“It is our right seven months out of the year to sit on the couch with a bowl of pretzels and a frosty cold one and watch baseball…baseball is America’s game. It belongs to the people and the people is…us. So I say, let there be baseball. Let there be life.”
It’s your ace vs. their ace. It’s new life. It’s hope of a winning season. It’s the best day of the year:
In less than 24 hours, the Yankees will embark on their quest for World Series Number 28, opening their 2011 regular season at home against the Detroit Tigers. It will mark the first time the Yankees have started a season in their two year-old Stadium, being that in 2009 and ’10 they opened their season on the road.
In a rather strange coincidence, the Yankees ended their Spring Training in the Grapefruit League on Tuesday with a 2-1 win over their Opening Day opponents, the Tigers. Now that camp has broken and baseball is officially back, there are a few storylines to discuss.
First off, Jesus Montero. The Yankees opted to send him and Austin Romine to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and they gave the backup catcher job to Gustavo Molina, who has hit .122 for his career (23 games) with no homers, seven RBIs. It’s apparent he hasn’t had much experience at the Major League level.
If you ask me, the Yankees should have let Montero join the big club. They keep stressing how they want to mold him and shape him to be the catcher of the future – and that is perfectly fine. In the coming years he will be the everyday catcher.
As for the present time however, he had an opportunity to at least see some big league action and the Yanks threw it away. I’d like to see Montero go through his trial time now.
There’s no doubt he is going to take his lumps when he first gets called up, and I would have liked to see it happen now – at the beginning of the season when there’s at least some room for error – rather than the end of the season when everyone needs to be producing.
What the Yankees should have done, in my opinion, is allow Montero to backup Russell Martin until Francisco Cervelli’s foot injury heals. When Cervelli gets healthy, they could have optioned Montero back to the minors – either way the Yankees win in that scenario.
If Montero struggles at the big league level, they send him down and he will know what to expect when he comes back up; he will be a little more mature. If he starts tearing the cover off the ball at the big league level, well…that’s self-explanatory.
One way or another, Montero could contribute this year. He is someone to keep in the back of your mind.
Another storyline is Derek Jeter. As it’s been documented, the Captain is 74 hits away from 3,000 for his illustrious career.
Undoubtedly he will reach the milestone this year and when he does, he will become the first Yankee to accomplish the feat. He will also be only the fourth shortstop to ever do it (Honus Wagner, Robin Yount, and Cal Ripken, Jr.).
Jeter has said that he will “enjoy the ride to 3,000.” And when the ride ends and he reaches destination 3,000, it will unquestionably be a wonderful moment for the Captain and the Yankee team.
The pitching is another storyline that is always examined throughout each season, and this year will be no different. The Yankees’ starting rotation has rightfully been nicknamed “CC and the Question Marks.”
Looking at it objectively, it’s a fitting name. CC Sabathia has already proven he is a front-line starter, a horse, and a Cy Young caliber pitcher. He has been in the Cy Young discussion both years he has been in pinstripes and captured the ALCS MVP in 2009.
It’s safe to say right now Sabathia has nothing to prove.
The other four guys, on the other hand, have a lot to prove. A.J. Burnett, who according to the beat writers is battling a cold, goes without saying. Everyone pretty much understands that in order for the Yankees to be successful, their number two man needs to turn things around and put up a big season.
Last year Burnett averaged over five earned runs a game and was 10-15. He needs to change that.
Phil Hughes may have recorded 18 wins last year, but he averaged over four earned runs per game. He lost two important games during last year’s ALCS, including the series-ending loss to the Texas Rangers.
Hughes flew under the radar for the most part because of his 18 wins. But what most fans don’t understand is that the Yankee offense gave him a good amount of run support; he won some games in which the Yankees scored a lot of runs.
This spring Hughes had a 4.09 ERA and gave up 10 runs on 24 hits in 22 innings. If this is what we are to expect of him from the number three spot in the rotation, he will need the run support he had last year.
Ivan Nova won the fourth spot in the starting rotation with a good spring (2-0, 1.80 ERA in 20 innings pitched, four walks, nine strikeouts). Last year he was 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA and seemed to struggle when it came to the fifth inning.
It will be interesting to see how he holds up playing a full season.
