Thursday, April 30, 2009

SI's Selena Roberts Haunts A-Rod for Money, Fame: Are They So Different After All?

Word of a book destined to demoralize Alex Rodriguez and attack his credibility and character was common knowledge.

We all knew that the author was Selena Roberts, a relentless leech that could not quite be plucked away from Rodriguez’s skin. She continued to bite and suck until she felt there was enough damning evidence to profit off of.

Roberts, interestingly enough, chose to wait until A-Rod was about ready to return to the Major Leagues. God forbid her chances of a New York Times Best Seller were at all compromised.

Late last night, many tidbits and highlights of the text were released publicly to the media.

It was done in much the same way as The Yankee Years, a book co-authored by Tom Verducci and Joe Torre. The difference is, Roberts wanted it to be done, and in this exact manner.

Readers can take a look at the report produced through ESPN, as I do not want to spend the duration of the article discussing the bevy of accusations.

The problem that I have with Roberts is not at all related to her reporting techniques. It does not even stem from her authoring of an unfairly timed and inherently ill-natured piece of literature.

The issue here is that regardless of how offended Roberts would be to hear it, she is a clear example of ”the pot calling the kettle black.” She and Alex Rodriguez are not so different after all, though she chooses to vilify him for possessing similar motives.

A-Rod elected to use performance-enhancing substances in order to maximize his achievements and ultimately his fame. He essentially vowed to do “whatever necessary” to reach his goals, as well as to earn every dime of the league’s historically richest contract.

Does this at all sound like an aggressive and unapologetic reporter to you? Roberts goes about her craft in exactly the same way, vowing to do “whatever necessary” to generate eye-catching headlines or move books off of the shelves.

Roberts presumably has bended the rules or moral code of her profession to get to the bottom of a story, and her employer likely turned a blind eye to her tactics. This is more so an indictment of the nation’s mainstream media, as opposed to a personal attack on Roberts.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I find it worthwhile to express that I do not condone A-Rod’s actions, nor grant him reprieve for what he has done. In fact, I am generally left feeling uneasy as a result of his arrogance and the way he carries himself.

Regardless of these feelings and beliefs, I find much of Roberts’ “findings” to be entirely petty at this point. They appear to be derived from a personal vendetta against Rodriguez, and are generally either common sense knowledge or unnecessary public ridicule.

Roberts is pouring gasoline—as opposed to the normally accepted “salt”—on Rodriguez’s open wounds. Never before have I felt so remorseful for a man who has knowingly performed countless negative acts.

Any fan or follower of baseball understands the ramifications of A-Rod’s positive steroid test in 2003. Regardless of any further factual evidence, he would be forced to carry a black cloud over his head until the day he leaves baseball.

Speculation would run wild about what years he actually used performance-enhancers, and if he still does in some capacity. Additional hearsay about his likely continued use in New York is no more concrete than before. Without another positive test taken after 2003, nothing can be proven as fact.

Publicly describing Rodriguez’s tipping habits at a classy restaurant like Hooters, or offering intimate details into his propensity to gamble, engage in online sports betting, and carouse are simply redundant.

Everyone in the world already knows about his marital affairs, and tends to agree that he is not a very polite and upstanding citizen. Aside from generating income, as is every author’s motive, there is no benefit from displaying the information on a book’s pages.

Understanding full well that the story will snowball into an unstoppable avalanche, I still hope that somehow rationality will prevail.

Rodriguez used steroids, cheated on his wife, gambled, enjoyed the services of strippers, and lied publicly. He ran through the gauntlet for his vices, and does not deserve to again jump through fire for Selena Roberts’ benefit.

Please America, I ask you just this once…let it go.

Leave Rodriguez buried six feet under in the grave he has already dug for himself. He at least deserves that courtesy.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Joba’s Intensity Reborn: Troubles Quickly Transition into Fist Pumps

After loading the bases in the third inning, Joba Chamberlain appeared one pitch away from a disastrous outing.

Chamberlain had already walked three batters, thrown just 43-percent of his pitches for strikes, and trailed 1-0.

One gutsy pitch sequence later, he had retired the Tigers' hottest hitter (Miguel Cabrera), and returned to the dugout with a newfound confidence.

It would ultimately be the last wrinkle in a memorable performance.

For the first time in 2009, Chamberlain brought something out to the mound other than a fastball, curveball, slider, and changeup. He brought the intensity and passion that made him the untouchable reliever of years past.

Though not resorting to tribal screams and Mike Tyson uppercuts, Chamberlain was again able to take the training wheels off of his fastball.

The added passion not only bumped his 4-seamer up into the mid-90s, but also returned the downward tilt to an increasingly deceptive slider. A pitch all too simple to lay off of in recent weeks, his slider became as tempting as an apple in the Garden of Eden.

Chamberlain’s final line read 6 IP, 3 hits, 1 ER, 3 BBs, and 6 Ks. Regardless of his disappointing start, he ended up hitting the strike zone with 57-percent of his pitches. His latter inning dominance, however, could not possibly be reflected in a box score.

The transition from increasingly mediocre to unhittable took no longer than seconds, as if Chamberlain had snuck into a phone booth and emerged donning a red cape.

Following a seven-run outburst in the top of the fourth by New York, Chamberlain retired the next nine Tigers in order while striking out four.

It appeared as though the Tigers lineup was caught with their pants down, unsure of how to handle the swaggering right-hander. A confused and timid expression was suddenly replaced with a stern and intimidating glare.

If not for a heart-stopping ninth inning, whispers of a bullpen transition for Chamberlain could have been quieted for at least another week.

Even an 8-1 lead was not large enough for New York’s “enigmatic eight,” however, as Jonathan Albaladejo and Mariano Rivera rapidly turned a laugher into an 8-6 game.

Rivera held on to literally “save” himself and the Yankees, although he will not be credited with one in his stat line.

A 0-for-4 beginning to a difficult road trip has now become a series victory in Detroit. Two young and underpaid hurlers have silenced critics of an underachieving starting rotation, and New York can return to the Bronx once again above .500.

It remains to be seen if we have witnessed the start of a reassuring trend, or a simple calmness within the eye of the storm. Either way, fans should be able to sleep much more soundly tonight as their heads hit their pillows.

Chien-Ming Who? Hughes Arrives Without Hype, As Advertised

The Yankees were unsure of where their season stood, and even more unsure of what would come of their besieged pitching staff.

Chien-Ming Wang had recently suffered both a mental and physical breakdown in New York, and 19 automatic wins quickly manifested itself as a gaping hole in the rotation.

A mysterious “injury” sent Wang away to the Yankees secret Tampa laboratory, trying to fix what so suddenly and unexpectedly became broken.

A culmination of velocity reduction, arm slot inconsistencies, and a non-sinking sinker forced New York’s hand.

Who could emerge from a barren Minor League landscape to plug the leak of a sinking Yankee ship? A familiar face stepped out from the shadows, ready to rewrite his chapter in the Yankees’ history books.

The “messiah” of the starting staff would have to be Phil Hughes, once believed to be the next great ace of Major League Baseball. Injuries and underperformance shattered his dreams in 2008, and left fans and scouts wondering what had become of the “can’t-miss prospect.”

Still baby-faced and just 22 years of age, Hughes was not ready to let fans forget his polished pedigree. He entered his season debut with a 3-0 record and 1.86 ERA in AAA, and had made some key adjustments to his pitching repertoire.

The fine-tuning was clearly evident in Tuesday’s debut against the Detroit Tigers, as Hughes made a potent and powerful lineup appear more prepared for the Eastern League at AA.

Hughes’ final line included 6 innings, 6 strikeouts, two walks, and just 2 hits allowed. More importantly for the Yankees, he was able to obtain “1 win.” It was a win they desperately needed, and totaled more than Hughes had collected in all of 2008.

A new and precise cutter has been added to Hughes’ arsenal, and helped to minimize one of his biggest weaknesses as a starter in the majors. He was now able to get inside consistently on lefthanders, turning doubles and home runs of years past into ground balls to second base.

Hughes used one of these ground balls to escape his only jam of the day, preserving a 0-0 pitcher’s duel at the time.

The weight of the world—or in this case “Yankees Universe”—was on Hughes’ invaluable right shoulder. He did more than simply deliver; he proved that he belonged in pinstripes for the weeks (and possibly months) to come.

With a sharp curveball and 92-93 MPH fastball, Hughes was a serviceable starter. When adding a pinpoint cutter and developing change-up, there is no telling how high his ceiling can rise.

