Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Live Fast, Die Young, and Leave a Good Looking Blog

Assuming the Yankee fans in the audience have had time to uncurl themselves from the fetal position and drag themselves up off the floor... there now, deep breaths. Time to start constructing wild, vivid fantasies in which Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, and Ian Kennedy all finish in the top three for the 2008 Cy Young.

This week New Yorkers get to choose which Yankee or Yankees they're going to blame for the latest debacle, and it can be a revealing choice, sort of like picking out a jacket or a new car. How does this "fire Torre" suit you? Perennial favorite "A-Rod choked again" might go well with your look. Or is the practical, no-nonsense "it's all on Wang" a better match for the image you'd like to project? Perhaps you'd like to try our new, cutting-edge "Jeter killed them" model...

Personally, I really want to stand out from the crowd this year, so I'm planning to pick someone completely arbitrary. Thoughts? Right now I'm leaning towards declaring everything to be Jose Molina's fault. Never trust a Molina brother, I always say.

These are always an awkward few weeks, but soon it'll be time to obsess over the free-agent market and get excited about next year's team. I always enjoy the off-season, because even the angriest, hardest-to-please fans tend to get a little giddy with optimism of the "Hey, this Igawa guy has excellent numbers in Japan" variety. Hope springs eternal.

Thanks for reading and commenting, everybody, it's been fun. Enjoy the rest of the playoffs if you can. And stay safe out there: if you're planning to listen to a lot of Chip Caray over the next few weeks, don't forget to assign a designated driver in advance.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens / January 8, 2007)

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Spanning the Carnage

(Newsday/Paul J. Bereswill / October 8, 2007)

So... no Subway Series this year, huh?

I had higher hopes for this New York baseball season. But I don't subscribe to the George Steinbrenner Series-or-Bust attitude; for me baseball is entertainment, and if I'm engaged and interested from April through October... well, I'm not going to say it's all I ask, but I'll accept it. The Mets had me hooked til their 162nd game of the year, and the Yankees til the third out of the ninth tonight. While I am certainly not arguing that both teams didn't have decidedly disappointing years in the end, there weren't too many dull moments.

This wasn't a heartbreaking game, or series, for the Yankees; a loss has to be closer than this to be heartbreaking. I feel like we all learn this same lesson every single year, and then the following fall, we're surprised all over again: "Huh -- maybe there's something to this good pitching beats good hitting thing!" But here's a miserable thought for Yankee fans: as River Ave. Blues points out,this might very well have been the last playoff game ever played in Yankee Stadium.

I just can't bring myself to support letting Torre go -- logic aside, I just plain like the guy, and I've gotten too used to him. But it looks like it's happening, and ESPN just showed a list of potential replacements for Torre, according to Buster Olney: Joe Girardi and Don Mattingly we already knew about; Trey Hilman, who used to manage in the Yankees' minor league system; Buck Showalter. But also: Tony La Russa?! Bobby Valentine?!?! While that would be a truly terrible idea, there's no denying that Bobby V in the Bronx would make for arguably the best reality television show of all time, so I'd be lying if I said part of me -- not a part I'm particularly proud of -- isn't rooting for this. Who can resist the man who invented the wrap? Or sneaked back into the Mets dugout, after being ejected, in a fake mustache and glasses? Or showed off his dance moves in this Japanese music video?

Man, poor Joe.

(Newsday/Paul J. Bereswill / October 8, 2007)

Monday, October 8, 2007

... We Missed "Heroes" For THAT?

Well, you’re not gonna win an awful lot of series when your starting pitcher is yanked in the third or sooner, two games in a row. Paul Byrd was just good enough -- you were right, Eric Wedge, I apologize; but you do still need to shave -- and the Yankees left way too many men on base. Unlike last year, when they looked completely limp in their last loss to the Tigers, the Yanks at least went down fighting tonight, but the end result was the same. I'm happy for my Indians fan friends, at least; they deserve a pleasant October.

And for once, it wasn't about A-Rod. Go figure: he was fine but unspectacular. I feel for Chien-Ming Wang, who is under an awful lot of pressure to represent Taiwan, and just didn't have anything to work with tonight. In any case, the Yankees exit in the first round for the third year in a row, and there will probably be some repercussions -- it won't be a quiet off-season for either New York team, that's for sure.