Lastly there’s Freddy Garcia, who won the fifth spot in the rotation over Bartolo Colon. Garcia was the favorite to take the number five starter job because he was 12-6 last season for the Chicago White Sox and Colon had not pitched in an MLB game since 2009.
Garcia was 1-1 with a 4.91 ERA this spring – and yes, he too has a lot to prove.
Mark Prior did not make the team coming out Spring Training, much to my surprise. He had such a wonderful spring: 8 2/3 innings pitched, a 1.04 ERA, three runs (only one was earned), five walks, and 12 Ks.
Prior will go through extended Spring Training and has said he hopes to help the Yankees this year; he is still striving to make the big team and wants to contribute.
Honestly, I am disappointed in the Yankees. Prior is interchangeable; he can be a long reliever or a middle reliever. With Pedro Feliciano on the disabled list, it opened up a spot in the bullpen. What did the Yankees do?
Well, they gave it to Luis Ayala, which doesn’t look like a bad right out of the gate. Ayala pitched to a 0.79 ERA this spring, tossed 11 1/3 innings, and gave up just one earned run on nine hits. He walked no one and fanned nine.
Bear in mind though, Ayala was pitching mostly to minor leaguers late in spring games. If he scuffles against the major leaguers in the regular season games, I say dump him and bring up Prior.
On the offensive side of things, Alex Rodriguez had a monster spring. He averaged .388 and hit six homers in 18 games. He knocked in 15 runs and registered 44 total bases. He drew five walks and only struck out seven times.
There has been a lot of speculation that Rodriguez could be a potential MVP candidate. I think he has to get his feet wet and get going, but if this spring was any indication, A-Rod will have a spectacular year.
With all these storylines, new ones will emerge as the season rolls on. And so it begins.
Tomorrow afternoon at 1:05 (weather permitting) the Yankees and Tigers will square off on baseball’s Opening Day. Sabathia and Justin Verlander will start what will be a long, 162-game journey.
Ready or not, here we go. Let there be baseball. Let there be life.
Today the Yankees beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-2 in Tampa, leaving only three more Grapefruit League games left on the schedule before they start playing for real on Thursday. The highlight of the afternoon was a towering, two-run homer off the bat of Alex Rodriguez that flew over the batter’s eye in centerfield, his sixth round-tripper of the spring.
A few decisions and moves were made recently, most notably the trade of Sergio Mitre, the signing of Kevin Millwood, and the naming of the fourth and fifth starting pitchers.
Yesterday Mitre was dealt to the Milwaukee Brewers for outfielder Chris Dickerson. In this afternoon’s win over the Bucs, Dickerson made his Yankee debut and put on quite a hitting show. The 28 year-old pounded out three hits (including a double) in three at-bats while knocking in a run.
Unfortunately Dickerson was forced to leave the game with an apparent hamstring injury after notching his third hit. As of this point, the Yankee medical staff can only diagnose his injury as “spasms and cramping.”
Tough luck for the kid to go down – especially following such an impressive debut. What’s more, it hurts the Yankees, being that Curtis Granderson is not yet confirmed to be playing on Opening Day in light of his oblique injury. Yesterday Granderson did some running and agility drills, as he hopes to avoid beginning the 2011 season on the disabled list.
Millwood, 36, was signed just yesterday. He owned the worst record in baseball last year, going 4-16 for the Baltimore Orioles with a 5.10 ERA. However, he has been a dominant pitcher in the past, leading the league with the lowest ERA in 2005 (2.86), making the All-Star team in 1999, and finishing third in the N.L. Cy Young voting in 1999 as a member of the Atlanta Braves.
Even though he has proven himself in the past, he hasn’t proven anything yet. He will probably have to go through extended Spring Training and wouldn’t make the team unless he flourishes, another pitcher struggles, or another pitcher gets hurt.
Along with the trade and the signing, it was announced that Ivan Nova will be the Yankees’ number four starter this year, and Freddy Garcia will pitch every fifth day. Bartolo Colon, who many people feel had a better spring than Garcia, will pitch out of the bullpen.
Garcia owned a 5.93 ERA in four spring outings, throwing 13 2/3 innings. Colon held down a 2.40 ERA in 15 innings, giving most people the impression Colon should have won the number five job.
Yankee Manager Joe Girardi maintained that Garcia, 35, was the favorite to win the spot because Colon, 37, hasn’t pitched in a Major League game since 2009. Girardi added that, for his standards, Garcia had a good spring.
