Former Yankees on Opening Day

On Sunday night we got to see the new Yankees in action. Nick Johnson and Curtis Granderson batted in the starting lineup, while Chan Ho Park pitched two thirds of an inning out of the bullpen. But what about the guys they replaced? Here’s a rundown of how former Yankees fared in their new team debuts.

Hideki Matsui: 2 for 4

Photo credit: Jae C. Hong/AP

Matsui made an impresion in his Angels debut. With runners on first and second with two out during a tie-game in the fifth, Matsui singled to right field to give the Angels a lead. That chased Twins starter Scott Baker from the game. Then, with the Angels holding a one-run lead in the eighth, Matsui led off the inning with a 401 foot home run to center field. Kendry Morales followed with a shot down the left field line, sealing the Opening Day victory for the Angels.

Johnny Damon: 2 for 5

In his first at-bat as a Tiger Johnny Damon grounded out to second. No big deal. In his second at-bat he flied out to right. He was facing Zack Greinke, so again, it wouldn’t have mattered if Damon went 0 for 4. He didn’t, though. Leading off the sixth, he singled to right off Greinke, advanced on a Magglio Ordonez single, and then scored on a third straight single, this one by Miguel Cabrera. Then, with Roman Colon in for relief the Tigers broke open the game, and Damon contributed by doubling home two, including Austin Jackson.

Austin Jackson: 1 for 5

The Tigers found themselves down 4-2 heading into the seventh, but luckily for them Greinke had left the game by that point. Scott Sizemore walked and Ramon Santiago, pinch hitting for Adam Everett, singled, setting up Jackson with runners on the corners and none out. He lined a double to left for his first major league hit and RBI. He scored his first run one batter later on Damon’s double. He struck out looking twice in the game.

Phil Coke: 0.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R

Joel Zumaya pitched a scoreless sixth for the Tigers, and then came out to start the seventh. After allowing an infield single to Jason Kendall, Jim Leyland lifted him for Phil Coke, who came in to face the lefty troika of Chris Getz, David DeJesus, and Scott Podsednik. Getz singled, DeJesus popped out in foul ground to third, and Podsednik singled. Kendall, had he been a bit faster, might have scored, but Austin Jackson gunned him down at the plate.

Melky Cabrera: 0 for 5

The Braves rallied for six runs in the first inning on Opening Day, handing Carlos Zambrano yet another poor season debut. Melky got things started with a walk and eventually scored on a Chipper Jones single after going first-to-third on a Martin Prado single. Melky made the last out of that inning, and then made outs in his next four plate appearances. He was the only Braves starter, non-pitcher, to not record a hit, though his walk did set up the definitive inning for the Braves.

Introducing Zen Baseball

As the Yankees and the Angels played an ALCS marathon on a cold and rainy Saturday night in October, I found myself on the edge of my seat and at my wit’s end at the same time. Extra-inning lead changes, blown opportunities, tightrope acts by the bullpen — it had me literally chewing my finger nails, literally pacing around my living room, literally a mess. It wasn’t, I realized later, that much fun.

When Game 3 finally rolled around, I wanted to try a new approach that I called Zen Baseball. It would still involve feeling the ups and downs of every at-bat and every pitch, but I also wanted to soak it in and have fun. I wanted to thoroughly enjoy postseason baseball with the knowledge that, no matter the outcome of the inning, the game, the series, I wanted to remember it as a I remembered the 1996-2001 run. Watching baseball couldn’t be a heart attack-inducing chore; it had to be something I wanted to do for the love of the game.

As the playoffs wore on, I further reflected on Zen Baseball. Here on River Ave. Blues and among those I follow on Twitter, the tension is palpable. If CC Sabathia walks a guy, if David Robertson hangs a bad pitch, if Joba Chamberlain scuffles with his breaking ball, Yankee fans break out the pitchforks. If Nick Swisher takes a bad route to the ball, if Jorge Posada can’t handle a bad pitch, if Brett Gardner misses the cut-off man, those watching the game, we’re ready to break out the lynch mob. What is exactly that Yankee fans are trying to prove?

