Monday Night Open Thread

It’s the final off-day of the regular season. Three games against the Rays and three games against the Astros are up next, and barring a miraculous late-season surge, an offseason of … who the hell knows what will follow after that. I could see very big changes this offseason or very minimal changes this winter. Neither would surprise me at this point. I really have no idea what to expect from the team and the front office this coming offseason.

Anyway, here if your open thread for the night. The Mets and Reds are playing (Harang vs. Cueto), plus MLB Network will air a game later tonight. Who you see depends on where you live. Raiders-Broncos is the Monday Night Football game. There’s also some preseason hockey on somewhere. Talk about any of that and more right here. Go nuts.

Enter Sandman

(Elsa/Getty Images)
(Elsa/Getty Images)

Mariano Rivera will conclude his remarkable career very soon. The farewell tour has basically come to an end. Unfortunately, once he leaves, he’ll take his patented cutter with him. The greatest closer of all time will presumably hang up his mitt on his own terms, and upon retirement, will instantly join the epic names of Yankee lore. The last #42 in Major League Baseball will depart from the game with dignity and grace. New York fans – baseball fans everywhere, really – will collectively mourn as a man of such notable modesty off the field leaves behind a career that can really only be defined as stellar on it. Statisticians, baseball analysts, fans, and bloggers alike will try to do Mariano’s numbers justice, but they’ll all fall short. His achievements speak for themselves at this point. Two decades of sustained dominance is simply nuts.

So, rather than dissecting Mo’s career (or even trying to digest it for that matter), I want to write about a bit of nostalgia that recently came to mind. The game I remembered occurred back in August of 2010. The Yankees were squaring off against their divisional rival, the Red Sox, naturally. I remember it being one of those dog-days of summer where it was swelteringly hot out; it was the kind of utterly disgusting heat that caused the $10 stadium beer (that should have, at the very least, been ice cold) to taste warm and unsatisfying almost immediately. Our legs felt like they were peeling off the outfield bleachers —  which not coincidentally, was right were my wife (then girlfriend) and I were sitting — every time we shifted in our seats.

A rather ineffective John Lackey started for Boston while former-rotation-stalwart, CC Sabathia, took the mound for New York. The game went about as smoothly as it could have despite the Sox taking an early 2-0 lead after Victor Martinez homered and Mike Lowell snagged another RBI.  I believe it was Lance Berkman who worked the walk and it was Curtis Granderson who brought him home. Ramiro Pena (yeah, he was still in the lineup) ultimately drove in Granderson on a ground out. It wasn’t until about midway through the game though that the combination of Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, and Jorge Posada (yeah, they were around then too) finally broke the score open. Heading into the ninth inning, the Bombers led 5-2. Despite the blistering heat and general lack of Red Sox momentum the stadium was still full. The game wasn’t over. This was late summer baseball between divisional rivals. My wife and I waited. Everyone knew what was going to happen next.

Queue the iconic Enter Sandman riffs. My wife pointed excitedly as Mariano trotted to the mound in his usual unassuming way. I watched with anticipation as I had so many times before; I had seen Mariano take the stage for the better part of my life and he’s never failed to impress me with his calm demeanor on the mound. Moments later, Victor Martinez grounded out on what was probably three pitches. One out. Adrian Beltre hit a pop fly a few pitches later. Two outs. Boston fan-favorite, Mike Lowell, ended the game with a weak fly ball to center field. In anticlimactic fashion, the game was over. That was it.  The Yanks won 5-2. There were no loaded bases or late game two out heroics. The Yanks just exchanged a few high-fives between the pitcher’s mound and home plate as is their custom. The Sox unceremoniously slunk back into the visitor’s locker room. Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York captured the speakers.

It wasn’t one of Mariano’s most notable performances by any means, nor was the game particularly critical to season’s outcome for either ball club. It was really just the opposite actually. Mariano simply notched another save. The team benefited from one more stress free afternoon, and New York fans everywhere enjoyed another day of quality Yankee baseball. Really, it all felt quite routine. But it was special for me nevertheless. It was the first time my wife experienced the new stadium, the first time she got to check out Monument Park, and the first time she saw the World Series trophies in the Yankee Museum. More significantly, it was her first time seeing Mariano pitch live. I remember her watching his performance in disbelief. Mariano dismantled the heart of the opposing team’s lineup like he’s done so many times before — that is to say, with brutal efficiency.  We loved every minute of it.