Now that we are only six days away from Opening Day, here is how Girardi should build his roster. Only 25 players can be at Yankee Stadium on Thursday and these men (I feel) have earned the honor of making the trek from Tampa to the Bronx.
1) Derek Jeter – SS
2) Alex Rodriguez – 3B
3) Robinson Cano – 2B
4) Mark Teixeira – 1B
5) Jorge Posada – DH
6) Russell Martin – C
7) Brett Gardner – LF
8) Nick Swisher – RF
9) Curtis Granderson* -CF (*if he does not start the season on the DL)
10) Andruw Jones – Fourth Outfielder
11) Eric Chavez – Backup IF/Utility
12) Eduardo Nunez – Backup IF/Utility
13) Jesus Montero – Backup Catcher
14) CC Sabathia – No. 1 Starter
15) A.J. Burnett -No. 2 Starter
16) Phil Hughes – No. 3 Starter
17) Ivan Nova – No. 4 Starter
18) Freddy Garcia – No. 5 Starter
19) Bartolo Colon – Long Relief
20) Mark Prior – Middle/Long Relief (he is interchangeable; can be used for both)
21) Joba Chamberlain – Middle Relief
22) David Robertson – Middle Relief
23) Rafael Soriano – Setup Man
24) Boone Logan* (*Pedro Feliciano will most likely start the season on the DL) – Lefty specialist(s)
25) Mariano Rivera – Closer
Most of these players will be in the Bronx next week and all of them deserve to be. Girardi will probably make a few modifications to my Opening Day roster, but expect to see most of these names called during the pregame ceremony on Thursday.
Mark Prior deserves to be on the roster because of how well he pitched this spring (eight games, 7 2/3 innings pitched, three hits, three runs, one earned run, 1.17 ERA, 11 Ks, and five walks).
He earned the chance to prove himself and could provide the Yanks with some solid middle and/or long relief. I’m not sure if Girardi will send Prior to the Bronx, but if they don’t call him up, at least at some point in the season, they are making a mistake.
If Granderson does start the season on the DL, obviously a spot will be open and it’ll be a toss up. I would expect someone like Justin Maxwell (.206 in Spring Training, but he only had 34 at-bats, three RBIs, and four runs scored) or even Dickerson (if he is healthy, given his injury today) to backup Jones in centerfield. That spot would only be open until Granderson returns, anyway.
Another position in question is the backup catcher role. I feel it is time for Montero to at least gain some experience on the Major League level. Today it was reported that Gustavo Molina could back up Martin at catcher, until Francisco Cervelli returns from his foot injury.
If you ask me though, Montero needs a taste of the big leagues – even if he doesn’t spend the entire season in the show.
Whichever way it goes, in a matter of days, anticipate Girardi giving the official word on who is going to the Bronx and who will be heading to the minors.
“I’m more entranced than the average fan…I used to play, you see, and I know I still can.” – Robert DeNiro in The Fan (1996)
Although you wouldn’t know it here in New York, today is the first day of spring. The reason you wouldn’t know it: because it snowed this morning and it feels as though winter is giving us one last jolt of cold to remember it by.
I woke up this morning and the first thought that came to my mind was, “Wow. I cannot believe that less than 24 hours ago I was wearing shorts and playing baseball.”
It was hard to believe, even though it happened. Yesterday I went to the park with my friends and we played baseball. It was such a nice day that we couldn’t pass up the chance to play our favorite game.
As we were playing catch and batting the ball around, we found ourselves remembering all the times we played organized baseball for the towns we lived in. We recalled what jersey numbers we had, the games we excelled in, and what it was like to play baseball in a coordinated environment.
I figured I would share a little bit of my journey through baseball, and sports in general; the years I played, the triumphs I enjoyed, the tragedies I endured, and how to this day I still love to go outside when the spring comes and play baseball with my friends.
Before I even started my baseball career, I played soccer and basketball – two sports that in this day and I age I do not particularly care for. When I was young I played soccer in the Peewee League. I scored one goal the whole time I played – and it was in a scrimmage.
To this day I’m not sure why I picked up soccer at such a young age. I suppose I needed to run around and drain away some of my pent-up energy, but other than that, I can’t think of a reason why I played it.
