Yanks walk off to seventh straight win

The standings might say that these are meaningless games, but the Yankees aren’t acting like it. They started to surge last week by taking two of three from the Angels in Anaheim and haven’t let off the accelerator, even after clinching everything. Early last night it looked as if they’d let up a bit, but they mounted yet another late-inning comeback to steal a win from the Kansas City Royals.

The Royals staged the first rally, in the top of the seventh, though it had more to do with Phil Coke than the Kansas City offense. He came with a man on first and one out, to face Alex Gordon, Josh Anderson, and Mitch Maier, three weak-hitting lefties. For Coke, a guy who’s faced tight situations in meaningful games, it should have been a cakewalk. It was anything but.

Alex Gordon bunted the first pitch back to Coke, but the latter hung on too long and allowed Gordon to reach and Mark Teahen to reach second. Anderson handed Coke instant atonement with a bouncer right to him, but Coke again muffed the play, this time throwing way behind Derek Jeter and into center. Teahen scored and the Royals had runners on second and third with one out.

The lead lost, Coke got ahead of Maier 0-2, and again got a grounder right back to him. Gordon had already broken for home, but Coke paid no mind. He fired over to first as if there were two outs. The announcers couldn’t believe it, the crowd couldn’t believe it, and the replay showed that Molina couldn’t believe it. Coke had three consecutive plays and managed to botch each one. What should have been an easy appearance turned into a two-run deficit.

Had the game any real meaning, maybe Coke wouldn’t have even been in. Girardi pulled A.J. Burnett after recording the first out of the seventh and having thrown 108 pitches. It was one of A.J.’s better performances. He allowed six baserunners, but kept the Royals at bay with his favorite weapon, the curveball. It helped him strike out eight. With 6.1 innings of one-run ball, three walks, three hits, and eight strikeouts, I’d say Burnett had himself a fine game.

The Yankees used four pitchers last night, and Coke was the standout disappointment. Dave Robertson came out for the eighth and retired the first two batters he faced, including one strikeout, before walking the third batter. That was apparently his limit, as Girardi went with Bruney to finish things off. He allowed a hit and walked a guy, but also fanned two Royals and didn’t allow a run to score. He also had the benefit of Jerry Hairston, who turned a pop up bunt into a double play, teaching rookie Josh Anderson a lesson that will stick with him.

The story of the ninth inning dates back to Sunday. Trey Hillman’s team was up 4-1 against the Twins, and Zack Greinke was in line for the win. Instead of taking a chance with one of his unpredictable setup men, Hillman went to closer Joakim Soria for two. It paid off, but after 46 pitches Soria apparently needed a few days off. He surely wasn’t available last night, given Hillman’s decisions.

Taking the hill to preserve the one-run lead was Kyle Farnsworth. Signed to replace Tom Gordon in 2006, Farnsworth was a disaster from the start. Only when he hit a streak of semi-reliability were the Yanks able to deal him, in a contract swap with the Tigers for Pudge Rodriguez. Both players were horrible to finish out the year, but that didn’t stop Royals GM Dayton Moore from handing Farnsworth a two-year, $9 million contract. Had he waited, he could have had Fanrnsworth for a song later that winter.

With one out in the ninth, Frankie Cervelli bounced one back up the middle. It was out of Farnsworth’s reach, and Alberto Callaspo couldn’t get a handle on it. Eric Hinske pinch hit for Ramiro Pena, and it looked like he wanted the walk-off right there, putting his home run swing on the first pitch but missing. As Farnsworth is apt to do, he missed with the next two pitches and then gave Hinske something he could hit. The ball landed in right, and Cervelli hustled to third. The walk-off was already in the air.

For a guy who can’t hit with runners in scoring position, Robinson Cano sure has driven in a lot of runs lately. After a grand slam last night he got another chance in a tight spot — tight, at least, in the context of this one game. He unloaded on a 3-0 pitch, but just missed. It was deep enough to score Cervelli and tie the game, though. Blown save, Farnsworth.

The last thing the team wanted last night was to go into extra innings. Everything’s clinched. They’d already used a ton of their bench players. I’m sure the regulars just wanted to get on with it. Eric Hinske must have felt that vibe. Otherwise, why would he have have tried to steal second with two outs? Not only did he make it, but he also scampered into third on an errant throw.

The Royals decided they’d rather face Juan Miranda than Johnny Damon, but at that point it didn’t seem to matter. The Yanks were walking off with that win one way or another. Miranda hit a grounder back to Farnsworth, but it was just hard enough to bounce off the pitcher’s shins and into foul territory. The Yanks swarmed from the dugout just as Miranda touched first, and the Yankees had recorded their 15th walk-off victory.