This is a tough one, Yankee fans… but remember, when God closes a door, he opens a window, which you can crawl out of and run far, far away so as not to have to listen to Chip Caray anymore. Back a little later with more.

UPDATE, 11:58:

Torre's talking to reporters: "This ballclub, they've got a bright future." They, huh?

"The twelve years felt like they were ten minutes long." That sounds like someone saying goodbye.

Joe Torre has his faults as a manager, and I can understand why some people want him gone, but he's going to be tough to replace. And man, is it going to be strange to see someone else sitting in the dugout for the first time since I was a freshman in high school.

Fausto-ian Bargain

As we get closer to game time, the Great Paul Byrd Debate of '07 continues. Eric Wedge is sticking to his plan, and I'm eagerly awaiting Paul O'Neill's flabbergasted reaction on the YES pregame show.

Several commenters in the last post made a pretty convincing case for holding back Sabathia, though, based on his high pitch count Friday and lack of experience on three days' rest, and I guess can see the argument there. Plus, it's true that having Carmona potentially ready to go behind Sabathia in a Game 5, should the Yankees get that far, is a fairly terrifying prospect for New York fans.

But I've also heard a lot of people elsewhere argue that Byrd's a really good pitcher, and back it up by pointing out his 15 wins. The thing is, wins taken out of context just don't tell you very much. You know who won 15 games last season? Randy Johnson and the Mets' Steve Trachsel, whose 2006 season will, for me, always stand as a monument to the meaningless of that particular stat.

Of course, that doesn't mean Byrd won't win tonight; this is one unpredictable Yankee team. They might get shut out or score 10 runs in two innings and it wouldn't be all that shocking either way. After all, would you expect them to lose a game where Andy Pettitte goes into the seventh without allowing a run, or win one where Roger Clemens is out in the third? Maybe the Yankees should've started Kyle Farnsworth, just to stick with the unexpected.

[UPDATE 5:47: Good lord, Eric Wedge really needs to shave. He seems like an intelligent guy and I'm sure it's intended to be lucky, which I respect, but it's tough to take his press conference answers seriously when they look like they're coming from a drifter with a substance abuse problem. Somebody should talk to him about this.]

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Is That a Rocket in Your Pocket?

(Newsday / Kathy Kmonicek / October 7, 2007)

Well, I guess now we know Phil Hughes can handle playoff pressure. That was an extremely impressive outing from the rookie under those circumstances -- 2 hits, 4 strike outs, no walks in 3.2 innings. Meanwhile, someone reminded the Yankees that the guy standing on the mound in the Indians hat was Jake Westbrook, and they finally managed to string some hits together, highlighted by Johnny Damon's three-run homer, and a Robinson Cano single that, thanks to a Trot Nixon error, became a three-run hit (Trot Nixon giveth, and Trot Nixon taketh away).

Chip Caray: "And what was the point I made earlier, the metaphor of the shaken soda bottle, with the Yankees?"
Me: [sobbing]

In the seventh inning Joba Chamberlain set out to prove that the hype is real, as long as you leave entymology out of it. After Ronan Tynan finished singing the slowest version of "God Bless America" I've ever heard in my life, though, Chamberlain went back out for the 8th and struggled, allowing a run and getting his pitch count up to 38 before it was over.

And so, for the "What Will We Be Second-Guessing Joe Torre About Tomorrow?" segment of our program, I can't say I really understand the thinking behind leaving Chamberlain in for two innings with a five-run lead -- not that I blame Torre for not trusting the rest of the bullpen, but now Chamberlain's questionable for tomorrow, and who knows if there'll be a four- or five-run lead to work with then? If the Yankee bullpen blows a lead in Game 4, you will be hearing a lot more about this.

However, they had to get to Game 4 for that to become an issue, and give Torre credit for some good moves tonight: he didn't wait too long to yank Clemens; he made the right but risky call in going to Hughes. And I like that he's starting "the Wanger" tomorrow, too.

