Escape from LA

That man on the right is very, very happy. Credit: AP Photo, Jae C. Hong

Down to their final two outs, the Yankees stormed back with four runs in the bottom of the ninth off Dodgers’ closer Jonathan Broxton. A two-run home run in the top of the 10th off the bat of Robinson Cano gave the Yanks an 8-6 lead, and Mariano Rivera didn’t need more. The Yanks’ closer worked two scoreless innings as the Bombers drove a stake through the heart of Joe Torre’s Dodgers in a thrilling and emotional victory. With the win, the Yanks sealed their series victory in Los Angeles and an 11-7 record in interleague games.

Improbable heroes

We start at the end. With their Win Expectancy bottoming out at 0.4 percent after Mark Teixeira‘s 9th inning strikeout, the Yanks had a long road ahead of them and little support for the key batters. With Brett Gardner out of the game after getting struck on the wrist by a pitch and a few double-switches at play, Chad Huffman and Colin Curtis were due up 5th and 6th in the inning. It is a reflection on the current Yanks’ bench that, with Marcus Thames shelved, these two were the best hopes for the Yanks.

They were, of course, the improbable heroes of the game.

After Teixeira’s strikeout, A-Rod singled and Robinson Cano doubled. We saw the stirrings of a comeback, and the Yankees were suddenly tugging on our heartstrings. A Posada single pushed Cano to third, and then Curtis Granderson walked. The Posada and Granderson ABs shouldn’t be overlooked. Jorge fouled off five pitches and singled on the tenth pitch of his plate appearance. Granderson walked on the eighth pitch he saw from Broxton.

Waiting for his chance, Huffman had seen 18 pitches. He came up ready to go and drove a 1-1 pitch to right. Two runs scored, and the lead was down to one. Still, though, it seemed like a tease. Colin Curtis, a minor leaguer with a career .709 OPS, had come in for Nick Swisher in a double switch. The Yanks needed a fly ball; the Dodgers a double play. LA almost got their wish.

Curtis battled Broxton. Foul, foul, ball, ball, ball, foul, foul, foul, foul. On the 10th pitch — Broxton’s 40th of the inning — Curtis hit a ground ball to James Loney at first. With Granderson speeding down the line, Loney could have thrown home for an easy out. Instead, he tried to be too fancy; he wanted both outs. Loney ran over to tag first and then made an off-balance throw to the plate. It was to the first-base side of the plate, and Granderson slid in without a tag. Tie game.

Had Loney thrown home, the game would have been saved. It was a mental error in a game filled with them. Meanwhile, the kids were alright. At some point, the Yankees will look to upgrade their bench, but tonight, Huffman and Curtis made believers out of all of us.

Torre’s bullpen management, in reverse

Credit: AP Photo, Jae C. Hong

For years, Yankee fans bemoaned Joe Torre’s bullpen management. We saw him wear down reliable relievers, using them in unnecessary situations day after day. Scott Proctor, Paul Quantrill, Tanyon Sturtze, Steve Karsay. The early 2000s are littered with the discarded arms of the Torre Era. Tonight, we saw it benefit the Yanks.

In a curious move last night, Torre went with Jonathan Broxton, his stud closer (3-0, 0.83 ERA, 13.2 K/9 IP before tonight), with the Dodgers up by five. He later said he wanted to make sure the Yanks didn’t start to rally. It was, in his mind, a save without actually being a save situation. Tonight, with a four-run lead, Torre did the same thing, and it blew up in his face.

Broxton couldn’t overpower the Yanks tonight. He battled through 10-pitch at-bats against Jorge Posada and Colin Curtis. He walked Curtis Granderson on eight pitches. By the time the Yanks tied the game, he had thrown 40 pitches in a single inning and still Torre left him in. Instead of cutting his losses in a 6-6 game, Torre let Broxton face two more hitters. He threw 48 pitches, and the strain on his arm for that one inning of work is arguably greater than what Edwin Jackson went through en route to his 149-pitch no-hitter. It was vintage Torre at his worst.