When I stopped playing soccer I started CYO Basketball. I played for four years and was on different intramural teams each season. The first year I played I was forced to sit out; I was on the bench the entire season with a broken wrist. It was the worst feeling in the world. I broke my wrist on the same day of my first ever basketball practice.
Ironically enough, my broken wrist had nothing to do with basketball. I fell off a bed.
The second year I played, my team was very good. We won every single game with the exception of one, nearly going undefeated for the season. The problem was, it was intramural CYO – there was no playoff system or trophy presentation at the end of the year. My team was the best, yet we had no concrete evidence to show for it.
I can remember the final year I played basketball, though I’d like to forget it. From being on the best team I went to the absolute worst team. The squad I was on was ridiculous; I have no problem admitting that. We lost every single game we played because most of the kids on the team were ball-hogs and had no clue how to play basketball. I think my ears still hurt from the amount of times the refs blew their whistles calling fouls on my team.
Come to think of it, my team lost a game that season by a score of 69-16. That’s how bad it was.
After that beating, I knew it was time to give up basketball and concentrate on the best sport in the world: baseball. In February of 1998 I signed up to play Rookie Ball – the level right below Little League.
A few days later my family got a call saying I was too old for Rookie League. I was already 10 years old and by the time the season began I would be 11, meaning if I wanted to play, I had to play Little League. They put me on a team and believe it or not, my team was the Yankees. In the town of Beacon where I played, each team was given the name of a Major League Team.
There were the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Giants, the Indians, the Dodgers…you get the idea. It was pretty cool. The uniforms were also great: we were given jerseys that boasted the logos of each team you were on. I was on the Yankees, and my uniform looked like this…
I was given number 19 to wear, which at the time was being worn by Luis Sojo. But looking back, some of the best Yankees have worn number 19. Dave Righetti, Robin Ventura, Al Leiter, and Aaron Boone (among others) have worn it; 19 is a pretty solid number in Yankee lore.
My team was coming off a strong season; in fact, the year before they had won the town’s Little League Championship. It was an incredible feeling walking in the Opening Day Parade with them and being introduced as a defending champion – although I did realize I had nothing to do with winning the championship and I was new.
Thankfully my teammates weren’t mean to me and didn’t try to make me feel as if I didn’t belong there. They welcomed me to the team with open arms, although I think they knew in their minds I wasn’t going to be very good, considering it was my first year playing.
Those thoughts were well-founded. I wasn’t good at the beginning.
In my first year, I drew a few walks here and there, but I couldn’t buy a hit. I played left field and didn’t see a lot of game action. Despite taking my first year bumps, we kept winning. My Yankee team was undefeated for quite some time, before the Orioles finally stopped our winning streak halfway through the year.
On one of the last days of the season I finally got my moment to shine. I stood in the batter’s box, saw the pitch coming, and swung the bat, cracking a line drive base hit to centerfield. My hit drove in a run for my first career RBI and we went on to beat the Indians that day. I stood on first base and looked over to the dugout. I smiled, looking at my whole team standing up and clapping for me.
After each game, the coach on the winning team awarded the game ball to the standout player on the team. It was almost like winning the “Chevy Player of the Game” award, if you will.
My coach tossed me the game ball and said, “Congratulations on your first hit and your first RBI.”
I was speechless. All season long I had watched the other players on my team receive the game ball and the honor went to me. It was an unbelievable feeling and one I’ll always remember.
The second year I played Little League I was a lot more comfortable. I knew what to expect and I had more than one hit all year. The first game of the season, we played the Mets. I struck out in my first at-bat and my coach had asked me if I was comfortable bunting before I stepped up to the plate. I told him I wanted to swing away, and he obliged.
My next at-bat however, he didn’t ask me if I wanted to bunt. He told me I had to.
I laid down a beauty and reached safely to drive in a run. That bunt almost set the pace for the rest of the season, and I went on to have a pretty good year. I remember laying down a lot more bunts after that game and my coach once called me “the best bunter on the team.”
That was evidenced when we played the Dodgers, and I once again laid down a perfect bunt. Pitching was a young man named Steve, who was in my class. During the day he and I talked a lot of smack about who was going to win, especially since he was pitching.
My bunt drove in a run and I reached second on an error. We won the game and for the second time I was awarded the game ball. Again, it was a great feeling to receive the honor and afterward there were no hard feelings between me and Steve. I think he actually congratulated me the next day.