The Yankees needed a stopper, but more importantly, they needed a sense of hope and serenity. Hughes gave them both, and appeared for the first time to be exactly as advertised.

We had all heard the hype ad nauseam. On Tuesday, however, we finally saw it with our own eyes.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

UPDATE: Yankees Amend Ticket Situation to Help Fill Empty Seats

According to Mike Francesa of WFAN, the New York Yankees have made a bevy of adjustments to the 2009 ticket situation.

Many fans and media personnel had voiced concerns over the almost embarrassing levels of empty seats in the new Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees avoided more reasonable solutions, such as lowering all of the prices and issuing refunds to fans who have already purchased expensive seating.

Instead, it appears that fans who purchased season ticket packages will receive additional complimentary tickets for games. The number of tickets and games are dependent on a variety of parameters.

Some ticket prices have been reduced, including the sky suites (from $750 to $550) and the stadium's most expensive seats (from $2500 to $1250).

It may appear as though these changes will not affect the average to slightly above average fan, but you must dig deeper to see the possible benefit.

Season ticket holders receiving extra seating in the $325 areas, for example, will be given the opportunity to sell the tickets online. This will allow fans to purchase expensive seats for reduced prices, as they will not fetch prices close to their "face values."

If there was enough demand for $325 seating, the Yankees would have already sold them with ease in the stadium's inaugural season.

As a result, fans looking to recoup money for the extra tickets will be forced to sell them at more reasonable levels (say $125-175). This will again place expensive seating back into the general levels of the "House that Ruth Built."

The worst case scenario involves friends and family of the season ticket holders being given the extra seats as a gift. Though not benefiting the average fan whatsoever in this scenario, it will ensure many fewer empty seats in close proximity to the field.

The Yankees had multiple options that would have given a leg up in public relations, and I tend to disagree with the route that team executives have taken. However, if empty seats will become filled with the butts of Yankees fans in the months to come, it is already a step in the right direction.

We will see how this truly affects Yankee Stadium and its fans, but at least something is being done in a positive manner.

Justin-Credible: Verlander Unhittable as Yankees’ Streak Reaches Four

The Yankees entered Comerica Park in Detroit while riding a painful three-game losing streak. That pain continued to compound on itself, as yet another loss dropped them below .500 on the season.

Even a sharp C.C. Sabathia was not enough to reverse the trend for New York, as its offense was never given a chance to get into a rhythm.

Tigers ace Justin Verlander was more than simply ‘on his game.’ Verlander was virtually untouchable, making 60’ 6” appear more like a 46’ little league mound.

Verlander was armed with a blazing fastball touching upwards of 99 on the radar gun, as well as a power curveball that fell more sharply than the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, Verlander had no-hitter stuff, much more reminiscent of his 2006 Rookie of the Year campaign than his recent struggles.

Striking out nine and walking zero, he suffered no setbacks aside from the inability to figure out how to cool Robinson Cano’s hot bat.

The Red Sox series dug up limitless concerns about the Yankees ball club, and targeted many underachievers with a barrage of finger-pointing. Each crushing loss left a new catalyst to blame and excuses to make, leaving New York wondering how it let things slip away.

Monday night’s game did not provide any second-guessing, regretful sentiment, or ‘what ifs.’ Regardless of what buttons manager Joe Girardi attempted to push, the Yankees were going to be beaten by a hurler hell-bent on dominance.

This has emerged as a trend of sorts for New York, as at least one facet of the team falters on a given day.

When they pitch, they simply cannot drive in runs. When they score enough to win while receiving quality starting pitching, the bullpen implodes. Even when the Yankees score in double figures, they find a way to set franchise records in pitching deficiency.

Until the Yankees begin to fire on all cylinders, or at least most of them, they will be unable to string together victories. They will need to eventually perform a feat equal to Boston’s current 11-game rampage.

New York has driven past the Red Sox on a highway going in very different directions. If it does not make a U-turn soon, it may be left in Boston’s rearview mirror for quite some time.

(As I stated late last night:)

The hopes of a Yankee stopper now fall on the shoulders of recent call-up Phil Hughes. Not quite the burden of pressure New York hoped to throw onto him in his first start back in the big leagues.

Hughes will attempt to throw water—instead of oil or fuel—on the Yankees fire, as he will replace Chien-Ming Wang and his recent mental/physical breakdown.

Someone has to wake the Yankees up from this nightmare, and hopefully that "someone" is Hughes. Stay tuned.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sabathia Much Better, But Outdueled by Verlander

The Yankees' streak has reached four.

Unfortunately for them, the number refers to a losing streak that began on Friday night in Fenway Park.

C.C. Sabathia was much better than his previous two starts, but made one enormous mistake with an off-speed pitch to Magglio Ordonez.

It was a mistake that he never had a chance to make up for.

Tigers ace Justin Verlander was as close to perfect as it gets, and ensured that his ERA would officially stop climbing.

The hopes of a Yankee stopper now fall on the shoulders of recent call-up Phil Hughes.

Not quite the burden of pressure New York hoped to throw him into in his first start back in the big leagues.

Hughes will attempt to throw water instead of oil or fuel on the Yankees fire, as he will replace Chien-Ming Wang and his recent mental/physical breakdown.

Someone has to wake the Yankees up from this nightmare, and hopefully that "someone" is Hughes. Stay tuned.

The Man of “Steal”: Ellsbury Sends Yankees Season into a Tailspin

The Yankees had just suffered two of the more demoralizing defeats of their young season at the hands of the Boston Red Sox.

Making things worse was the fact that the losses mimicked the emotional and physical collapse of the 2004 ALCS. Worst of all, New York lost each game in a new and different manner.

Game one was supposed to display the ability of the Yankee lineup to grind out at bats, forcing Jon Lester off of the mound innings earlier than he had hoped.

It was supposed to be an uplifting and slightly ho-hum victory, setting the tone for the rest of the weekend.

Instead, even the most bulletproof member of the Yankee bullpen was not immune to a contagious disease debilitating the pitching staff arm by arm. Mariano Rivera was just one poorly thrown cutter away from handing over a win neither team ultimately deserved.

Although it didn’t seem possible, game two managed to shake the Yankees confidence even more so than a heartbreaking ninth-inning collapse.

New York’s roster could live with Rivera having a bad day. They could keep telling themselves that it was a fluke loss, and they did everything in their power to earn a road victory.

Game two, however, had an entirely different dynamic. After building a 6-0 lead in the early innings off of Yankee nemesis Josh Beckett, New York was well on its way to a convincing rebound.

A.J. Burnett was equally as potent a Red Sox killer in recent years, and the offense had shown every facet it lacked in going 4-19 with runners in scoring position the night before.

Eight runs later, Burnett was in the dugout asking for the license plate number of the truck that had just run over him. A Yankee comeback was thwarted after eight additional Sox runs, and nothing but embarrassment remained.

Game three was a whole different species of loss. It was a perfect example of the proverbial “throwing of salt onto an open wound.” The symbolic “salt” was named Jacoby McCabe Ellsbury.

Already respected as one of the fastest players in all of Major League Baseball, Ellsbury always needs to be accounted for. Apparently even the game’s best pickoff artist, Andy Pettitte, underestimated his skill.

Ellsbury not only stole second base off of Pettitte; he later forced fans to reminisce about the 1955 World Series played between the Dodgers and Yankees.

Realizing he was again going unnoticed, Ellsbury broke from third in an attempt to steal home off of the crafty lefthander. He slid in safely, and subsequently put the final nail into an already buried Yankee coffin.

Though not as significant as Jackie Robinson's theft in the aforementioned 1955 Series, Ellsbury’s feat was nearly as unsettling to New York. To this day, Yogi Berra still contends that he tagged Robinson in time.

Ellsbury’s 10th steal of the season left the Yankees in a state of flux, completely unsure of what lies ahead of them. New York will have to do some serious soul-searching in attempts to right the ship, and may be forced to rely on Phil Hughes and Mark Melancon more heavily than anticipated.

When the Red Sox were done putting away their brooms, they had swept the Yankees right out of Fenway. Their 10-game winning streak has once again established themselves as the team to beat in the American League.

Joe Girardi will have to figure out a contingency plan quickly. If Alex Rodriguez is not the cure to what ails him, Tony Pena may be the one running out the team’s scorecards by the All-Star break.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

For Fans, Yankees Put the “Rage” in Courageous

Coming into Friday’s opening game of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, New York was already struggling to find a clutch hit with runners on.

They were hitting just .232 as a team with runners in scoring position (RISP), and were currently standing at third-worst in the league as a result.