That was a lot of writing for a meaningless game, eh? Well, sometimes big things happen in the least likely games. Coke’s blunders, A.J.’s solid performance, the late-inning heroics. It added up to another quality game in a time when they’re supposed to be boring. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2009 Yankees: the team that can make even the most drab game a thriller.

Vizcaino, Warren, Paredes & Medchill among NY-Penn League’s top prospects

Continuing with their league top 20 series, Baseball America named Ryan Westmoreland the top prospect of the Short Season NY-Penn League. Four Yankee farmhands made the list: Arodys Vizcaino at #3, Adam Warren at #12, Jimmy Paredes at #14, and Neil Medchill at #18. The subscriber only scouting report on Vizcaino says that he “could have a plus curveball to go with a plus-plus fastball down the road,” but he’ll need to work on his changeup to stick as a starter. An unnamed NL scout loves Warren’s pitchability, and one league manager dropped an Adam Lind comp on Medchill.

The South Atlantic League list comes out this Friday, so get ready for some Manny Banuelos love.

Game 158 Spillover Thread

Win and bring the magic number down to … uh … -3?

Game 158: Can’t sit the regulars every day

The Yanks will probably do some lineup flip-flopping of this nature from now through Saturday. Some of the regulars will be in, others will get days off. I’m betting we see about half the regulars take Wednesday and the other half take Friday — they would then all get two days off, and then another two on Monday and Tuesday as they await the beginning of the ALDS at Yankee Stadium. Girardi has said that he’ll use the A lineup on Sunday.

Most of the regulars are in the lineup tonight to face Anthony Lerew. The 26-year-old righty made his first major league start in two years last Thursday against the Red Sox. He didn’t fare too poorly, allowing four runs, two earned, over 4.2 innings. Note that “didn’t fare too poorly” is a term relative to expectations from Lerew.

Coincidentally, the last team he faced before the Red Sox on Thursday was the Red Sox, back on May 19, 2007, where he allowed three runs over two innings. He was lifted, and the next day was placed on the DL with ulnar neuritis. He missed the rest of the season and pitched only 48.2 innings in Atlanta’s minor league system last year before being released this past March. He caught on with the Royals, and posted a 4.09 ERA over 152 innings this year with their AA team.

For the Yanks it’s A.J. Burnett, back from a visit with his father, who just had a successful triple bypass. It will be his second to last start. There’s not much to really say about this one for Burnett. They Yanks would obviously like to see him pitch well, and then again in his final tune-up start. But if he doesn’t pitch well? It’s not the end of the world. It’s not like the guy’s head isn’t other places right now. As long as he bares down for his Game 2 or 3 start, it doesn’t matter what he does today. It would just make us feel a lot better if he pitched well against the lowly Royals. I mean, it’s the freaking Royals.

Lineup:

1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Johnny Damon, LF
3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Hideki Matsui, Dh
6. Nick Swisher, RF
7. Brett Gardner, CF
8. Jose Molina, C
9. Ramiro Pena, 2B

And on the mound, number thirty-four, A.J. Burnett.

‘One pitch’ lands Mo on the cover of SI

COV1005

As part of a Tom Verducci package on Mariano Rivera and his Cutter of Doom, Number 42 finds himself atop Sports Illustrated this week. Here’s what the press release from the sports weekly had to say:

This week’s October 5, 2009, issue of Sports Illustrated, on newsstands Wednesday, features Yankees’ closer Mariano Rivera with the billing One Man, One Pitch: The One and Only Mariano Rivera. As the gates swing open upon another MLB postseason, baseball will once again attempt to divine one of the game’s great mysteries: how a man, closing fast on 40 and armed with but a single pitch, continues to dominate in the clutch like no other player, 13 years and counting.

SI senior baseball writer Tom Verducci reveals that Rivera’s cutter—the defining pitch of his generation—was the result of a happy accident: “God touched Mariano Rivera one June afternoon in 1997, and Rivera shrugged. Just three months into his new role as the closer for a budding Yankees dynasty, Rivera was suddenly unable to throw his signature four-seam fastball straight, not even during his daily toss with pitcher Ramiro Mendoza. Every catch a struggle, Mendoza told Rivera to knock it off, to quit making the ball dip and dart. Rivera assured his friend that he wasn’t doing it intentionally. He was gripping the ball the same way he always had, releasing it the same way he always had. The wicked movement just … happened…. Rivera didn’t have an explanation, and though he says he ‘didn’t have any idea where the ball was going,’ his results did not suffer. He got the save in that game, then in the next three. Still, for a month, he worked with [bullpen catcher Mike] Borzello and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre to eliminate the cutting action. ‘We were trying to make the pitch stay straighter, [as it had] in ’95 and ’96,’ Rivera says, referring to his first two seasons in the big leagues, ‘but it didn’t work. Then I said, ‘I’m tired of working at this. Let’s let it happen.’ And since that day we didn’t try to straighten it out anymore.’ He smiles. ‘And the rest is history.’ ”