An inning later, Torre’s bullpen management struck again. After Ramon Troncoso got an out on an A-Rod fielder’s choice, Torre went with the match-ups, bringing in George Sherrill to face Robinson Cano. The Yanks’ second baseman had been 0-for-11 vs. the lefty Sherrill, but as the announcers on ESPN noted, Sherrill’s fastball isn’t what it once was. Cano took an 88-mph fastball over the fence in left-center. The book isn’t always right.

Joe Girardi, meanwhile, showed us the anti-Torre in him. After getting burned in an extra-inning affair in Toronto when Mariano Rivera never pitched and the Yankees lost, Girardi has shown a willingness to use Rivera for two innings in tie games on the road. Against the Diamondbacks, Rivera threw two innings and nabbed a win. Tonight, Rivera came in to face Andre Ethier, Garrett Anderson and Casey Blake in the ninth. He stayed out for the 10th and earned his second win of the season. As the Dodgers argued the strike zone, Mo’s two-inning, three-strike out performance capped off one of the best games of the season.

A sloppy game early on

Credit: AP Photo, Jae C. Hong

The game, however, didn’t start out on a positive note. Andy Pettitte, pitching to earn his spot on the All Star Game, ran into trouble of his own making. He threw two balls away when the Dodgers started to bunt, and both times, he hesitated to make the right play. After a Reed Johnson double to open the third, Clayton Kershaw bunted, and with A-Rod yelling at him to throw to first, Pettitte made a wild throw to third. The run scored.

Two batters later, it happened again. Ronnie Belliard tried to bunt with two on and no one out, and Pettitte looked to third for a force. A-Rod was charging though and by the time Andy recovered, he had to rush the throw to first. It, too, went wild, for his second error of the inning. Pettitte looked flustered and annoyed. He had to grit it out through five innings tonight, but the Yanks’ bats eventually picked him up.

General Grievances and Observations

Joba Chamberlain continues to have a maddening season. His run allowed loomed large until James Loney’s mental mishap, and he just wasn’t pitching smart. Someone called for an 0-2 pitch-out with two outs, and Joba couldn’t locate his pitches. The only thing consistent about his season is his inconsistency.

After years of enjoying a wide Mariano Rivera strike zone, the tables turned on Joe Torre and his players. The Dodgers argued nearly every strike from Rivera and two of them — Anderson and Russell Martin — were tossed in the 10th. Life is good when Mo lives on the black.

Damaso Marte wins the Unsung Hero award tonight. Last night, the Yanks’ pen couldn’t pick up A.J. Burnett. Tonight, Marte came in with runners on first and third and two out. He struck out the dangerous Andre Ethier and then retired Manny Ramirez, Casey Blake and James Loney in order in the 7th. The game could have gotten away from the Yanks there, but Marte kept his cool.

Grabbin’ a victory from the jaws of defeat

The WPA graph is a beauty tonight:

Up Next: Cliff Lee

The Yanks’ scouts won’t need to travel beyond the Bronx to see Cliff Lee in person this week. After a well-deserved travel day that allows the Yanks to bask in their 4-2 road trip, the team will host the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday night. Cliff Lee will face Phil Hughes in a must-see game.

Montero goes deep again in SWB win

Make sure you scroll down for tonight’s game thread.

Triple-A Scranton (8-4 win over Rochester)
Justin Christian, LF & Greg Golson, RF: both 2 for 4 – Christian drew a walk … Golson scored a run
Reid Gorecki, CF: 0 for 5, 1 K
Eduardo Nunez, SS: 1 for 3, 3 R, 1 2B, 2 BB – four walks in the last three games … what the hell is going on here?
Jesus Montero, DH: 2 for 3, 3 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 BB – apparently the homer was nothing more than a flick of the bat … eight for his last 14 (.571) with two doubles & two homers … that’s his second homer in as many games & third in his last ten games
P.J. Pilittere, 1B: 3 for 4, 2 R, 2 RBI, 1 BB – 11 for his last 24 (.458)
Reegie Corona, 2B: 0 for 4, 1 BB
Eric Bruntlett, 3B: 3 for 5, 1 2B, 3 RBI, 1 K, 1 E (throwing)
Chad Moeller, C: 0 for 5, 1 K
Zach McAllister: 7 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 5-11 GB/FB – 67 of 99 pitches were strikes … gave up a three run homer to a former Yankee prospect
Jason Hirsh: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1-1 GB/FB – 21 of his 27 pitches were strikes (77.8%) …he had been getting rocked out of the bullpen, so it’s good to see him have a nice day like this