The team then left Fenway Park following a painful and debilitating loss, wondering what had just happened to the win they had secured in their back pocket.

Jorge Posada happened. Robinson Cano happened. Melky Cabrera happened. Nick Swisher happened.

By the time fans’ blood pressures had risen to levels reserved for patients in cardiac arrest, the Yankees had left 29 men on base. Worse yet, the team batted just .210 (4-19) with RISP, including two crushing double play balls late in the game.

When the dust had cleared and defibrillators had been used to bring Yankees supporters back to their couches, something even more surprising happened.

Mariana Rivera happened. Give Rivera a two run lead with two outs in the ninth, and it is usually as automatic as doubling down on 11 at a Vegas Blackjack table.

On Friday night, one unsharpened cutter lifted off into the night sky, all but destroying New York’s hopes of capturing the series’ first game. The culprit was Red Sox outfielder Jason Bay, the only one of the four right-handed Red Sox power hitters to limp out of the gate at home.

Though the scoreboard read 4-4, it might as well have been over then. The air was sucked out of the Yankees lungs, and their confidence was shattered like china in a bull stampede.

Boston turned to the reigning “United States Staring Contest Champion” in the ninth, and Jonathan Papelbon thwarted yet another scoring opportunity for the Yankee offense.

Anyone who watched the game or reviewed the box score knows exactly what happened next. Damaso Marte happened.

Coming into the game with an ERA approaching 20.00, Marte performed admirably in his first inning while striking out two.

However, he was simply no match for the only man in the history of sports to sweat more than former Knicks center Patrick Ewing. Kevin Youkilis ended the game with one swing of his bat, and tucked New York’s tail firmly between its legs.

Fans were now left sweeping up the remains of what used to be their television controllers, computing in their heads how much a Radio Shack replacement would cost them in the morning.

Most New Yorkers will now focus on the NFL Draft, trying to erase the game’s result from their memories. Even the dream matchup of A.J. Burnett and Josh Beckett on Saturday afternoon may not be enough to draw them away from ESPN in favor of FOX baseball.

To fans watching for clutch hits and heroism on Friday night, the Yankees had truly put the “rage” in courageous.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Green Monster Knockout? Yankees Head to Fenway without a Right Uppercut

The game of baseball’s biggest and most passionate rivalry is once again unleashed on America tonight in Fenway Park.

In fact, the bad blood has already begun to boil over before the series’ first pitch, as David Ortiz has warned Joba Chamberlain to steer clear of his patented “chin music.”

It should be an entertaining and spirited clash, with an A.J. Burnett vs. Josh Beckett matchup representing baseball’s “must see” of the weekend.

The Yankees enter Fenway Park with a clear disadvantage offensively, however, which may prove to be the difference in the three-game series. With the absence of Alex Rodriguez and Xavier Nady, New York does not possess a right-handed power bat.

Lacking power from the right side is normally a moot point in baseball, as the majority of the game’s pitchers are right-handed as well. Many teams choose to stack their lineups with left-handed hitters as a result.

The Philadelphia Phillies are a perfect example of this, as they won the World Series with just two power hitters from the right side (Pat Burrell and Jayson Werth). They then let Burrell walk in free agency, and replaced him with another lefty in Raul Ibanez.

One of the strong exceptions to the rule is Fenway Park; the Red Sox proud and historic home for 97 years.

Due to its peculiar architecture and presence of the short “Green Monster” in left field, Fenway Park has favored righties since the massive wall was constructed in 1936. So much so, in fact, that the Yankees and Red Sox once considered exchanging Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams in order to take advantage of each park’s dimensions.

The current Yankee roster consists of only three right-handed hitters. After quickly disregarding Jose Molina and Cody Ransom as threats, we are left with only Derek Jeter.

Though Jeter is a solid offensive player and thorn in the Red Sox side, he has never been known to drive the ball to left field. His inside-out swing has instead produced countless home runs and doubles to the power alley in right-center field. During his last three years at Fenway, Jeter has hit just .286.

New York does employ a bevy of switch-hitters, including Mark Teixeira, Jorge Posada, Nick Swisher, and Melky Cabrera.

Boston’s only lefty starter is Jon Lester, whose hard cutter should somewhat neutralize their ability to lift balls with authority. They will be forced to hit lefty for the remainder of the series, aside from late-inning matchup situations.

The Red Sox, on the other hand, have assembled a roster to harness its stadium’s home-field advantage. They have littered the heart of the lineup with talented right-handers such as Mike Lowell, Kevin Youkilis, Jason Bay, and reigning MVP Dustin Pedroia.

The strategy has already paid huge dividends for the Red Sox in 2009, as these hitters have played pepper with the Green Monster every chance they get. While Bay has struggled at Fenway thus far, the other sluggers have relished their home games:

Home - .367
Away - .250

Home - .560
Away - .375

Home - .361
Away - .185

The Yankees will need to rely heavily on their pitching staff in order to have a chance to win the rivalry’s opening series in 2009. If it becomes an offensive “pissing contest”, New York will not be able to compete without A-Rod and Nady in the lineup.

Expect some fireworks tonight as Joba is unlikely to back down as a result of Ortiz’s caveat. In the event of a benches-clearing brawl, the Yankees better restrain Posada before his surgically repaired shoulder is compromised.

Friendships created during the World Baseball Classic are now jettisoned to the trash can…it is time for contention to again takeover.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Yankee Stadium Magic: How an Unfamiliar Place Can Begin to Feel Like Home

Still wearing a Yankees away jersey to symbolize the foreign feeling of entering the new ballpark, I ambled through Gate 6 and into “The Great Hall.”

(Interestingly enough, fans are now their own ticket scanners. It completely eliminates the need for dozens of people to stand around pretending to help you, but they do it anyway.)

I had seen it all before, and knew for the first time how to get to any seat in the stadium. It resembled a college student’s second week in a freshman dorm, as I began to figure things out while still feeling very uncomfortable.

After reaching what would be my final resting place for the next five hours, it was apparent that the stands would not be roaring like its predecessor across the street.

The rain had scared away thousands upon thousands of season ticket holders, and many others chose to retreat to “waterproof” areas of the stadium. Only the bleacher creatures and select trust fund babies remained in their tickets’ assigned seating location.

Shortly before the first pitch, Yankee Stadium finally began to take on a recognizable aura; “…and at designated hitter, batting third, Jason Giambi.”

I looked around to make sure a bar still stood in center field where the famed black seats once rested. Indeed it did, and Giambi was again donning an “A” on his cap.

The game could be described by no word other than damp, and got off to a very inauspicious beginning. C.C. Sabathia’s prized and high-priced pitching shoulder evaded him once again, and the Yankees quickly trailed 3-0.

Sabathia was missing spot after spot, and it appeared as though a postponement would be a blessing in disguise. As the game wore on, however, the stadium began to produce more and more occurrences of déjà vu.

Derek Jeter willed the Yankees into the lead not once but twice. The captain made sure that his late-game heroics would not rest in peace along with the original Yankee Stadium.

Shortly thereafter, a very familiar sound began to crescendo over the stadium’s myriad of speakers:

“Say your prayers little one
Don't forget my son
To include everyone

I tuck you in, warm within
Keep you free from sin'
Til the sandman he comes...”

It was of course the uplifting lyrics of Enter Sandman by Metallica, a song Yankees fans have sung along to many times before. It helps to resurrect “The House that Ruth Built,” and forces you to think back to lists of everlasting memories.

There was now just one missing element to a prototypical “Yankees Classic.” The game had to end as a result of an unexpected moment involving a surprising underdog as hero. After nearly five hours of rain-soaked baseball, the Bronx got its wish.

Up to the plate stepped a little used outfielder who was left for dead within the Yankees organization. He lost his starting job, and only remained on the Major League roster as a result of Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon’s recent injury histories.

Wearing a new number in 2008 to attempt a new beginning in New York, Melky Cabrera was forced to face former teammate Dan Giese. He was in danger of becoming a member of the very undesirable “golden sombrero” club.

A “golden sombrero” represents a player striking out four times in just one game, and Cabrera was poised to do so in consecutive at-bats. One magical swing later, however, he was instead met with a mob of teammates jumping around like home plate had suddenly become a trampoline.

Cabrera had hit the first walk-off home run at the new stadium, and began to recapture the mystique that flowed through the walls of the old ballpark.

Heroics from the Yankee captain? Check. Dominance from Mariano Rivera after a karaoke-like sing along? Check. Storybook ending? Check. Unsung hero? Check.

