Open Thread: Melky’s on his way

(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

It’s amazing how much better an off day feels after the Yankees win, especially a win like yesterday’s. We’re waiting for the Royals to come to town tomorrow, which will be the first time Melky Cabrera will play in the Bronx as a visiting player. Melky was a fan favorite and occasionally productive, and although I wasn’t exactly his biggest fan, I will certainly give him a round of applause*. If you’re part of a World Series Yankees team, you’re cool with me. Rock on, Melky.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. You can watch the Twins predictably lose to the Red Sox on ESPN (Blackburn vs. Beckett) or the Mets and Rockies on SNY a little later on (Capuano vs. Chacin). There’s also NHL and NBA playoff action going on as well, I’m sure of it. Talk about whatever your heart desire, so have at it.

Note: A reader by the name of Bethany emailed to let us know that her she** and her boyfriend signed up for the Runyon 5K at Yankee Stadium this summer, and they’ve placed a little wager on the results of their pledges. She’s a Yankees fan and he’s a Mets fan, and if she wins he has to run in a Yankees hat, if he wins, she has to run in a Mets hat. Simple enough. Anyway, you can help her out and pledge here.

* Assuming I was actually going to the game, of course.

** Grammar nazi’d. Refund check’s in the mail.

New design added to the RAB Shop

Does stranding runners in scoring position suck? Yes. Is hitting a lot of homeruns awesome? Also yes. Show some support for your homer happy Yankees and your favorite homer-loving Yankees blog with the new design you see above, now available at The RAB Shop. Tyler Wilkinson put it together for us, and you can buy it on shirts, hoodies, a clock, tons of stuff. ‘Cause there’s nothing like having a runner in scoring position when the bases are empty.

Memorable home runs from Yankee backup catchers

Ramon Castro. That is the list of backup catchers who have a spot because they can run into one. Maybe Miguel Olivo counts, depending on his role at any given time. With very few exceptions, not only are backup catchers remarkably poor hitters, but they specifically lack pop. Francisco Cervelli might not be a remarkably poor hitter — he does have a .272 BA and .340 OBP in 434 career PA — but he certainly does lack pop. That’s why it came as such a surprise when he finished a stellar at-bat with a grand slam.

Just because backup catchers hit home runs infrequently doesn’t mean they lack gravitas. In fact, Cervelli’s homer conjured images of backup catcher home runs from recent memory. There were only five from 2008 through 2010, but three of them stuck out particularly in memory.

Jose Molina’s farewell blast: September 21, 2008 (video)

(Julie Jacobson/AP)

I can picture the scene now. In a decade or so I’ll be sitting in my recliner while my kid is sitting in the middle of the floor, looking up at the Yankees game on TV. He’ll love catchers, of course, since his old man, and his old man, and his old man before him all played the position. On this day the Yankees backup catcher will hit a home run, and I’ll pull out the trivia question: Who hit the last home run at old Yankee Stadium?

We all know the answer now, since it is such a recent memory. On Sunday, September 21, 2008, the Yankees played their final game at the old ballpark in the Bronx. Andy Pettitte took the mound; I’m fairly certain he would have gone even on two days’ rest if it meant throwing the last first pitch in the Stadium. He ran into a little trouble, as he did so frequently in the second half of 2008, allowing three runs in the first four innings. Johnny Damon helped him out with a three-run homer in the third, but he needed a little more help later on.

Robinson Cano got on to lead off the fourth, and Molina came to bat with one out. On a 2-0 count Orioles starter Chris Waters laid one out over the plate, and Molina put the bat head on it. Out it went to Monument Park in left-center, which, because of the historical occasion, was still open to fans at the time. Those fans browsing through the plaques were lucky enough to see that final home run coming right at them.

Francisco Cervelli’s motivational homer: June 24, 2009 (video)

In mid- to late-June the 2009 Yankees had some issues. They got swept by Boston, needed a dropped pop-up to win two of three against the Mets, and then lost two of three to both Washington and Florida. Things only got worse when they arrived in Atlanta, as they failed to score a run in the series opener against the Braves. That’s when Brian Cashman stepped in, flying down and talking to the team prior to that Wednesday’s game. Apparently he reached Cervelli.

Everything happened so fast. The Yankees trailed 1-0 heading into the sixth, when Brett Gardner drew a leadoff walk. Things started to look optimistic. That is, until Gardner got picked off. That ignited Joe Girardi‘s ire, and he gave the ump an earful and got tossed. Even at the time it felt like one of those ejections that managers use to fire up their teams. Who knew that it would actually work? On a 2-2 pitch Cervelli popped one out to center, fist pumping as he rounded the bases. The crazy part is that he wasn’t even the backup at that point. He was the backup to the backup; Molina was on the DL at the time.

Lost in the narrative is A-Rod‘s two-run single later in the inning that gave the Yankees the lead. But it matters little. Cervelli was the unexpected hero in that one, breaking a long scoreless streak and injecting some life into the Yankees. That game started a seven-game winning stream, and the Yankees would win 13 of their next 15.