Zen Baseball is the opposite of that. Zen Baseball is realizing that, over the course of 162 games, the bullpen will blow some, the tying run will be left stranded on base, the ball will take a bad hop, the starting pitcher won’t escape the third. Zen Baseball is realizing that even good teams will still lose 60 times a year, and Zen Baseball is just rolling with it. Zen Baseball is watching a bunch of people play a game we love and analyze to death, a game we wait for months on end during winter to come back and a game we mourn when the final out of the World Series is recorded, no matter which team walks away with the trophy. Zen Baseball is realizing that, as we nitpick, we still are fans who root for the same team and love the players on those teams.

Zen Baseball doesn’t mean I don’t care. Games don’t lose their tension, their importance, their immediacy. I’ll still question Joe Girardi‘s decision to micromanage the bullpen, to leave the starting pitcher in for a few batters too long, to pinch run, to pinch hit, to call for a bunt. I’ll still slap my head when the outfielders make bone-headed plays, and I’ll still feel the pain of defeat. But Zen Baseball is about recognizing how best to watch the game while realizing that a 162-game season is a marathon. We don’t need to down a bottle of antacids just to make it through Opening Week.

Later tonight, the Yankees and A.J. Burnett will face down the Red Sox and Jon Lester. It’s another thrilling pitching match-up in one of the game’s best rivalries. Let’s sit back and enjoy it. That, at its core, is what Zen Baseball is all about.

Joe’s Take: Enjoying baseball for the sake of baseball

Sunday was the new year. The first day of spring. Not only did we get the first meaningful baseball since November 5, but we got the Yankees. The team to record the last out of the 2009 season would also make the first out of the 2010 season. My body might have been at Easter dinner on Sunday, but my mind — or at least a good part of my mind — couldn’t stop thinking about baseball.

Once the game started, though, my joy became accompanied by tension. It’s there for every Yankee game, but especially on Opening Day. And especially against the Red Sox. I turned off Twitter and stayed away from the game thread, because inviting other people’s tensions would only make my own that much worse. Still, it was there. For much of the game the joy overpowered it, but in the late innings the tension hit hard.

That’s part of what I enjoy about watching the Yankees. It’s not only a hobby. It’s an unconditional emotional investment. As the Yankees go, so do I. That invites a lot of trouble if they lose or perform poorly. In last night’s game recap, you’ll notice that there were far more moments that annoyed me than made me smile. I went to bed happy because I got to see baseball, but not at the height of happiness, because the Yankees had lost.

Yesterday, 26 other teams got to play their Opening Days. Thanks to an MLB.tv subscription, I got to enjoy a good number of those games. Unlike the Yankees game, though, there was no tension. When Ryan Church hit a a three-RBI double off Ramon Ortiz to break open the Dodgers-Pirates game, I was glad. When Jason Heyward shellacked a Carlos Zambrano offering for a home run in his first major league at-bat, I was thrilled. When Billy Butler drove in two with a double off Justin Verlander I couldn’t have been happier. It’s not because I particularly like the Pirates, Braves, and Royals. It’s because nothing that happened could have annoyed me. It was pure, joyful baseball.

That feeling will never translate to the Yankees. The joy will be there, and it will be greater than with watching any other team. But there will alway be that twinge of tension. It will never go away, but after experiencing Opening Day for the rest of baseball I think I’d like to keep it to a minimum. I’ll never be happy when the Yankees lose, but I’d like to be less uptight afterwards. After all, there are 162 games, and as we saw last year, and in many years before that, literally anything can happen during a baseball season.

The Yanks are back tomorrow, and the tension potential is even higher because of their Opening Day loss. I’ll try not to let it get to me. There’s just too much joy in baseball to let things like losses in April get me down.