As for Mo, it was just another save for the record books. There weren’t any fist pumps following the third out. There weren’t any silly superstitious antics or rituals.  There were no invisible arrows flung into the atmosphere, excited shrieks, or violent fist pumps. There was only Mo’s humbling ability to shut opposing batters down and bring happiness to Yankees fans everywhere.  From the moment he made his presence on the field known, it was basically a foregone conclusion that he was going to do his job, and do it as well as he always had. But that’s the beauty of Mo, really. He’s a security blanket like no other. He brings peace of mind to everyone. Hell, even the opponents seem to take solace in knowing that if they fail against Mo, it’ll be because they’re supposed to.  On the rare occasions where things go astray, we find ourselves more bewildered than disappointed.

Mariano Rivera, as he had done so many times before, finalized another awesome experience that afternoon at The Stadium and on that particular occasion, my wife and I got to experience it in person together for the first time. I doubt that we will ever get to see someone perform so brilliantly and so constantly in our life time again.  There have been so many memorable Mariano moments both before and after that game against the Red Sox, many of which are certainly far more significant to the team’s glorious history. That’s the one that happened to pop into my mind though, and I’m happy about that. 

Thank you for all the wonderful memories, Mariano. We’ll miss you and we wish you a happy, fulfilling retirement.

The End of a Historic Era

(Maddie Meyer/Getty)
(Maddie Meyer/Getty)

I’ve never really been fond of the term “Core Four.” Not because it’s cheesy or because I hate pretty much everything, but because I feel it’s disrespectful to every other player who had a role in the dynasty years. I’m talking about guys like Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez, David Cone, Paul O’Neill — the guys who were on the field celebrating Mariano Rivera‘s career yesterday. Even more recent players like Hideki Matsui, Robinson Cano, and CC Sabathia deserve to be any kind of “core” talk.

The Core Four or whatever you want to call it is no more at this point. Jorge Posada retired two years ago and both Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte will play the final games of their careers within the next week. Derek Jeter is still hanging around and figures to return next year — I have a very, very, very hard time thinking he would go out with a disastrous 2013 being his final season — but otherwise all the on-field ties to the dynasty years are gone. Even if Jeter does return next season, it’s hard to think he’ll be the same player he was just last year, nevermind 1996-2001.

The homegrown core of those dynasty years is not something we’re ever going to see again. Not in our lifetimes. The collection of players who came up through the farm system in the 1990s was historic, more than once in a generation stuff. Just think about it this way: if you were building a team today, from scratch, what types of the players you would target to build around? In no particular order, they’d be:

  • A switch-hitter center fielder who hit for average, power, and got on base.
  • A switch-hitting catcher with power and patience.
  • An elite offensive shortstop who had all the intangibles associated with being a franchise cornerstone.
  • A workhorse left-handed starter.
  • A durable reliever who was unfazed in the biggest moments.

Those are the five guys you’d want to build your team around, right? Strength up the middle and strength on the mound. Now imagine not only drafting/signing and developing those five guys all at once, but imagine all of them having careers long enough that they turned into this:

  • A borderline Hall of Fame center fielder.
  • A borderline Hall of Fame catcher.
  • A first ballot Hall of Fame shortstop.
  • A borderline Hall of Fame left-hander.
  • A first ballot Hall of Fame closer and the greatest reliever in baseball history.

That’s the core that came up through the Yankees’ farm system all at once in the 1990s. It’s a historically great crop of players that you’d be thrilled to develop over the span of 25 years, nevermind in just five or six years. In recent memory, I think only the Phillies — Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Cole Hamels — come even remotely close to developing such a high-end core in the same period of time.

The development of that five-player core is not something the Yankees or anyone can repeat. You can’t fire that idiot Brian Cashman and replace him with that genius Gene Michael, wait five years, then have another core with those caliber of players. It doesn’t work like that. The Williams/Posada/Jeter/Pettitte/Rivera core is a combination of both great scouting and historic luck. I’ve been using the word historic a lot because that’s what this is. There’s no other way to describe these guys individually or as a five-player unit.

As amazing as that development was, you know what I find just as fascinating? With the exception of Jeter, all of those guys were dangerously close to being traded at one time or another. Bernie was rumored to be involved in separate deals for Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, and Jeff Blauser, among others. The Yankees originally wanted to include Posada in the Tino Martinez trade with the Mariners before relenting and giving up Russ Davis. Mariano was almost dealt for Randy Johnson, Felix Fermin, and David Wells at different times. Pettitte was on the trade block all throughout his first tenure in pinstripes it seemed, and the most notable rumor involved the Phillies and Adam Eaton. All it would have taken was one “yes” to dismantle the core of a dynasty.