Molina caps a huge inning with a granny: April 28, 2009 (video)

(Duane Burleson/AP)

April, 2009, was a forgettable month for the eventual World Series champions. Mark Teixeira didn’t hit. Alex Rodriguez was out recovering from hip surgery. Chien-Ming Wang got whacked around in historical fashion. This led to some up-and-down baseball, with the down coming right before a trip to Detroit. The Yankees dropped three straight to the Red Sox, and then lost the opener to Detroit, despite CC Sabathia throwing a complete game. They were then 9-10, already four games out of first.

The first six innings of the game felt like another typical listless day for the offense. They managed just four hits in that span, and didn’t score any of them. The only thing that made the game reasonably bearable was Phil Hughes‘s performance; he, too, was shutting out his opponent through six. But them came the seventh, and it was as though the Yankees had found new life.

It took an error to get things really moving, but from there the Yankees singled and walked the Tigers to death, picking up six runs in the process — the sixth of which coming on a Melky Cabrera bases loaded walk. That brought Molina to the plate, though with the game 6-0 and the bullpen ready to close this one out, no one thought much of the occasion. That is, until Molina popped the first pitch over the fence in left, capping the huge inning and sending the Yanks to an 11-0 victory. That sparked a mini streak, though it would be squashed two series later when the Yanks again ran into the Boston juggernaut.

(Fun fact: even though they didn’t score until the seventh inning, the Yankees still had more home runs in that game than they did in the entire Detroit series last week.)

2011 Draft: Sickels’ Mock Draft

We’re less than a month away from the draft, and John Sickels of Minor League Ball kicked off mock draft season with the first and sandwich rounds. He has Rice 3B Anthony Rendon going first overall to the Pirates, followed by UCLA RHP Gerrit Cole to the Mariners and Virginia RHP Danny Hultzen to Arizona. Sickels has the Yankees taking high school right-hander Kevin Comer with their first pick (number 51 overall), a semi-local kid from Tabernacle, New Jersey.

Comer, who ranked as the 35th best high school prospect in the draft by Baseball America coming into the spring, is a big kid (6-foot-4, 215 lbs.) with a big fastball, having been clocked in the mid-90’s this spring. Here’s an ESPN Rise feature on him from earlier this year. Comer is committed to Vanderbilt, which is always a tough school to sign kids away from, but the Yankees have had some recent success doing so, namely Dellin Betances. It’s just a mock draft remember, we haven’t heard anything about the Yanks being connected to the kid at all. That said, I love me some high school arms.

A-Rod hires a new agent, for whatever reason

Via MLBTR, Alex Rodriguez has hired Dan Lozano to represent him for all baseball-related matters. Remember he canned Scott Boras late last year. I’m not quite sure why A-Rod needs a baseball agent now, he’s signed through 2017 and seems unlikely to sign another contract after that. Although I suppose there are union and league issues that the game’s highest paid player must deal with, and that’s probably what Lozano is taking care of. Maybe Nick Swisher put a good word in for Lozano.

The RAB Radio Show: May 9, 2011

It was a good, if bizarre weekend, in Texas. The Yankees came away with a pair of wins and a close call in the loss. Most importantly, the offense came alive. There were flaws to be sure, and they’re ones that the Yanks will need to cease if they’re going to take an authoritative hold on the AL East. Mike and I talk Jeter, Posada, Cervelli, defense, double plays, and other issues.

Podcast run time 32:49

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Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.

The 2011 Yankee Killers

Great players are great for a reason, and there’s only so much you can do to contain them. We just watched Miguel Cabrera thoroughly manhandle Yankees’ pitching for four games last week, unsurprising since he’s a phenomenal player on a career path that usually points to Cooperstown. So, naturally, I bitched and moaned every time the Yankees didn’t pitch around him with runners on base, just like I have all season whenever they’ve opted to pitch to the other team’s best player with ducks on the pond.

The above table recaps how the opponent’s top hitter performed against the Yankees in each series they’ve played this year. Cherry picking? Of course, I don’t think any of us really thinks that Dustin Pedroia is the best hitter on the Red Sox, but he sure looked like it during that series in Boston a few weeks ago. The point is that there always seems to be that one guy on the other team that just destroys the Yankees in any given series. Overall, the other clubs’ best players have combined for a .466 wOBA (six homers) against New York in 134 plate appearances this year. Alex Rodriguez had a .446 wOBA in 2007, for reference. All other hitters have combined for a measly .293 wOBA during that time, which is 2007 Miguel Cairo. Yeah, it’s a big difference.

Where am I going with this? I have no idea, just thought it was an interesting nugget to share. I didn’t think the gap would be that big, frankly. It’s easy to say the Yankees need to do a better job of pitching to the other team’s best players, but sheesh, we all know it’s not that simple. Should they maybe be a little more liberal with intentional walks, especially when you have Ryan Raburn protecting Miggy or the hacktastic Adam Jones behind Luke Scott? Yeah, probably. I’m not a fan of giving out free baserunners, but I’m even less of a fan of letting the opponent’s one huge bat beat you.