Yankee Stadium felt familiar for the first time, and more importantly, it felt like home.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I'm Off to the Bronx

After rain spoiled my attempts of seeing my first game at the new stadium (I went on April 2 for the first workout), I have another chance at baseball today.

The rain earned a bit of a reprieve, as C.C. Sabathia was pushed back to Wednesday as opposed to Joba Chamberlain.

Being able to see the new Yankees ace in action more than makes up for an untimely rainout.

I will be attending the second game of Yankees-A's, and hope to witness some of the magic of years past when these teams got together in the postseason.

(Most notably, "the flip" play by Derek Jeter seen in the photo on the right.)

Should be interesting to see Giambi back at 1B in Yankee Stadium, and I refuse to boo him at any point during the game. He is truly a great man, regardless of his syringe issues.

I will be back sometime around dinner to give my thoughts on the game, as well as the rumor that the new Yankee crowd is quite "uninterested and highfalutin."

Let's hope for a convincing victory so that the Yankees can move to 9-6 in the standings.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Nady Diagnosed with Strain NOT Tear in Elbow Ligament

After countless medical opinions and reviews of tests performed on Xavier Nady's injured elbow, it appears he has not torn a ligament after all.

According to SI's Jon Heyman, Nady will in fact not require season-ending surgery, and will instead require a rehabilitation program of "a period of weeks."

It has not yet been released exactly how long this rehab period will last, but Nady should be back in pinstripes in 2009.

This is excellent news for a Yankees team that has struggled offensively to start the season, and has been in desperate need of a right-handed power bat.

The imminent return of Alex Rodriguez will greatly help this issue as well, but Nady will re-energize a suddenly weak bench. Placing Nick Swisher in the starting lineup day after day had left New York with no late-inning weapons as pinch-hitters.

Stay tuned as more information is leaked hour by hour, but there seems to be reason to smile in the Bronx today.

The "X-Man" can dry last week's tears; his season is not yet lost.

The Alex Rodriguez Saga: How the Grinch Stole April

Alex Rodriguez has never quite fit into the limelight and the media circus of New York City.

A-Rod has been everyone’s favorite villain, as well as an easily accessible punching bag for anyone with a pen or keyboard.

He has also been targeted, and rightfully so, as a major catalyst in the Yankees recent postseason failures.

The relentless negative media coverage and mockery tossed in A-Rod’s direction has been both deserved and unfair at the same time. It reminds of the ridicule that a bitter green fellow who lived in the mountains outside of Whoville once endured.

Much of A-Rod’s condemnation is centered on his inability to perform in the latter innings his team’s biggest games.

Narrator: “A-Rod feared RISP come each baseball season. Oh, please don't ask why, no one quite knows the reason. It could be, perhaps, that his cleats were too tight. Or maybe his helmet wasn't positioned just right. But I think that the most likely reason of all may have been that his bravado was two sizes too small.”

Rodriguez likewise enjoys escaping the roar of his city’s deconstructive criticism, though he seems to do a poor job of making proper decisions. His exposed steroid use has been well-documented ad nauseum, especially the perceived fabrications littered throughout his explanation.

A-Rod was caught red-handed in much the same way as the Grinch stealing Cindy Lou Who’s Christmas tree.

Narrator: “But you know, that old A-Rod was so smart and so slick, that he thought up a lie and he thought it up quick.”

The stresses that followed were enough to nearly consume A-Rod and his disappearing swagger. Ironically, playing the game that he once took for granted was the only thing that provided him with a refuge.

A-Rod could temporarily disregard his problems while playing in spring training games and preparing for the World Baseball Classic. However, an untimely hip injury quickly derailed all of that.

Now forced to step away from baseball, Rodriguez was better able to appreciate and embrace what the sport had always given to him.

Narrator: “A-Rod reflected on the swings he wouldn’t make and the runs he wouldn’t score. Then he thought of something he hadn't before! Maybe baseball, he thought, doesn't come from cashed checks. Maybe baseball... perhaps... is a little bit more complex!”

Rodriguez became a man on a mission after this revelation, and aimed to return weeks earlier than the advised rehabilitation schedule. He realized that nothing mattered aside from what his teammates and daughters thought of him, and playing 3B for the New York Yankees.

Narrator: “And what happened then? Well, in the Bronx they say that A-Rod’s giant ego shrank three sizes that day. And then the true meaning of baseball came through, and then A-Rod found the strength and determination of ten Yankees plus two.”

The Yankees will be thrilled to plug Rodriguez and his new attitude back into the heart of the lineup. His return truly cannot come soon enough.

As one of the few writers who has consistently supported A-Rod throughout a tumultuous offseason, it has been easy to open my eyes to the gaping hole in the Yankees lineup.

Without the Yankees best slugger anchoring the middle of the batting order, New York ranks 19th in team batting average and 13th in team on-base percentage.

Only two hitters in the starting lineup are currently batting above .270. Nick Swisher (.333) has quickly cooled following a torrid start, and 2B Robinson Cano (.388) has rebounded well from a 2008 letdown.

Rodriguez’s absence has inarguably crippled an offensive attack that generated lofty preseason expectations. As a result, New York is treading water in the league’s toughest and most competitive division.

Narrator: “The seconds are now ticking until A-Rod’s return. The Yankees would love to scratch offense off their list of concerns. It will be a sight for sore eyes when he grabs a glove and a bat, now knowing that wins and a ring mean as much as a wallet that is fat.

Most fans with a heart will be willing and able, to forgive their returning slugger with a hip that is stable. They will wait to watch a ball smack off the façade, and hear John Sterling’s call, ‘An A-Bomb from A-Rod.’”

Monday, April 20, 2009

Happy 48th Birthday to Donald Arthur Mattingly

April 20th represents many things to different groups of people.

To Yankees fans, it should mean the day that one of the most beloved Yankees in history was brought into this world.

Don Mattingly, otherwise known as "Donnie Baseball" or "The Hitman," is 48 years of age today.

Mattingly is unfortunately forced to share a date of birth with Adolph Hitler, as well as a holiday only celebrated by the most degenerate of youths.

Donnie Baseball has been the idol of many Yankees fans since almost before they could talk, and I certainly fall into that category.

It is easy to figure out why, as Mattingly was one of the most talented, classy, and respected players to ever wear a Major League uniform.

During the first four years of his Yankee career, "The Hitman" collected 119 home runs, 483 RBI, 3 gold gloves, 3 silver sluggers, and an AL MVP award. He appeared well on his way to enshrining himself amongst the Cooperstown elite, as he also sported a .337 batting average over that span.

A well-documented back injury prevented Mattingly from ever maintaining his dominance over the league, and his career began to decline.

Even while in relentless pain and barely half the player he once was, Mattingly produced a .417 average, 6 RBI, and 1 timeless home run during his only playoff series in 1995.

Gary Thorne's home run call still flows through my mind as if it happened yesterday; "OHHHH, hang on to the roof!! Goodbye!!! Home run, Don Mattingly!!!!"

deserves all of the love and praise that is thrown in his direction, and will forever live on in Yankees lore. His No. 23 will never be worn again in the Bronx, and his moustache will never be replicated.

Happy birthday Donnie Baseball. I hope that there are many more to come.

“The House that the Rockies Built”: Yankee Stadium Mimics Coors Field

As the national anthem rang throughout the new Yankee Stadium during the home opener on April 16, an entire city became energized for baseball.

Little did they know that “the bombs bursting in air” would refer to an on-field power surge instead of the fight for out nation’s freedom.

Fans and players alike watched as twenty home runs were launched into the stadium’s newly completed seats in just four games.

In a violent mixture of horrendous pitching and a relentless jet stream toward right-center field, Yankee Stadium housed the season’s first home run derby exhibition.

Solo shots were as easily attainable as singles, and grand slams became a simple right of passage.

Yankees and Indians supporters were frantically scanning the ballpark for Dante Bichette, Ellis Burks, Larry Walker, Vinny Castilla, and Andres Galarraga.

They had to have been somehow transported back in time to 1997 Colorado, where the five Rockies sluggers combined to hit 188 home runs in just one season.

Yankee stadium had not been a pitcher’s park since before the monuments were moved beyond the stadium’s outfield wall, but it had never produced such effortless power.

The only locations for cheap round-trippers were straight down either line, including the famed “short porch” in right field. The new stadium has instead helped to carry even the most undeserved fly balls into the hands of mystified fans.

New York may require their own version of Coors Field’s “humidor,” an effort to prevent batted balls from entering the Earth’s orbit.