Rivera and Pettitte saying goodbye to the Yankee Stadium crowd yesterday was about more than just saying goodbye to the fans. It was saying goodbye to one of the greatest runs in franchise history, a historic era that featuring five World Series titles and seven pennants in a 14-year span. We watched Jeter reach 3,000 career hits, Pettitte claim the team’s all-time strikeout crown, Bernie become the all-time leader in postseason RBI, Posada play in more playoff games than any other catcher in history, and Rivera save more games than anyone else in baseball history. It has been a privilege and an honor to watch all five of these guys — as well as anyone else who helped out during the dynasty years — but like everything else at one time or another, this great era of Yankees baseball has reached its end.

Sabathia done for season with Grade II left hamstring strain

See you in Tampa, CC. (Presswire)
See you in Tampa, CC. (Presswire)

CC Sabathia suffered a Grade II strain of his left hamstring in his last start and is done for the season, the Yankees announced. The recovery time is eight weeks and he is expected to be ready for Spring Training. Brian Cashman confirmed to Dan Martin that Sabathia suffered the injury in the second inning of Friday’s start against the Giants but “pitched through it.”

Sabathia, 33, must have hid the injury if it happened in the second inning. I doubt Joe Girardi & Co. would keep sending him out there if they knew he was hurt. CC has been terrible overall this year, pitching to a 4.78 ERA (4.10 FIP) in 211 innings across 32 starts, his seventh straight season of 200+ innings. The Yankees didn’t need to come up with some kind of injury excuse if they wanted to shut Sabathia down — even if they did, they wouldn’t come up with something as severe as a Grade II hamstring strain — so this is legit. You know, for all you conspiracy theorists out there.

The Yankees had already rearranged their rotation for the upcoming Rays series and Sabathia was scheduled to start Wednesday night. That start figures to go to the Phil Hughes/David Huff tandem instead. The team does need to come up with a starter for Saturday’s game now, so they could either split up the Hughes/Huff tandem or give the ball to someone like Brett Marshall or Adam Warren. I doubt David Phelps is an option at this point. He had not thrown more than two innings in a simulated game before being activated off the DL last week.

Because of expanded rosters, Sabathia will not technically be placed on the DL. Obviously a Grade II strain would be a DL-worthy injury had it come earlier in the season. Sabathia was on the DL twice last season (groin strain, elbow inflammation) and had offseason surgery both last year (bone spur in elbow) and the year before (meniscus tear in right knee). Outside of oblique strains in 2005 and 2006, he was almost perfectly healthy for the first ten years of his career. Sucks he’s breaking down now.

Fan Confidence Poll: September 23rd, 2013

Record Last Week: 3-3 (18 RS, 14 RA)
Season Record: 82-74 (637 RS, 648 RA, 77-79 pythag. record), 12.5 GB ALE/4.0 GB WC
Opponents This Week: Mon. OFF, vs. Rays (three games, Tues. to Thurs.), @ Astros (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Spoiled: Yankees fall to Giants as Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte say goodbye

A lot of goodbyes were said on Sunday. The Yankees celebrated Mariano Rivera‘s career with a pre-game ceremony that lasted a good 50 minutes, Andy Pettitte made the final start of his career at home in Yankee Stadium, and the Yankees waved goodbye to their already tiny playoff chances with a 2-1 loss to the Giants. What a day.

Goodbye, Andy
First the first five innings, it looked like we were in for a storybook day. Pettitte took a perfect game into the fifth inning and a no-hitter into the sixth inning before things came crashing down. Someone named Ehire Adrianza hit a poorly located 2-2 pitch out to left field for a solo homer that broke up the no-hitter and the shutout in one fell swoop. Adrianza’s first career homer erased the 1-0 lead New York was nursing since the third inning. Ehire Adrianza. Seriously.

Aside from the homer, Pettitte was marvelous in the penultimate start of his career. He held the Giants to a single, a double, and a walk in seven innings plus one batter. He struck out six, got nine ground ball outs compared to six in the air, and recorded all but two of his 21 outs on the infield. After Angel Pagan flew out to left field to start the game, none of the next eleven San Francisco batters hit the ball out of the infield. Andy has been spectacular of late and was at his best on Sunday. He walked off the Yankee Stadium mound to a thunderous ovation and came back out for a curtain call for the final time in his career. What a stud.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Goodbye, Mo
Prior to the game, the Yankees honored Rivera by retiring his number (and re-retiring #42 for Jackie Robinson) and having Metallica play a live rendition of Enter Sandman. They also gave him a bevy of gifts, including a $100k donation to his charity. A few hours later, they handed him a one-run deficit and asked him to keep them in the game. Mo did just that.