Open Thread: A night off

Photo Credit: Elise Amendola, AP

Play a game, take the next day off. What is this, the playoffs? I’ll be here all week, folks.

Here’s the open thread for the evening. The Knicks are in action, plus you’ve got the Butler-Duke National Championship Game. There’s two new episodes of 24 on as well, which is where you can find me. You know what to do, so have at it.

Hughes strong in simulated game

While he waits for his first big league start of the year, Phil Hughes is biding his time down in Tampa in Extended Spring Training. The 23-year-old faced a bunch of young prospects today, throwing 70 of his 100 pitches for strikes, which worked out to being the equivalent of 8.1 innings. He struck out 12 and allowed just three hits. Hughes is scheduled to join the rest of the team for tomorrow’s game in Fenway, then will throw another simulated game on Saturday, when the Yanks will be in Tampa to take on the Rays.

Damn it feels good to be a Yankee

As Opening Day dawns, MLB and its Players Union have each unwittingly taken a step closer toward the looming Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations. The current CBA is set to expire in December of 2011, and as baseball economics for the 2010 season have come into focus, a few running themes have emerged.

First, it’s good for the wallet to be a Yankee. Just last week, the UK-based Sporting Intelligence published its first Annual Review of Global Sports Salaries. Although the report itself costs a pretty penny, the company issued a release summarizing their findings, and the Yankees came out on top. According to the report, the Yanks’ first-teamers — generally, their starters — earn an average of over $7 million a year topping the $6.4 million figure that Real Madrid’s front learn earns annually. Nice work if you can get it.

Meanwhile, within baseball, the Yankees obviously come out on top. USA Today released its own annual salary survey today, and the results place the Yanks first and the Red Sox second. Interestingly, 14 of the 30 teams have cut their Opening Day salaries from 2009 to 2010, and the average Opening Day salary increased just one percent from $3.26 million to $3.27. According to USA Today, that one-percent jump is the game’s smallest since salaries decreased in 2004.

The Yankees and the Red Sox, though, continued their war atop the AL East. Scott Boeck and Bob Nightengale write:

The New York Yankees retain their lead with a payroll of $206.3 million, a 2% increase, while their chief American League East rival, the Boston Red Sox, are second at $162.4 million, a 33% increase. The Yankees, whose payroll is nearly six times that of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ $34.9 million, are led by third baseman Alex Rodriguez‘s $33 million salary. New York’s starting infield will earn $85.2M, more than 16 teams.

“We’re struggling to sign [first baseman Prince Fielder],” Milwaukee Brewers owner Mark Attanasio said, “and the Yankees infield is making more than our team.”

Therein lies the rub. The Yankees entire roster averages $5.5 million per player this year, and the Red Sox are at $3.75 million. The rest of baseball will be gunning for these two teams next year, but the real question is whether or not the Yanks’ and Boston’s relative wealth is a problem.

On the one hand, the money gives these two teams a clear competitive advantage. The Yanks and Red Sox have appeared in six of the last ten World Series, and these two teams made 15 combined postseason appearances during the decade of the double-zeroes. The Phillies, the NL’s representative in the previous two World Series, have the second highest payroll in the Senior Circuit. Money, it seems, has become a proxy for winning over the long haul.

On the other hand, the game is enjoying unprecedented economic success. New stadiums, most of them government-funded, dot the country, and revenues topped $6 billion in 2009. Fans flock to see the Red Sox and the Yankees travel the country, and the game is better off for it. Teams won’t agree to a salary cap or a salary floor, but the players and owners will still try to limit the perceived economic — if not competitive — imbalance in the AL East.

Today, we celebrate Opening Day on the field with the pomp and circumstance it deserves. The Yanks may have walked away from an ugly game with a bad loss last night, but that hardly dulls my excitement for the return of a full slate of regular season baseball. On the horizon, though, looms economic machinations, and as good as the Yankees have it on the field and in their savings accounts today, all of baseball will be gunning for the top dogs both on and off the field over the next two season.