Speaking of which: like Paul O'Neill, who was talking to Michael Kay on YES, I still can't believe the Indians are really going to start Paul Byrd tomorrow, instead of Sabathia on three days' rest. This is all part of an elaborate fake-out, right? Unless there are health concerns with Sabathia that I'm not aware of, which is possible, I don't get this at all. And Sabathia would have set up Fausto Carmona, who totally dominated the Yanks on Friday, for a possible Game 5 on normal rest -- wouldn't that be ideal?

Who knows, though: maybe Paul Byrd pitches the game of his life and there is no Game 5... or maybe O'Neill is right, and Eric Wedge will change his mind after getting a good night's sleep.

Finally, after the game Johnny Damon said they were "playing for Joe". Hmmm. Is George Steinbrenner just a loudmouthed autocrat with lucky timing, or does he actually know what he's doing with these ultimatums? I don't really believe there's a connection, but if the Yankees make it out of this series alive, we'll certainly be hearing about The Boss's motivational tactics throughout the ALCS.

Coke or Pepsi, Chip?

Roger Clemens just got yanked after 2.1 innings, with what TBS is calling a "strained hamstring". He had a rough start, alternately missing the plate and getting hit hard -- Jeter's throwing error in the firstwas just icing on the cake. (As an aside, doesn't it just seem wrong that a pitcher of Clemens' caliber would have, as his nemesis, Trot Nixon?). Torre let Clemens get Victor Martinez on a strikeout, and so at least, if this is his last-ever game, he went out with a K. And as bad as he looked, things never did get completely out of hand.

This is a very, very tough spot to put Phil Hughes in -- do you really want this rookie, coming back from a major injury earlier in the year, to feel responsible for the end of the Yankees' season and maybe the loss of Torre's job? It's an insane amount of pressure to put on someone that young and inexperienced -- Friday night was his first time ever coming out of the pen. But I can't really argue that Mussina or anyone else would have been a better choice.

Hughes, after a Nuke LaLoosh-esque wild pitch, a ground out, and a run-scoring double to Jhonny Peralta, gets out of the inning, and it's 3-0. If the Yankees could stop hitting into soul-crushing double plays, that wouldn't be insurmountable.

Chip Caray: "You get the feeling that this Yankee offense is like a two-liter bottle of soda." Oh my god, STOP IT!

On the plus side: A-Rod finally got himself a solid single. All together now: It's alive! It's moving! It's aliiiiiiiiiive!...

Far Safer to be Feared Than Loved

Two fascinating and divisive Yankee figures are front and center today: George Steinbrenner talked to the Bergen Record's Ian O'Connor, in his first in-depth interview in quite some time, and for better or worse seems to be old self; meanwhile, Roger Clemens will be on the mound representing the Yankees' last chance against the Indians.

If you needed further proof that all those carefully composed Steinbrenner "statements" PR guy Howard Rubenstein has been releasing all season were complete BS, the old Steinbrenner style will come as a refreshing smack in the face. On Torre:
"His job is on the line," the Yankees' owner said in a phone interview. "I think we're paying him a lot of money. He's the highest-paid manager in baseball, so I don't think we'd take him back if we don't win this series."
And the umpiring:
"The umpire was full of [expletive]," Steinbrenner said of the retiring Froemming.
But, guys, even George is going easy on A-Rod:
"I think we'll re-sign him," Steinbrenner said of Rodriguez. "I think he's going to have a good run the rest of the [postseason]. I think he realizes New York is the place to be, the place to play. A lot of this [postseason] is laying on his shoulders, you know, but I think he's up to it."
So if you've been screaming for Rodriguez to be let go, just keep in mind that this makes you less patient than George Steinbrenner. Deep breaths!

Clemens, like Steinbrenner, became a larger-than-life figure a long time ago, and by now it's hard to separate the person from the hype. A lot of Yankee fans are conflicted about him -- unlike fans of other teams, who almost universally loathe him. But while you can argue endlessly about his personality, the endless retirement melodramas, the huge contracts, or the Mike Piazza Incident, there's no debating the fact that he's been one of the most dominant pitchers of his era, and very possible of all time. Just as Steinbrenner's been, like it or not, one of the most influential owners in sports.

This year, finally, despite flashes of dominance, Clemens hasn't been able to pitch like an ace, and Steinbrenner's no longer the feared, overbearing force he once was -- but apparently The Boss won't be going out quietly; we'll find out whether Clemens will in a few hours.