Rivera has become the best closer with the demeanor of a benevolent king; baseball royalty without the arrogance. As a result, he has engendered as much respect from opponents as he has from teammates. Says David Ortiz of the rival Red Sox: “I have respect for Mariano like I have for my father. Why? He’s just different. If you talk to him at an All-Star Game, it’s like talking to somebody who just got called up. To him, everybody else is good. I don’t get it. To him everybody else is the best. It’s unbelievable. And he is the greatest. You know what? Sometimes in those times when he struggles, like when I watch him on TV, I feel bad for him. I seriously do. Good people, you want to do well.”

Those are some might big words of praise from David Ortiz.

Two solid outings but no clear fourth starter

Every time Chad Gaudin and Joba Chamberalin take the mound this month, they are auditioning for the Yankees. They aren’t really trying out for much beyond two post-season starts, but these outings constitute auditions nonetheless. After two solid outings from both pitchers over the last four games, the Yanks’ fourth starter picture remains cloudy.

Joba, as we know, has been bad. After three strong starts to begin the season’s second half, he is now 5-4 with a 5.37 ERA after the All-Star Break. In 63.2 innings, he has given up 30 walks and 63 hits while striking out 51.

After a series of horrendous outings in late August and early September, Joba seemed to turn it around on Friday when he went 6 innings in a win. He allowed three earned runs on five hits while walking just one and striking out five. More important, however, was Joba’s opponent, as he seemingly broke out of his slump against the Red Sox, a potential ALCS enemy of the Yanks.

Meanwhile, Chad Gaudin has been more than serviceable as the team’s fifth starter since coming to the Yanks. He has made six starts and has thrown 32 innings. While Joe Girardi has kept him on a short leash, Gaudin hasn’t lost as a Yankee starter and owns a win. In those innings, he has given up 28 hits and 15 walks while striking out 23. His ERA as a Yankee starter is 3.09.

Yesterday, Gaudin did what he had to do in his audition. Against a weak Royals team, he went 6.2 innings and gave up a pair of runs on four hits, two walks and five strikeouts. He threw 57 of 92 pitches for strikes and generally coasted through the game.

In one sense, this past weekend did nothing to illuminate the Yanks’ pitching plans going forward. As soon as Detroit or the Twins clinch the Central, the Yanks will opt for the longer ALDS, and the fourth starter issue won’t come to a head unless and until the Yanks reach the American League Championship Series. Even then, we’ve burned a lot of pixels arguing over which pitcher stands to make two or perhaps three postseason starts.

Yet, in a way, this issue is important for Joba Chamberlain. If the Yanks are confident in Joba’s abilities and his arm strength, they will give him the ball. He has, after all, been the fourth starter for the entire 2009 season. He has stayed healthy and has generally given the Yanks a chance to win games. After all, the Yanks are 20-10 in his games. But the Bombers are undefeated in Gaudin’s six starts, and the team won’t overlook that fact either.

Right now, I have no answer, and when we have no answer, we do what bloggers do best: We poll the audience. So as we count down the hours until tonight’s Yankee game, riddle me this one. I voted for Joba, but I don’t think the Yanks could make a wrong choice here.

Who would you name as the Yanks' fourth starter in the playoffs?
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Yanks looking to host a bowl game at the Stadium

There were rumbles back in July of the Yankees vying for a bowl game by December of 2011. It sounds like those plans have moved to the next stage. According to Stewart Mandel of SI, we should expect a press conference tomorrow regarding the game. It involves not only the Yankees, but Mayor Bloomberg and the commissioners of the Big East and Big 12 conferences. It sounds like New York could see its first bowl game since 1962.

The game, if approved by the NCAA in the spring, would be a battle of the lesser Big East and Big 12 teams: fourth in the Big East against seventh in the Big 12. Even so, it would have plenty of local draw, especially for the Big East teams. The inaugural game would happen around New Years 2010-2011, which is about a year ahead of the previous projection of December 2011.

If approved, the Yankee Bowl would be the second football game played in the new park. Notre Dame and Army are set to square off next season. Army games against Rutgers, Air Force, and Boston College are also scheduled for 2011, 2012, and 2014.

For an opinion on the matter, I’ll defer to Jay from Fack Youk.