Doubles by Pablo Sandoval (off Pettitte) and Tony Abreu (off David Robertson) gave the Giants a 2-1 lead in the eighth inning. They also had a man on second with one out. Joe Girardi brought on Rivera for the five-out appearance, and he pitched out of the jam with a strikeout and a ground out. A single to center and  rare error by Robinson Cano — his shuffle pass to Brendan Ryan on a potential double play ball was in the dirt — put men at first and second with no outs in the ninth, but a pop-up to second (Buster Posey) and a double play (Hunter Pence) ended the threat. Rivera cut right through San Francisco’s two best hitters to escape the jam.

It’s disappointing the Yankees didn’t hand Mo a save opportunity on his special day, but no one will remember that anyway. Seriously, you’ll forget about that in about a month. We’ll all remember the pre-game ceremony though, the pre-game ceremony and the nearly two-decades of dominance. The Yankees aren’t going to the playoffs, so Rivera’s career is ending in exactly one week. No more Enter Sandman, no more cutter, no more understated handshake with the catcher following a job well done. An era is coming to an end, folks. The Yankees will never be the same.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Hate You, Offense
The Bombers scored their only run of the game on a Mark Reynolds solo homer. I thought it was a pop-up off the end of the bat — he might have missed the sweet spot, I didn’t see a replay — but the ball kept carrying and carrying and carrying into the visitor’s bullpen. It was definitely a welcome but unexpected outcome based on my read off the bat. Unfortunately, the Yankees didn’t score after that. They did have their chances though.

Eduardo Nunez led off the seventh inning with a single, and he moved up to second on Ryan’s single one batter later. With Yusmeiro Petit nearing the end of his effectiveness, Girardi lifted Chris Stewart for pinch-hitter Lyle Overbay against the tiring right-hander. Giants manager Bruce Bochy responded by bringing in lefty specialist extraordinaire Javier Lopez, prompting Girardi to pinch-hit for the pinch-hitter. Out went Overbay, in came Vernon Wells. The result really didn’t change though. Wells struck out and Ichiro Suzuki followed with a strikeout of his own. Inning over.

In the eighth, the Yankees put runners at second and third with no outs thanks to an Alex Rodriguez single and a Cano double. Pinch-runner Zoilo Almonte probably would have been able to score from first on the double had the ball not hit the sidewall and deflect out to Pence in right field. Alfonso Soriano followed with a hard-hit grounder to third that Nick Noonan bobbled but recovered quick enough to throw out Almonte at home. The rookie froze on the play and broke for home late. It was obvious he should have stayed at third, but alas. Nunez followed with a single to shallow left and Cano was thrown out at the plate to end the inning. Two runners thrown out at the plate in the eighth inning of a one-run game. Don’t deserve to win if you do that.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Leftovers
Cano (three), Nunez (two), and Ryan (two) all had multiple hits while A-Rod and Reynolds chipped in one apiece. Ichiro and Soriano drew walks. The Yankees struck out eleven time as a team, including two by Ichiro, two by A-Rod, and three by Curtis Granderson. Yusmeiro Petit? Really?

Robertson got a ground ball out before allowing what amounted to the game-winning double by Abreu, but I’m not sure why Girardi bothered to go to him if he was willing to use Rivera for multiple innings. Just seems kinda weird. Mo can get five outs down a run with a man on second but not six outs in a tie game with a man on second? Weird.

Pettitte took the undeserved loss and fell to 10-11 on the season, so if he doesn’t win his final start against the Astros next weekend, Andy will finish with a losing record for the first time in his career. He went 14-14 in 2008, the only time he finished with even a .500 record.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some other stats, and ESPN the updated standings. The Yankees are now four games back of the second wildcard spot with six games left to play. Cool Standings gives them a 1.3% chance to make the postseason and the tragic number is down to just three. They’re done with a capital DONE.


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees are off on Monday and will open the final home series of the season on Tuesday night against the Rays. Maybe the Bombers can play spoiler and make Tampa a little miserable in the final week of the year. It’ll be Hiroki Kuroda and Matt Moore in the first game. Check out RAB Tickets if you want to catch the game live. It’s Mariano Rivera bobblehead day, you know.

Sunday Night Open Thread

The game didn’t go according to plan this afternoon, but that really doesn’t matter since the Yankees were dead in the playoff race water anyway. The pre-game Mariano Rivera ceremony was outstanding though and that made for a stellar Sunday. First-rate all the way. If you missed any part of the nearly hour-long ceremony, check out the various videos above. They’re all worth it.

Once you’re done with that, use this as your open thread for the evening. Cardinals-Brewers (Kelly vs. Peralta) and Bears-Steelers are your Sunday night baseball and football games, respectively. Also: Breaking Bad. Hell yeah. Talk about Rivera’s ceremony, the late games, Walter White, or anything else right here. Have at it.