Whether or not contact is made at the end of the bat or the handle, or is the product of an off-balance lunge…players should still prepare to practice their casual trots around the bases.

Jorge Posada’s eventual game-winning home run on Sunday was struck high enough to affect airline flight patterns. Regardless of that fact, it still carried the exact distance required to save a series split with the Indians.

Perhaps the most alarming evidence of Yankee Stadium’s hitter-friendly tendencies occurred in Sunday’s eighth inning.

Cody Ransom stepped to the plate with the bases loaded, and proceeded to shatter his bat upon contact. Completely unaware of the ball’s location, he awkwardly jogged toward first base.

A few seconds later, Ransom was credited with a bases-clearing double, as his lazy fly ball landed just feet from the warning track. If a shattered bat can produce a 300 foot fly ball in mid-April, imagine where balls will land during the dog days of summer.

The original Yankee Stadium had a well-documented increase in home runs as the weather warmed, and many worry that the same phenomenon could make a mockery of the new park.

Another issue results from the altered seating arrangement at the new stadium. Seats were placed directly behind the outfield wall, which eliminates any possibility of a quick fix in terms of fencing distance.

There will likely be many discussions on how to best attack this unexpected dilemma, but they will not take place until after the stadium’s inaugural season has been completed.

It is anyone’s guess whether the surge will continue throughout the entire 81-game home schedule, but I will officially be bringing a glove to the right-center field bleacher seats in 2009.

Once merely a fantasy, it appears that virtually any seat is souvenir territory at the Bronx’s new launching pad.

Chien-Ming Wang’s formally dominant sinker would be very advantageous right about now. Perhaps it is time to place a call to Rick Ankiel’s former therapist.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Lucky Number 13: Yankees Avoid Scalping at the Hands of Indians

A string of bad luck and unfortunate breaks for the Yankees finally subsided on Sunday afternoon.

Ironically, it occurred during the team’s 13th game of the season.

While Yankees pitcher A.J. Burnett struggled with his curveball all start long, he was able to perform his best Houdini impersonation.

Two home runs and seven walks later, the Yankees still only trailed 3-1.

On the other side of the pitching matchup, Carl Pavano ensured that his return to the Bronx was a successful one. He pitched six innings of excellent baseball, and was able to keep hitters off balance with a quality changeup.

After a failed rally in the bottom of the sixth inning, New York appeared to be hanging its head. The Yankees had now become “The Pacifists,” unwilling to put up a fight for most of their stadium’s opening series.

Robinson Cano was not prepared to give up so easily, as New York’s hottest hitter ripped an opposite field double to start the seventh inning.

A clutch single by Hideki Matsui brought the Yankees within one, when Cody Ransom’s failed bunt attempt brought a familiar face off the bench as a pinch-hitter.

Jorge Posada was summoned to save the Yankees from the jaws of defeat, and he was certainly up to the task.

Thanks to a home run call reminiscent of Jeffrey Maier’s 1996 postseason heroics, Posada gave New York a lead it would never relinquish.

He launched an offering from Rafael Betancourt toward the right field wall, where two fans ruined any hopes of a play being made by RF Trevor Crowe.

A long deliberation and subsequent replay review by the umpires confirmed the Indians fate. They ruled the video evidence inconclusive, which resulted in the original call of a home run to stand.

The Yankees good fortune did not end there, as three undeserved runs scored with a little help from our galaxy’s closest star. A broken bat fly ball by Cody Ransom in the eighth was lost amidst the sunshine, and New York’s lead bloated to 7-3.

Mariano Rivera was called on to finish off the win like he has done so many times before, and New York escaped with a much needed series split.

The win was not at all pretty, nor did it help to answer many of the questions still surrounding the franchise. The Yankees awoke when they needed to most, however, and were able to creep back above .500 on the season.

New York now needs to regroup against an inferior Oakland Athletics team in a three-game series beginning tomorrow night. A difficult battle with the Boston Red Sox is on the horizon in Fenway, and the Yankees cannot afford to hit the road lacking in confidence.

The Yankees dodged a bullet on Sunday, but will need to elevate their play in order to enter the next stretch of the season’s schedule.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Chien-Ming “Wrong”: An Aberration Has Officially Become a Trend

Yankees starter Chien-Ming Wang came into Saturday afternoon’s game against the Cleveland Indians with a 0-2 record and 28.93 ERA.

In allowing 15 hits and 6 walks in just 4.2 innings pitched, Wang looked more like a minor league journeyman than a man who finished runner-up for the Cy Young award just three years ago.

Things couldn’t possibly have gotten worse in his third start, right? Wrong.

Wang was lambasted and humiliated for the third straight time on Saturday, allowing 8 hits and 8 runs in just 1.1 innings. He further inflated his ERA to a sickening 34.50.

In fact, my previous comparison of Wang to a minor league journeyman was proven much more accurate than I originally intended.

Yankees emergency call-up Anthony Claggett produced virtually an identical pitching line to Wang’s. He allowed 9 hits and 8 runs over 1.2 innings, and threw gasoline onto an already blazing fire.

Once the smoke had cleared, the Yankees had suffered through a 14-run explosion that left them scrambling for answers.

Wang’s struggles go far beyond early-season inconsistencies, or rust caused by last year’s foot injury. An abnormality has turned into a haunting trend; one that could derail the confidence of a team looking to find itself.

Imagine if Mariano Rivera suddenly lost his ability to throw a cutter, eliminating the only true weapon he brought to the pitching mound each day.

Wang is experiencing this nightmare first hand, as his previously unhittable power sinker has morphed into a belt high batting practice fastball.

Opponents once described hitting against Wang as “trying to hit a bowling ball.” Now it appears he is simply placing the ball onto a tee for opposing hitters to launch into orbit.

Whatever adjustments pitching coach Dave Eiland is attempting to etch into Wang’s mind have been proven worthless. Many fans are already calling for Phil Hughes to immediately board a bus from Scranton, PA to the Bronx.

A pitcher’s four biggest assets are location, movement, speed variation, and top-end velocity (in that order). The concerning factor in Wang’s regression is that he has not shown even one of these skills thus far in 2009.

Though a small sample size, it is fair to be very concerned with Wang’s helplessness on a mound he once controlled.

Wang is so out or sorts that he is virtually unrecognizable. The Yankees must feel like the stars of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, wondering what happened to the man they once called their ace.

The calendar still indicates that we are in mid-April, and would normally provide enough of a relaxation mechanism to calm nerves.

Wang has been so consistently dismal, however, that it is impossible to ignore the truth. The Yankees need him to pitch like years past in order to make a run at the division title, AL pennant, or World Series Championship.

New York needs his ERA to mimic its stock exchange, rapidly declining in as short a time period as possible.

Perhaps “May’s showers” can help to cleanse Wang, washing away his failures and allowing him to start anew. Perhaps Eiland has a few more tricks up his sleeve to get the Taiwanese hurler back on track.

The Yankees better hope so, because their season ultimately depends on it.

Friday, April 17, 2009

WARNING: Joba to the Bullpen Uproar About to Begin

Cue the doomsday music, and prepare for a passionate backlash from the mainstream media and an increasingly pessimistic fan base.

Joba Chamberlain's first start at the new Yankee Stadium did not go anywhere near as positive as everyone in the organization had hoped.

Chamberlain's final line included just 4.2 innings pitched, 6 hits, 5 runs, and 5 walks.

It was an all-around dismal performance, and one that will certainly not quiet the debates of where his powerful arm truly belongs.

After a week of inconsistency and failure throughout the Yankee bullpen, anyone not named Brian Bruney or Mariano Rivera should begin to look over their shoulder.

Chamberlain's role may ultimately depend on how successful Phil Hughes' initial minor league outings are.

If Hughes is purely dominating to begin the AAA season, manager Joe Girardi will have a lot of decisions to make.

I tend to fall somewhere between the middle and top end of patience as far as Yankees supporters are concerned, but the rest of Yankees Universe may not be so kind.

Should the Yankees bullpen continue to fail through the end of April, New York could be left with a considerable hole to dig themselves out of.

Chamberlain will be the victim of simply having one bad start. Unfortunately for him, it only takes one bad start to stimulate panic around a team with such high expectations.

Try not to read tomorrow's newspapers, as they will only feed into the conscious or subconscious fears that you already possess.

Attempt to take a deep breath and tell yourself that everything is going to be OK...even if you don't believe it right now.