Little League was quite an experience and I will not forget it. But it was just the beginning of my journey through baseball and the game afforded me even better memories as I continued to play at the next level.
I was in eighth grade when I started to play in the Babe Ruth League. The first day of practice was unreal. The field was so much bigger than the Little League field, most noticeably the outfield dimensions. Right and left field were 285 feet while dead-center was 315 feet – a foot longer than right field at Yankee Stadium.
Another change was the team names. No more MLB team names, but instead our teams were sponsored by the local clubs and organizations. My team was sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and our team name was K of C.
I was only in eighth grade but played against high school kids. I knew that I was going to have to start from scratch again and I probably wasn’t going to be very good, much like how I was in my first year of Little League. However, the town put all us Babe Ruth rookies on a travel team as well our regular teams, just so we could get some more at-bats and fine-tune our fielding.
Suffice it to say, I had a better first year playing on the travel team than I did on K of C, the Babe Ruth team. On my travel team, I had a few key hits and played against another friend from school. Once again my team won that game, 7-6. I even had a hit that went right over my friend’s head; a bloop single that landed in between the right fielder and my friend who was manning second base.
The biggest change going from Little League to Babe Ruth was my position. The whole time I spent in Little League, I was an outfielder. I played mostly left field, but was tossed around quite a bit and saw time in right field and center field.
The first game I played at the Babe Ruth level, my coach announced my name and told me I was starting at second base. I had never been more confused – and scared – in my life. I had never played the infield before, and I was worried I was going to make a million mistakes.
I surprised myself by not performing poorly. I made a few defensive stops and before long I became comfortable at second, although I did see a lot of time in right field throughout the rest of the season. My travel team ended the year with a good record, but my K of C team had a rough year. We finished the season in fifth place out of sixth.
The second year I played was a different story.
I knew from the first day of practice that there was something different about our team. We went into these practices and performed as if we were playing in actual games. We were steadier, a little bit younger because we had some Little Leaguers coming in, and we wanted to erase finishing fifth the year before.
All in all, we were hungry.
There were so many defining moments that stand out to me in that season, but two come to mind. The first was painful, at least for me. We were playing the Lions, a team sponsored by (you guessed it) the local Lions Club. They had a very powerful left-handed hitter, who just so happened to also pitch and was one of the hardest throwing hurlers in the league that season.
He came up to bat with two outs in the fifth inning and we only held a small, 3-2 lead.
In right field, my coach told me to shade over toward the foul line. I knew that as a lefty, if he had gotten around on a pitch, it was coming to me. He had taken the first two pitches for balls one and two, but on the third pitch he saw, he swung and delivered a high fly ball…that was going over my head.
I turned around and immediately started to run. Frantically, I raced toward the right field wall as my hat flew off my head. I stuck out my glove and by some act of God, the ball landed in its webbing. Three outs with the lead intact. The parents and supporters of my team went nuts from the bleachers after I made the catch.
It was almost reminiscent of Willie Mays in the 1954 World Series. It was beautiful.
As fate would have it, after my web gem, I was due up first in the next half-inning. Facing the guy whom I had just robbed of an extra base hit, I walked up to the plate. He threw a fastball that came in so fast, I didn’t have a fraction of a second to react – and the ball plastered me, right on the outside of my left thigh.
I fell to the ground in such pain that, for a moment, I didn’t know where I was.
The coaches ran out and helped me get to my feet. I walked around behind home plate for a couple of minutes before my coach asked me if I wanted to stay in the game. Even though my leg was aching in excruciating pain, I refused to let him beat me. I made up my mind that I wasn’t leaving the game and I chose to stay in, bad wheel and all.
We wound up winning the game 3-2 and it was one of the better games I remember playing, just because of my attitude. Not the fact that I got hit or the fact that I made an outstanding defensive play, but for the fact that I stayed in the game and didn’t allow myself to be bullied.
To this day, I am convinced he beaned me on purpose. He may have won that little battle, but I feel I won the war. Not only did my team win, but I stayed in the game.
The second moment that stood out came later in the season. We were playing BPBA (Beacon Police Benevolent Association) and at that point we were scuffling a bit. We were down early in the game and for some reason that day, my coach decided to plug me into the number three hole in the lineup. In the fourth hole we had a tall, powerful right-handed hitter named Brian; a kid capable of hitting the ball out of the cavernous ballpark.