[Read more…]

Game 75: Turning to Andy again

Photo credit: Ross D. Franklin/AP

For the fifth straight time, the Yankees will turn to Pettitte following a poor start by A.J. Burnett. He has responded well the previous four times, tossing 29 innings and allowing just 10 runs. The Yankees have won only two of them, but that clearly is no fault of Pettitte’s. He’s done his job not only by limiting the runs, but also by eating innings. He has completed seven innings in each of those starts.

The stopper role is nothing new to Pettitte. That was always his story during the late 90s. In games after the Yankees lost, especially after they had lost two in a row, you could count on Pettitte to stop the bleeding. As long as he’s pitching behind A.J. Burnett the team is going to continue calling on him in that capacity. Well, that is, unless Dave Eiland brings a pouch of magic dust that will instantly cure what ails Burnett.

The Yanks go full strength in this one. They’ll need firepower against Clayton Kershaw. It would help, too, if Kershaw is more like his last start against Anaheim, when he gave up five runs in 6.2 innings, than he was his start before, when he held the Reds to one run over 7.1.

Hope you enjoyed interleague 2010. This is the last of those games.

Lineup:

1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Nick Swisher, RF
3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Robinson Cano, 2B
6. Jorge Posada, C
7. Curtis Granderson, CF
8. Brett Gardner, LF
9. Andy Pettitte, P

Eiland to return Tuesday

Finally, our long national nightmare is over. Marc Carig reports that pitching coach David Eiland will return from his personal leave of absence on Tuesday when the Yankees begin their series against Seattle. The Yanks are off Monday following tonight’s rubber game against the Dodgers. Hopefully everything worked out well for Eiland, but for selfish reasons I’m glad he’s back.

Jeter named USA WEEKEND’s 2010 Most Caring Athlete

As if Derek Jeter needed any more hardware for his mantle, he was just named USA WEEKEND’s Most Caring Athlete of 2010 for his work with a youth league in Washington Heights. Jeter’s sister Sharlee arranged for the children for participate in the league, except most of them had never played baseball before and the team literally couldn’t score a run. Jeter volunteered to coach a game and help teach baseball to the kids, and then took them all out to eat after they scored the first run. Great guy, that Derek.

CHoP and the 2nd Inning

Photo credit: Charles Krupa/ AP

A lot of folks have pondered Girardi’s decision to continue to use Chan Ho Park in multiple inning situations, if use him at all. They point to his pitch count numbers as evidence of his struggles.In pitches 1-25 Park is kinda-almost-somewhat tolerable as a pitcher, hoisting up a .308/.341/.500 line. That’s basically Ryan Howard’s triple slash for the season (plus or minus a few points on average and OBP). On pitches 26-50, it becomes hide-the-children bad. Park has been tagged for a line of .368/.429/.842(!). If the first line is Ryan Howard, the second is Barry Bonds hitting batting practice in 2004. There’s been absolutely no question that the Korean native has struggled tremendously in his first (and likely last) season in pinstripes. But has he really epically collapsed in the second frame of every game he jumps in?

Yes and no. I’ve already looked at this at my own site, so take let’s look appearance-by-appearance.

*On April 7th, game 2, Park went three innings against the Red Sox. Although I recall there being quite a few deep flies, he gave up but one hit, in his 3rd inning. No runs were scored in total.

*April 13th versus Angels: Breezed through the first inning of work but gave up a monstrous shot to Kendry Morales in the 8th. No runs in his first inning. One run in his second inning.

*On May 20th, the Yanks took on the Rays. Struggling 1B Carlos Pena took Park deep in his first inning pitched. This is after he was almost burned by a deep line drive to RF by Ben Zobrist, which Swisher caught. Not a good first inning. His second inning against 7-8-9 batters went much more smoothly – he gave up a single to “Did You Know He Was An All-Star?” Dioner Navarro, but that was all. To recap, one run in his first inning. Zero runs in subsequent inning.