ESPN Strikes Gold: Yet ANOTHER 24-Karat Piece of Advertising Brilliance

ESPN has been making timeless commercials since before I can remember.

Virtually everything that they create becomes an instant classic, and the product of many water cooler discussions.

They have recently released an Albert Pujols ad that plays off of his nickname "The Machine."

Check it out, and enjoy a few laughs:

It takes on a Terminator or RoboCop theme in a way, and I'm sure that Arnold Schwarzenegger is very proud.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Yankee Stadium Premiere Becomes a Nightmare: Bullpen Duo Self-Destructs

Yankee Stadium's long-awaited debut was supposed to be filled with action, drama, and awe.

Thanks to two members of the Yankees struggling bullpen, it quickly turned into a tear-jerker before ending with nothing but nervous laughter.

After Phil Coke escaped a daunting jam in the top of the sixth inning, it appeared that the new stadium may open with a bit of the magic displayed for 86 years across the street.

Once Jose Veras took the mound, however, the team’s hopes for a victory sank deeper than the Titanic.

It all started with a leadoff walk; the death sentence of so many games of the past.

Before fans were able to finish squirming in their couches, the Yankees already faced a rapidly escalating deficit.

Damaso Marte was supposed to stop the bleeding. He instead decided to perform an amputation without the use of a tourniquet; a medical mistake New York was never able to recover from.

By the time Marte had finally left the mound, the Yankees had flat-lined with no hope of revival.

The Cleveland Indians had enjoyed an in-game version of batting practice, and were now embarrassing New York by a score of 10-1.

The only true bright spot of a dreadful afternoon was the guile displayed by ace C.C. Sabathia.

Clearly left unarmed in terms of dominating stuff and pinpoint location, Sabathia battled for most of the game.

In a performance inspired by Andy Pettitte, he was able to limit the damage and maintain striking distance.

Sabathia threw 122 pitches in just his third start of a very young season, which may earn manager Joe Girardi many negative reviews in the mainstream media.

Regardless of that fact, it was encouraging to watch the Yankees ace pitch well enough to win without any true weapon to go to.

This is an invaluable talent that fellow starter Chien-Ming Wang has thus far been unable to master.

Thursday’s game will go a long way in reigniting the seemingly endless debate regarding Joba Chamberlain’s status.

Whispers and water cooler chatter have quickly developed into a haunting crescendo.

Chamberlain will now be viewed as the only hope for a besieged bullpen, and New York’s already limited patience will become nonexistent.

The pressure will continue to mount if Chamberlain is unable to perform at the highest of levels in his next start tomorrow.

The Yankees had finally begun to breathe a sigh of relief with the recent dominance of relief pitcher Brian Bruney. The team had seemingly found its eighth inning mainstay, ending concerns of an immediate bridge to Mariano Rivera.

The recent performances of the Yankees middle relief have created an entirely new list of worries, and represent issues that may not be solved quickly.

Though I suggest leaving the panic button inside of its protective casing, it is unlikely that many fans will be able to remain lucid amidst so much failure.

Who would have ever imagined that fans could begin wishing Kyle Farnsworth was still around?

Jeter, Cano, Rivera Lead Comeback: Why Jackie Robinson is Smiling in Heaven

April 15 represents a moment in American history that is equally as significant as any ingredient of the Civil Rights Movement.

On that special day in 1947, Jackie Robinson tore down the walls that once impeded his race’s inclusion into America’s Pastime.

Robinson proudly donned a Brooklyn Dodgers uniform, and jogged onto a baseball diamond with motives far stronger and more powerful than winning a pennant.

He forced America to watch as a black man proved that he was not only an equal to his white colleagues, but far superior in many ways.

Robinson’s No. 42 has become as much a symbol for civil rights and equally in the United States as the commanding images of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.

In his honor, Major League Baseball has permanently declared April 15 as “Jackie Robinson Day.”

Stadiums across the country quickly become a sea of No. 42s, filled with appreciation and gratitude for the tireless fight of one brave man.

One game played across the Major League landscape on Wednesday truly encompassed what “Jackie Robinson Day” is all about.

The game involved the New York Yankees, whose city was Robinson’s battlefield for 10 years.

There may not have been a steal of home like Robinson had effortlessly done so many times before, but he was certainly watching and smiling from where we all hope to end up one day.

The heroes of a prototypical Yankee comeback were the only three players who could possibly have been involved on this day. On April 15, it had to be Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, and Mariano Rivera.

First, it was Robinson Cano’s turn to make a contribution.

Immediately after Andy Pettitte surrendered two runs, Cano responded with a blast to center field which tied the game. As momentum began to slip away, he made sure that he created a strong impact.

Robinson Cano is not only a proud black baseball player. Cano’s father named his son after Jackie Robinson, never knowing he would help to follow in Jackie’s bottomless legacy.

It cannot simply be coincidental that a man named Robinson was thrust into the center of an April 15 victory.

Cano also plays Robinson’s position at second base; as if part of him has lived on through a dyslexic version of himself (Cano of course wears No. 24).

The game’s go-ahead run was driven in off the bat of Derek Jeter. The son of a black father, Jeter is very proud of his heritage.

Who better to represent Robinson’s legacy than someone with the class and dignity displayed by the Yankee captain?

Jeter’s hard hit single through the left side of the infield gave New York a 4-3 lead, and set the stage for the ideal ending to “Jackie Robinson Day.”

As if stolen from the final pages of an inspirational children’s book, Rivera approached the mound to secure the game’s final outs.

Rivera is the only player in Major League Baseball that did not require a custom-made Jackie Robinson commemorative jersey.

He has proudly worn No. 42 for his entire career, and remains the only current player still privileged to do so.

The game was over in just eight pitches, and Rivera closed the book on a perfect tribute to the game’s most courageous performer.

Somewhere in God’s vast kingdom, Robinson was on a pristine baseball diamond playing the game that he helped to build.

At some point during the game, he briefly stopped to smile and acknowledge the immeasurable respect and admiration the country will forever have for him.

He couldn’t stop for long.

After all, the pitcher hasn’t looked him back all day, and home plate is his if he wants it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Nady Likely Out for the Year: Elbow Surgery Cripples Yankees' Depth

Those who had hoped for Nick Swisher to become an everyday player have just gotten their wish.

Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of the Yankees current right fielder's entire season in pinstripes.

It appears that OF Xavier Nady has torn a ligament in his elbow, and will likely require season-ending Tommy John surgery.

Nothing is official as of yet, but there is no reason to believe that Nady could return from any extensive surgery before next season.

The news was first reported by Peter Abraham of the LoHud Yankees Blog, and comes as a shock to many fans from the Bronx.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi has now been robbed of one of his biggest assets, and will now find himself with a much shorter and less potent bench attack.

New York will be able to replace Nady's production on a daily basis with Swisher's presence, but will now encounter the same late-season and October issues of years past.

Without experienced and dangerous hitters on the Yankee bench, Girardi can no longer strike fear into the hearts of opposing managers at the end of games.

This will undoubtedly be a weakness that Brian Cashman will attempt to eliminate before the July 31 trading deadline.

Stay tuned for the official word from Nady's selected surgeon, but expect nothing less than a lost season for the Yankees Opening Day right fielder.

BronxNet TV Appearance

My segment begins at around 21-22 minutes into the Monday episode of OPEN.

The episode begins with an interview of a prospective Bronx city council representative, and then moves to sports.

Host Bobby C. first goes over the sports wrap-up, which leads into a 4 1/2 minute video shot from the new Yankee Stadium. It includes visuals of the new ammenities, as well as many interviews with Yankees stars.

I appear directly after the Yankees video package:

A.J. Burnett Nearly Stung by Rays: No-Hitter Quickly Becomes Nail Biter

There was a quiet intensity surrounding A.J. Burnett before taking the mound on Tuesday night, and it was clear that it could develop into a special evening.

No one truly anticipated just how special it almost became in Tampa Bay.

Burnett vowed that he would pitch deep into his second start in pinstripes, almost going as far as to guarantee a night’s rest for his exhausted teammates in the bullpen.

Not only did Burnett follow through on that guarantee, he came just nine outs away from giving virtually his entire team a night off.

Armed with a 93-95 MPH fastball and knee-buckling curveball, Burnett added impeccable control in order to manipulate a potent Tampa Bay Rays lineup.

As innings quickly disappeared into the rearview mirror, a bright white zero remained on the scoreboard in the Rays’ hits column.

Burnett collected strikeout after strikeout with seemingly effortless velocity, and brought a mental approach to the mound which rivaled that of a perfectionist.

