inning Juan Rivera singled, advancing Howie Kendrick to third. That again brought the tying run to the plate, and was also a 6.4 percent gain in WPA.

Both of those hits brought the tying run to the plate. Abreu’s did not. It might have put the Angels in a better position to come back, but it did not directly lead to a game-tying opportunity. Wood’s and Rivera’s at-bats did. That is why they were credited with a 6.4 percent gain in WPA, while Abreu’s homer brought the Angles just 2.6 percent. The odds of them scoring two more runs with the bases empty and one out were just not that high.

Thank you, Mr. Kendrick

As described above, Juan Rivera singled with one out in the sixth to bring the tying run, Howie Kendrick, to the plate. Pettitte got ahead with a cutter, but missed the zone with his next three pitches, tipping the count in Kendrick’s favor. Pettitte delivered his second straight fastball, a hittable pitch about thigh high and over the plate, and Kendrick grounded it right to Jeter. He flipped to Cano, who threw to first to complete the double play and end the minor threat.

Looking back on the at-bat in Gameday, it could have turned out much worse. Kendrick is a dead fastball hitter. Pettitte delivered a pretty hittable fastball in a hitter’s count. It could have been a turning point for the Angels. Instead, it was the biggest negative WPA swing on offense for them.

Andy’s strikeout rate

Andy Pettitte does not look like a strikeout pitcher. His fastball hits low 90s at times, but he works mostly off his secondary stuff — the cutter/slider, the curve, the change. He uses it effectively, tough, keeping hitter off-balance by mixing his pitches well. Of his 100 pitches, only 52 were fastballs. He mixed in 25 cutters, 14 curveballs, and eight changeups — plus one unclassified pitch. He did allow eight baserunners in the game, five hits and three walks, but he helped stifle them by striking out six. It was all part of another quality start by Pettitte.

Things that made me smile

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Matsui’s ovation, obviously. The fans cheered him when he received his World Series ring, but the biggest ovation came when he came to bat in the first inning. We all miss Matsui, though with the way the team’s playing right now I’m not sure many people particularly care. That, of course, will change, and then change back, multiples times during the season. Have I mentioned that I love baseball?

Posada just continues to destroy the baseball. He went 3 for 4 yesterday with two doubles, raising his season average to .429. It won’t last all season, obviously, but it’s a nice opening statement from a guy who had a few question marks heading into the season.

Robinson Cano also has been hammering the ball out of the gate.

Also, Chan Ho’s outing was nice as well. The home run was a bit annoying, but it was Kendry Morales and he’ll do that sometimes. Otherwise, Park looked strong again.

Things that annoyed me

The ninth inning, obviously. It really couldn’t have been worse for Robertson. He actually got a gift, in that Kendrick did not score from second on Brandon Wood’s single. He then struck out Erick Aybar, a good sign. The Yankees could afford the run if Robertson needed to trade one for an out. Instead he threw two fastballs to Abreu, both around the same spot, and watched the ball fly out into the right field stands. Again, it didn’t really bring the Angels a ton closer to winning, especially since the home run brought on the save situation. Still, highly annoying.

The Yankees also failed to cash in some baserunners early in the game. Had Andy run into trouble that would have been even more annoying. They did rack up seven runs on 13 hits, though, so I guess it balanced itself by game’s end.

WPA Chart

As always, to FanGraphs with you for the full WPA breakdown, play log, and box score.

Next up

It’s another day game tomorrow, Javy Vazquez vs. groundball machine Joel Pineiro.

Noesi dominates again while Montero comes up with a big hit

Triple-A Scranton (4-3 win over Rochester)
Kevin Russo, SS: 0 for 4
Eduardo Nunez, 2B & Reegie Corona, 3B: both 1 for 3 – Nunez doubled, scored twice & walked … Corona K’ed … the three infielders on the 40-man all played different positions tonight to get their feet wet elsewhere
Juan Miranda, DH: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 BB
David Winfree, 1B: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 RBI, 2 K
Jon Weber, RF: 1 for 4, 1 RBI
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 4, 2 RBI, 1 K – two run single in the bottom of the 8th turned a one run deficit into a one run lead
Chad Huffman, LF: 1 for 4, 1 K – the catcher picked him off first with a snap throw
Greg Golson, CF: 2 for 3, 1 3B
Ivan Nova: 7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 7 K, 7-7 GB/FB – 57 of 90 pitches were strikes (63.3%) … that’s a 11-1 K/BB ratio in 11 IP
The Ghost of Kei Igawa: 1 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, 2-1 GB/FB – 11 of 22 pitches were strikes … entered the game to face three righties with a one run lead in the 8th … so much for that
Jon Albaladejo: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1-0 GB/FB – 10 of 13 pitches were strikes (76.9%)

[Read more…]

Open Thread: The spoils for the victors

Take a good, long look at that beauty. That’s what you get when you win the World Series.

The Yankees and the Balfour jewelry company teamed up to bring the team a hand-crafted ring made of natural-finished white gold. The NY logo is diamond-clustered, and it rises up from a diamond-lined baseball diamond. On one side, Yankee Stadium is engraved on the ring while the other features the Yankees logo and a nod to tradition and unity.

In addition to the new rings the Yanks handed out today, Balfour and the Bombers announced an upcoming museum exhibit set for Opening Day 2011. The jeweler is going to produce replicas from all 27 World Series rings in franchise history and display them along with information about the details of each. This bling-filled display will go up at Yankee Stadium next year.

Meanwhile, Joe, Mike and I hit up Opening Day today to watch the Yanks beat the Angels 7-5 in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score indicated. We’ll have our extended recap up later tonight. For now, I have pictures. The full set of my photos from the ring ceremony is available here on flickr. Below are a few of my favorites.

Mariano admires the ring

Number 42

A-Rod salutes the crowd

A-Rod Waves

A group hug with Hideki

Group Hug

After the jump, I’ve embedded the full slide show. Use this thread as your open thread. In local action, the Mets and the Rockies play at 8:40 p.m., and there’s a new episode of LOST tonight. Have it. Be good to each other. [Read more…]

Introducing the Official Guacamole of the Yankees

That's the Official Salsa, Queso Dip and Guacamole of the Yankees. (Photo via Wholly Guacamole)

A flavorful guacamole, I find, is one of the easiest things to make. Grab a ripe avocado, a little bit of red onion and tomato, some jalapeno and garlic, a touch of salt, a few cilantro sprigs, a dash of cumin and lime juice. Voila, guacamole. For some, though, this simple bit of dicing and mashing requires too much effort, and when the urge for guacamole strikes, the supermarket should have Wholly Guacamole in a bag from Fresherized Foods. The things I didn’t know we needed…

Anyway, this week, Wholly Guacamole and the Yankees announced a parternship. The “Wholly” line of dips are now the Official Dips of the Yankees, a title I thought belonged to John Sterling. The guacamole is the Official Guacamole of the team, and the Wholly Salsa and Wholly Queso are the official salsa and queso dip of the Yanks, respectively.

According to a report on the deal, the sponsorship agreement is valued in the “low six figures,” and Wholly will market its products in the New York area with Yankee branding. At this point, is there anything for which the Yanks don’t have an official sponsor?

Game 7 spillover thread

I can’t seem to close the comments in the first thread, so use this when you see it.