Down and away wasn’t working for Marte

The seventh inning wasn’t supposed to happen like that. As Mike noted earlier, it was a trial by fire of sorts for Chan Ho Park. He failed in his initial assignment, though it’s likely he gets another chance in the near future. Maybe not in the next two games, but we’ll certainly see Chop in the seventh, and perhaps the eighth, again soon. His command just wasn’t there last night. It happens to the best of them.

With David Ortiz coming to the plate, Joe Girardi made the predictable move and called for his lefty, Damaso Marte. Just a few days removed from a “cranky” shoulder, Marte was pronounced in full health for Opening Day. Clearly, he would enter the game to face Ortiz if an appropriate situation arose. This seemed like it. Runner on second, two outs, tie game. As we saw, though, the sequence didn’t go well. Let’s take this pitch by pitch.

Pitch 1

As you can see, Jorge sets up low and away for the slider. Marte missed big time, overthrowing the pitch and sending it well to Jorge’s left and in the dirt. Still, it’s just one pitch. The runner on third rather than second doesn’t much matter, unless Marte has another wild pitch in him.

Pitch 2

It looks like Posada wanted the same pitch, same spot. He set up, and Marte missed again, though not nearly as badly. It wasn’t encouraging, though, that Marte missed with two straight sliders. That’s supposed to be his money pitch against lefties. The idea is to get Ortiz to misread it as a fastball and then give one of those long, loping swings and miss.

Pitch 3

Finally, Jorge calls for a fastball. He sets up low and away, even though Ortiz has had problems on the inside pitch over the past year or so. Marte unleashed one, missing his spot by a decent amount. This is where the pitch ended up.

Ortiz circa 2006 puts that pitch onto the Mass Turnpike. It was right around his waist and at a spot he could get his arms extended. Marte reached back and slung it at 93, which was probably his only saving grace. If that cranky shoulder caused him to hold back on his velocity, Ortiz might have been able to do more with it. Then again, maybe it was Ortiz’s slow bat rather than the pitch speed that caused the swing and miss.

Pitch 4

Again, setting up low and away. Posada and Marte had a plan here, though again I’m not sure I get it, considering Ortiz’s trouble with inside pitches. ESPN didn’t show Jorge giving the sign. Marte threw fastball, though maybe Jorge called for a slider. In any case, Marte threw one upstairs and Jorge couldn’t compensate.

I honestly hope that was a cross-up, because if not it reflects even more poorly on Jorge. Yes, the pitch was nowhere near the setup, but he still has to catch that. It’s more understandable, of course, if Jorge was expecting slider low and away and got fastball upstairs.

Pitch 5

Just for good measure, another low-away setup:

Apparently Jorge did call for fastball this time, because the pitch was even higher than the previous one. This time he caught it. Not that it mattered. It was ball four, and Ortiz isn’t the type to sprint around and take the extra base.

For reference, here’s where each pitch ended up:

That brought on Joba, who recorded the final out in the seventh before pitching his own sloppy eighth inning. Hopefully these were just some early season jitters. The bullpen looked like crap last night, and we all know that they’re better than that.

Open Thread: Opening Day

The Yankees are off today, but there’s still plenty of baseball action going on. The Marlins visit the Mets with first pitch scheduled for 1pm ET (SNY), plus you’ve got the Cardinals-Reds (1pm ET, ESPN), Indians-White Sox (2pm ET, ESPN2), Cubs-Braves (4pm ET, ESPN), Giants-Astros (7pm ET, ESPN2), and Twins-Angels (10pm ET, ESPN2). Also, the Extra Innings free preview starts today and runs through Sunday, so you’ll be able to watch any game your heart desires. The late games with Vin Scully are always a treat.

If you want, go ahead and use this as an open thread to talk about any of today’s games. Enjoy.