In the fourth inning I led off with a single. I remember checking the defense and every single outfielder backed up – they knew what kind of power he possessed.
Brian swung and hammered the ball to the deepest part of the park: centerfield. I came off first base a little bit, took a few steps back in case the ball was going to be caught, and then checked the center fielder. He looked up and watched the ball sail out of the park for a two-run home run, right over the 315′ sign.
I rounded the bases with a smile on my face; with joy in my heart. I knew that I was never going to hit a home run at this field, and this was the next best thing: being on base when my teammate hit one. The whole team waited for us at home plate and high-fived us after we crossed the plate.
Brian whacked the top of my helmet as we walked back to the dugout.
“Good job kid,” he said to me. “Thanks for that single. Because of that it was a two-run homer!”
I looked up at him, smiled, and simply replied, “No problem.”
We went on to win that game big, 14-3. From there we got hot and went on a winning streak. We finished the season with a record of 12-6 and were headed to the playoffs. No champagne celebration for us, but we were very happy and satisfied with getting there. We also knew that as well as we had played during the season, it meant nothing if we didn’t win the championship.
The playoffs were a four-team tournament: single elimination in the first round, and best two out of three in the championship series. We had a huge challenge in front of us, playing the Lions in the first round. We had faced them four times during the regular season and split the series, 2-2. This was the rubber game; the chance to show once and for all which team was better.
Not to mention the winner had a one-way ticket the championship series.
My team was not fazed by pressure. We obviously didn’t feel it because we pounded out 16 hits and went on to win the game 10-0. We were going to the championship series and for the first time in my baseball career, I would know what it felt like to play in a series for all the marbles.
I couldn’t help but think of my Little League days when we won the first round game. I remembered how I was recognized as a champion, even though I hadn’t earned it. This was my chance to earn it.
Unfortunately for K of C, the magic vanished.
We played a team named Palisi in the finals, a squad named after one of the local auto body shops. They were the only team that we lost a series to during the regular season, as they edged us, three games to one.
In Game One, they pounded every mistake we made. They went up 6-0 in the first inning and never looked back. They let us know that, in no uncertain terms, they were not going to lay down for us. After the game we obviously felt discouraged but knew we needed to win the next game in order to stay alive and push the series to a deciding Game Three.
We lost Game Two. But it wasn’t nearly as lopsided as Game One, as we were only beaten by a score of 6-2. We faced another power pitcher; a flame-throwing righty named Mark who was tall and built like Phil Hughes. In my only at-bat in Game Two, I drew a walk to lead off the fifth inning. Mark struck out the next three batters and the score remained 6-1.
In the sixth inning Brian came up and led off with a solo home run to bring it within four, 6-2. We all went out to greet him as he came to the plate, but our spirits just weren’t there; our enthusiasm had worn off. We tried to stay as positive as we could, but there was nothing that could be done. We lost.
After it was over, I watched from the dugout as Palisi celebrated. Crushed, I saw them get their picture taken for the local newspapers. My coach sat us down on the bench and told us not to feel bad about anything; he told us that from day one he loved coaching us and that we made a huge stride, coming from a fifth place finish to a second place finish.
I felt a little better when I found out that, despite our loss, we were getting rewarded for finishing second. We were going to receive the runner-up trophy and we were going to be a part of the trophy presentation ceremony.
“Ladies and gentlemen, your 2001 runner-up, K of C!”
Standing at the edge of the dugout, my name was announced first.
I jogged out to the area behind home plate and I was given my trophy. I shook my coach’s hand as he looked at me. With a reluctant smile he said, “Hell of a season, pal.”
The trophy presentation made me feel a lot better. It’s almost as if I forgot we had lost. It didn’t feel like a loss when I left the ballpark that day. I felt as though I had been a part of something special and I was honored to play with such a dedicated and hard-working group of players.
To this day I look back on that season and wish I could live through it again.
The final year I played organized baseball was bittersweet. I saw a good amount of game action, especially at second base, being that it was my final year and I was a team veteran. We had a decent year and again we made the playoffs.