*On May 22nd, Park replaced Phil Hughes with after Alex Cora knocked him out of the game (?!). Park immediately gave up a single and then got a groundout to end the inning. Not terrible, but not a shutdown either. His next inning saw him give up a single and a double to score a run. No runs in first inning, one run in his second.

*Park faced the Indians on May 31st. His first inning started with a strikeout and ended with two weak groundouts. Nice, not bad! The second inning though featured 2 hits and a walk, which led to run. No runs in first inning, one run in second.

Ok, we may be on to something here. In three of his five early season multiple-inning games, Park has given up a run in the second inning. Of course, when looking more critically through the first innings of these outings, it’s not like Park was brilliant, either. He had some good fortune (and was hit around a bit in Tampa) and then it appears the hitters took note of Park and knocked him around his second frame. Let’s see if it becomes a pattern.

*In an extra-innings game at Skydome The Rogers Centre on June 5th, Park came in and issued one walk but also struck one out and received two weak groundball outs in his first IP. The second inning featured two strikeouts, a single and one walk. No runs issued.

*Of course, in last week’s game in Arizona CHoP got lit up. He came into the game in the 7th and did fairly well. It was surprisingly tranquil. Then, in the 9th, he gave up two singles and then a monster home run to Justin Upton. No runs in his first inning. 3 runs in his second inning.

*Last night looked to be the same old story. Park came in and pitched a quick 6th inning (one walk, one groundout, one fly out). Girardi sent him out for the 7th. His performance sealed the game for the Dodgers. Two singles and a double by Matt Kemp finally put the Yankees in the outhouse. Zero runs score in his first inning, two trot around in his second.

So if we add up our tally here, in his first inning of multiple-inning games, Park has given up one run in his first inning pitched and 8 in his second frame. That’s a drastic difference.

So now you’re thinking, “Damn, CHoP’s done pretty well in just the first inning, all things considered. Maybe we can salvage him if Girardi stops throwing him back out there for multiple innings,” right?

Not so fast.

Why? Well, more sobering statistics: in games he’s only pitched one total inning or less, he’s given up 10 runs in 6 2/3rds innings. Park may be significantly worse in the second inning of his appearances, but he’s not an effective pitcher to begin with. Remember, the average hitter facing Park in the first inning is still Ryan Howard.

Should he be given a shot? (Photo credit: Nick Laham/Getty)

I’ve backed Chan Ho this whole year. Constantly I’ve said, “Don’t worry, he’ll turn it around. He has good stuff, this is just a rough patch.” No longer. We’re on the cusp of July and Park has been worth -2.5 runs below replacement. All the while, some pitchers in AAA are turning in good results and could certainly better Park’s performance on the year. At this point, I see no reason to not spell Chan Ho Park “DFA” and bring up a Romulo, Albaladejo, Nova or Melancon. The experiment didn’t work. It’s time to scrap it and call it a sunk cost.

Personally, I’d prefer to keep Nova in AAA to stay stretched out in the event we need a starting pitcher to come up. It would be nice to have a guy that can go multiple innings if need be, considering that right now, with injuries, it’s just Chad Gaudin. This probably means no Albie. So we’re left with Melancon or Romulo Sanchez. I like Romulo’s stuff and the fact that he can spot start or at the very least go multiple innings one way or another. But I worry that his control will be erratic considering that he’s thrown 5 or more walks in three of his last eight starts.

This means —at least in my world— Mark Melancon is my de-facto choice to replace Chan Ho should he be DFA’d. Melancon likely has the biggest upside of the pitchers in AAA, has been in The Show before, can go multiple innings and has been just curtains for opponents lately. He hasn’t given up a run since June 6th, though I’d prefer a better K/BB ratio in that time (2:1).

One way or another, something has to change. Simply put, if the team is not going to DFA Park, Girardi needs to put him in situations where his impact on a game is minimal. This means mop-up work in one frame or less.