At one point during the game, Burnett was seen scolding himself for bouncing a curveball on a full count. He went as far as to call himself “stupid” for not relying on his two-seam fastball in that situation.

Aside from his electrifying stuff, Burnett brought an even more important asset to the starting rotation. It has not been witnessed in the Bronx since Roger Clemens left town with his tail between his legs.

Earlier in the game, Yankees OF Nick Swisher was buzzed up around his chin by a lively Matt Garza fastball.

As if Swisher’s subsequent home run was not enough payback, Burnett offered the same intimidating treatment to Rays superstar Evan Longoria.

The ability to fearlessly stand up for your teammates is a quality in a pitcher that earns immeasurable respect throughout the clubhouse.

Burnett carried a no-hit bid into the seventh inning, with the Yankees poised for a simplistic victory in a game exhibiting a playoff atmosphere.

After three consecutive singles by Rays hitters to begin the inning, however, Burnett was left wondering if he had lost the game along with his no-hitter.

This often happens to pitchers who lose no-hitters late in ball games.

Burnett was in an unbreakable rhythm throughout his performance, and exerted a confidence and conviction most athletes refer to as “the zone.”

Once a pitcher is shocked back to reality after allowing his first hit, he is forced to try to regain the focus he had just seconds earlier.

Burnett was now forced into the stretch for only the second time in the game, which helps to breed a pitcher’s sudden discomforts.

With runners on first and third and no outs, Burnett was given an early Christmas present by Pat Burrell.

Burrell was given a green light on a 3-0 fastball, and hit a lazy fly ball to right field. Though the out lead to the game’s tying run, it helped to calm Burnett’s nerves.

Five outs later, Burnett had finished off a masterful eight-inning pitching performance.

The Yankee offense resurrected itself in the latter innings, ensuring that a win could not escape Burnett for a second time.

The game ended in a 7-2 Yankees victory, and improved Burnett’s early season record to 2-0.

Though the final score looks convincing and uneventful, countless viewers began popping blood pressure medication at around 9:30 PM EST.

The Yankees have improved to .500 in the standings, and are right where they had hoped to be. They are staring eye-to-eye with Tampa Bay, and looking down at the Red Sox below them.

Surprisingly, the Yankees still lie in third place in the league’s toughest division behind the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles.

April baseball…you have to love it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

In Case You Missed It: Nick Swisher Toes the Mound

For anyone who has not seen Nick Swisher's debut on the mound for the Yankees, I have the video evidence for you.

This is the actual YES Network footage with clear play-by-play and analysis from Michael Kay, David Cone, and John Flaherty:

Not bad for a pitching novice, though I am much more pleased that he came away unharmed than at his pitching stats in the box score.

Yankees vs. Rays: Game 8

The Yankees lineup will again be twisted and altered in attempts to find what works.

According to reports from WFAN radio, Hideki Matsui and Cody Ransom have been removed from today's game in favor of Ramiro Pena and Jose Molina.

The moves allow manager Joe Girardi to rest the team's most severe stragglers on offense, while also improving overall team defense.

Molina is one of the premier defensive catchers in all of baseball, and Pena is already viewed as the top defensive infielder in the Yankees organization (including the 25-man Major League roster).

Jorge Posada will DH in place of Matsui, and will help to provide some extra 'pop' to a fizzling attack.

A.J. Burnett hopes to carry the momentum of a promising debut into Tropicana Field against a balanced and potent Tampa Bay Rays lineup.

The expected Yankees attack is as follows:

1. Gardner CF
2. Jeter SS
3. Teixeira 1B
4. Swisher LF
5. Posada DH
6. Cano 2B
7. Nady RF
8. Pena 3B
9. Molina C

Mark Teixeira's return to first base should help to energize the team as well, as it must have felt vulernable without both of their all-world sluggers in the lineup.

Teixeira will be welcomed back with open arms tonight, and Alex Rodriguez is hopefully just 3-4 weeks away from game shape.

The Nick Swisher Chronicles: When A First Baseman is Your Best Reliever

The Yankees struggled through one of the worst beatdowns in recent memory at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday night.

Starting pitcher Chien-Ming Wang looked as discombobulated and frustrated as a frequent viewer of ABC's hit show Lost.

The disaster hit an apex when first baseman Nick Swisher toed the mound at Tropicana Field.

In an inning that became both surprising and disconcerting, Swisher performed admirably.

The pitching novice did not allow any runs to score, meanwhile his teammates paid to perform the craft were allowing 15.

Swisher even managed to strike out a hitter, and posted a strike-to-ball ratio identical to that of the team's starting pitcher.

After also launching his third home run of the early season, Swisher has proven to be a true 'jack of all trades.'

The Yankees have not seen a hitter with this much pitching talent since Babe Ruth was acquired from the hated Red Sox (note: soaked in sarcasm).

Perhaps Swisher can replace the struggling Phil Coke in the Yankees bullpen, ensuring that two dependable lefties remain at Joe Girardi's disposal.

Imagine all of the possibilities during Interleague games played in National League stadiums. Swisher could pitch and bat about lengthening a lineup.

In all seriousness, the Yankees need to figure out what is wrong mechanically or structurally with Wang and others.

They need to make sure that an already overused bullpen can avoid exhaustion before flowers begin to sprout back in New York City.

All signs point to coincidental and common early season hiccups, but things better improve quickly before impatient whispers turn into roars.

After all, Swisher is likely to be unavailable out of the bullpen tonight.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Yankees Are 'High' on Coke: May Need a Trip to Rehab

Yankees relief pitcher Phil Coke was left pinching himself on Sunday night, hoping to awake from an early season nightmare.

After allowing three hits and two runs in just one-third of an inning pitched, Coke’s current ERA has ballooned to 13.50.

More importantly, his failures represented the Yankees first blown save of 2009.

One of the true “darlings” of the Yankee bullpen, Coke earned the respect and trust of manager Joe Girardi following a sterling 2008 rookie campaign.

In his first Major League season, he went 1-0 with a 0.61 ERA in 12 September appearances.

After throwing nearly 136 innings of minor league baseball as a starting pitcher, Coke was moved to the bullpen to attempt to stimulate a late run at the AL Wildcard.

Coke was nothing short of dominating, and consistently reached 94-96 MPH on the radar gun. The ability to throw all of his pitches for strikes simply elevated his worth.

While his control has remained strong in his sophomore season, his velocity has experienced a noticeable drop-off.

The Yankees originally told Coke to prepare to be a starting pitcher in 2009, potentially competing throughout spring training for the team’s fifth starter role.

Upon acquiring both C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett in free agency, the plans were quickly revised. Coke was now being thrust back into the Yankees late-inning bullpen mix.

Part of the problem lies in his offseason preparation.

This does not at all discount Coke’s work ethic or dedication to his craft, but instead highlights the limitations that his new role placed on his initial arm strength.

By entering the season as a reliever, Coke was unable to build up power and lasting stamina in his pitching shoulder.

In the minor leagues, he was consistently throwing six to seven innings per game. This allowed him to regularly approach 100 pitches.

Coke could then make a seamless transition into the Yankee bullpen, as his previously mentioned control allowed him to jog onto the mound throwing strikes.

Due to his increased and established arm strength from his innings as a starter, Coke could now let loose for an inning instead of conserving energy and velocity.

The same does not hold true in 2009, as Coke has been generally clocked between 88-92 MPH.

It is likely that Coke will gradually regain his velocity as time wears on, but there should be concerns in the season’s initial months.

Coke earned an important role in this year’s Yankee bullpen, but he may have to regain Girardi’s trust in order to find himself on the mound in a meaningful eighth inning again.

The Yankees have always been high on Coke.

I just hope that they do not suffer a painful relapse before he can figure out his problems.

Appearance on Local Bronx Television Program

I would like to extend a heartfelt thanks to Producer Melissa Johnson, host Bobby C., and the entire BronxNet/OPEN team.

They were gracious enough to have me be a part of their morning program in order to discuss the New York Yankees and Heartbeat of the Bronx.

It was an opportunity that was exciting and enjoyable, and something that I appreciate being a part of.

Bobby C. and I discussed the team's newly acquired talent, the opening of "The House that Steinbrenner Built," the reaction following C.C. Sabathia's slow start, and the background of my site's creation.

Having recently appeared with Pat Mauro on Sports Byline USA radio, I am happy to have experienced first hand how the media world operates.

I look forward to future opportunities to publicly discuss the Yankees and my blog, and would like to thank my readers for helping to get the word out about my work.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Catch You All Again on Monday

Hey Readers,

I hope you are planning to have an amazing holiday weekend over the next few days. Wanted to let you know that I will not be writing again until Monday afternoon.

Unfortunately, one of my very close friends has lost her father, and I will be traveling early tomorrow morning to attend the memorial services.

On a positive note, it is possible that I will be appearing on BronxNet TV on Monday to discuss Heartbeat of the Bronx with their host.

BronxNet is a local television network that stumbled upon my blog, and was very interested in having me come on to their program.

If i choose to accept the opportunity, I will let you all know how it went on Monday.

Take care, and try not to overdose on hard-boiled eggs.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Tino Martinez Reincarnate: Mark Teixeira Has Bright Future in Pinstripes

Mainstream media and Yankees dissenters have made much ado about nothing with regards to Mark Teixeira’s slow start in Baltimore.

Some question his ability to embrace the spotlight of New York City after he seemed to be shaken by a boisterous Orioles fan base.

Others worry that his idolization of Yankees immortal Don Mattingly will create unfair comparisons between the two players; ones he will not live up to.

Does this story sound at all familiar to fans in New York and across baseball?

It should cause fans to recall a story about a special season in 1996 involving this same Yankees franchise and their newly acquired first baseman.

During a heartbreaking loss at the hands of the Seattle Mariners in the league’s first ever ALDS, New York noticed a slick-fielding 1B in the opposing dugout.

The Yankees knew that Mattingly’s days in the Bronx were numbered, even after a heroic playoff performance.

How could they replace their captain and undeniable face of the franchise?

In December of 1995, the Yankees traded highly touted prospects Sterling Hitchcock and Russ Davis for Martinez, Jim Mecir, and quirky reliever Jeff Nelson.

Martinez experienced a wave of negative publicity in the midst of a horrendous start to the season. He was constantly compared to a Yankee hero, and the daily pressure was getting to him.

Through the first nine games of the 1996 season, Martinez was hitting .088 with 0 HR 0 RBI and a .118 slugging percentage.

We all know what happened next, as Martinez dove, scooped, and mashed his way into Yankees lore.

Perhaps his greatest moment in pinstripes occurred during the 1998 World Series. Martinez launched a grand slam into Yankee Stadium’s upper deck off Padres pitcher Mark Langston.

There can be many parallels constructed between the “rookie” seasons of Martinez and Teixeira in pinstripes.

Both were gold-glove caliber first basemen coming to New York at the age of 28. Each has an inescapable connection to legend Don Mattingly, who ultimately played their position.

Media personnel are scrambling to write stories about Teixeira’s 1-for-9 start, but he has a long way to go in order to amass Martinez’s 3-for-34 debut.

Teixeira and Martinez were also arriving after successful appearances in their first ever postseasons the year before.

Martinez posted 1 HR 5 RBI and a .360 OBP in 1995, while Teixeira had 7 hits 4 runs and a .550 OBP in his first series.

Teixeira is unquestionably the more highly skilled of the two players, but they posted similar statistics in the season prior to becoming a Yankee.

Martinez hit .293 with 31 HR and 111 RBI, and “Big Tex” produced .308 with 33 HR and 121 RBI.

While Teixeira has had a slightly disappointing start to his Yankee career, it is by no means time to compare him to chokers of the past.

He can handle the spotlight, and he will produce monster numbers by season’s end.

The absence of Alex Rodriguez may help to fuel the fire of his annually dreadful Aprils, but his bat will begin to smolder along with the “dog days of summer.”

Teixeira may be wearing No. 25, but do not confuse him with the 2007 version of Jason Giambi.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Derek Jeter’s Giant Heart: How He Helped a Young Boy Rise from the Ashes

On June 3, 2003, Derek Jeter was crowned the 11th captain of the Yankees long and illustrious history.

Long before the day that may rank at the top of his life’s proudest moments, Jeter was able to help lift a tiny Yankees fan back onto his feet.

Expecting to celebrate his 11th birthday on November 26, 1996, a young boy sprinted out of his elementary school’s doors.

The excitement of the day nearly overtook him as he looked around for his mother’s car, knowing he was mere minutes away from cake, candles, and a pile of toys.

The boy heard a familiar voice call out to him from a familiar car. Neither the voice nor the car, however, belonged to his mother.

A friend of the family explained that the boy needed to get into the car with them, and that there wasn’t time to stop at home.

The boy’s house was no further than the distance traveled during the home run trot of his hero Don Mattingly, and he knew something had crushed his birthday dreams.

The boy’s house and most of his Yankees treasures had been left in ashes after an aggressive electrical fire.

That boy was me.

Though flames were not exactly the perfect gift for the occasion, material possessions could be replaced. The important thing was that no one was injured, and even the family cat somehow survived with no more than a cough.

As with all fires, some things could never be replaced. Accompanying antiques and family pictures on that list were a bevy of Yankees collectibles which were accumulated over the years.

At the youthful age of 11, children do not fully understand the impact of life’s misfortunes. So long as everyone is ok, the next essential on the list involves a favorite card, game, poster, or autograph.

The New York Yankees had just won the first World Series of my lifetime, and nothing else in the world mattered.

The retirement of Mattingly after the 1995 season left me in search of a new active player to look up to.

As the starting shortstop of a little league team, it seemed only natural to be drawn to a baby-faced Yankee wearing No. 2.

After all, Jeter had just won the AL Rookie of the Year award. At just 22 years old, he was already fitting himself for the first of his four World Series rings.

Months before the fire, I bought a pack of 1996 Score baseball cards. Inside of its shiny wrapping was the most thrilling sight these eyes had seen in years.

Scattered amongst Heathcliff Slocumb, Geronimo Berroa, and Marty Cordova rested a mint condition Derek Jeter rookie card.

After jumping as if I was on a trampoline in the back yard, I settled my heartbeat and immediately placed it into a protective casing.

It meant so much to me that it was placed in a special box underneath my bed; a spot reserved for the true “untouchables.”

As a result, the newest priceless member of my collection was tucked safely out of harm’s way. The baseball gods would not allow the flames to destroy the next Yankee Messiah.

While sitting in a hotel room, my mind raced as we awaited relocation into a temporary rental house. A brilliant idea then struck my brain.

Why not send my prized rookie card directly to Jeter at Yankee Stadium?

If I could only acquire his autograph across the card’s facing, imagine how “totally rad” that would be! (The Ninja Turtles were still controlling my vocabulary at the time)

Weeks later, I sat down in front of a computer screen and began typing to my newest hero. I told the future captain my story, and confessed my desire to one day be as talented as he is.

I folded the letter in three sections like they had shown us in school, though it took me many tries to perfect the craft. The card was dropped into the envelope behind it, and its next destination was the back of a mail truck.

Each week seemed to last a year, and I wondered if Jeter had received my plea.

Then one day, I returned home from a long day at school to find a letter in the middle of my mattress. “It is postmarked from…YANKEE STADIUM!”

After entering into a horizontal dive onto my bed, I cautiously tore open the top of the envelope.

There might as well have been a 50-percent stake in Bill Gates’ estate inside, because its contents meant equally as much at the time.

The card had been returned with Jeter’s smooth signature written across his pinstriped jersey…just as I had always dreamed.

It no longer mattered that I was going to live in a foreign home for seven months. It no longer mattered that most of my toys were gone forever.

Jeter instead gave a young boy all the reason he needed in the world to smile. He gave a young boy a role model and a source of inspiration.

That same smile is just a recollection away.

The young boy still inside me will never forget how the Yankee captain lifted his spirits when he needed it most.

All it took was a pen and a stamp, but my outlook was forever changed.

Stadium Deconstruction: The Harsh Reality of the End of "The House that Ruth Built"

Even after the completion and opening of the new stadium across the street, "The House that Ruth Built" still stood in tact.

Though it represented every timeless memory of the Yankees' storied past, its insides looked nothing like we had all hoped to remember it.

The exterior walls appeared unaffected, and with a quick glance looked ready for more October baseball.

The harsh realities of the end of an era are floating to the surface day by day.

A few weeks ago, I brought an overhead image of the deteriorating Yankee infield.

Today, I unfortunately bring some of the first photos of the dismantling of our former baseball sanctuary.

They are truly difficult to look at, and still symbolize a truth I am not ready to face.

Much like a friend or family member that has passed on, you still feel as though it will always be there for you to see whenever you need it.

The new stadium is truly magnificent. I simply hope the electricity and atmosphere in the stands can live up to its legendary ancestor.
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