But it was BPBA’s turn to feel what we felt; their opportunity to play in the championship series. They beat us in the single elimination first round game and I watched them celebrate as my Babe Ruth career came to a close.
But it wasn’t exactly over just yet.
After that loss I had one more game: an end-of-the-year battle between the departing veterans and the coaches. The league designed this so that all the players who were leaving could have one last game and go out in a good way.
Against the coaches I had a single, a walk, a stolen base, and two runs scored. We wound up losing count of the score, because we were beating them by such a wide margin. All in all, it was a fun night but I also understood that I would be closing a chapter in my life.
While I was playing in the Babe Ruth League, I wanted to try out for my high school team. In my first year in high school, I wanted to make the freshman baseball team and eventually work my way up to the junior varsity team, and if I was lucky, make the varsity team in the ensuing years as an upperclassman.
I attended a few open gyms during the off-season and got to know a lot of the players. The open gyms were intense; a lot of running, suicides, long toss, and fast-pitch batting practice. But I knew that, if nothing else, the workouts would prepare me for the Babe Ruth season.
Lady Luck was not on my side as a high school freshman, though. I struggled both academically and personally throughout the year and as a result I was placed on academic probation, prohibiting me from trying out for the freshman baseball team. I knew that if I couldn’t play in my freshman year, I probably wouldn’t be able to play at all for my high school, at least not without enormous competition for a roster spot.
So in a nutshell, although I played in the Babe Ruth League for two years while I was in high school, I never did get to play for my high school’s team.
And yes, I regret it. Had I had an easier time in my freshman year, and maybe pushed myself a little harder academically, I have no doubt in my mind I could have played for my high school and kept my baseball career alive.
I am not saying I would have continued to play in college, but it could have happened for me. I would have loved to go through the experience of facing other schools and possibly winning a few more trophies.
These days it’s nice to just go to the park on a spring day and put on my baseball glove. And when I do, I think about that base hit on the Beacon Little League Field that drove in a run for my first RBI.
I think about all those bunts I laid down in my second year of Little League.
I think about how special I felt when I was awarded the game ball.
I think about how I felt looking at the Babe Ruth Field for the first time.
I think about that Willie Mays-like catch I made to rob the best player in the league of extra bases – and how he exacted his revenge on me, and how I refused to leave the game when I was hurt.
I think about that home run Brian hit, and how awesome it felt to round the bases with him.
I think about the championship series, and how good I felt, even though we lost.
I think about the trophy presentation and how it felt to have my name called.
I think about how fun the game against the coaches was.
I think about how I wish I had played for my high school, and even though I didn’t, how fun the open gyms were.
I think about all these things…and wish I can have them back.
The loneliest spot in the world is the pitcher’s mound at Yankee Stadium.
And right now it’s no secret that the biggest question mark for the Yankees coming into Spring Training (and the regular season, for that matter) was (and is) the starting pitching. The starters began the spring hot, but have had their ups and downs lately.
On Wednesday March 16, Ivan Nova stunned the Baltimore Orioles en route to a 10-0 Yankee win. The 24 year-old was perfect through six innings, pitching to some of the regular Oriole players including Vladimir Guerrero, Matt Wieters, and Nick Markakis. Nova appeared to be using a slider, which was working effectively. He struck out four batters and induced 11 ground ball outs.
It was his best start of the spring and his numbers right now are spectacular: 14 innings pitched, eight hits allowed, two runs allowed (both earned), two walks, seven strikeouts, and he is 1-0 with an ERA of 1.29.
It’s safe to say Nova would have to have a total meltdown in order to not make the rotation.
Yesterday A.J. Burnett was roughed up by his former team, and more specifically his former personal catcher. Burnett surrendered a home run to his old friend Jose Molina, on the way to a 6-5 Yankee loss to the Blue Jays. He threw two wild pitches, hit a batter, and was struck in the rear end by a comebacker.
It was his messiest start this spring and heading into that game he had not had a subpar start; he was consistent up until then.
Burnett’s numbers this spring are still acceptable: 2.77 ERA, 13 innings pitched, no walks, and 10 Ks. He has to find a way to translate what he has done this spring to the regular season, which starts in 12 days. It was announced by Yankee skipper Joe Girardi that Burnett will be the number two starter this year, which was expected.
On Thursday March 17 Phil Hughes started against the Tampa Bay Rays. His line wasn’t indicative of a bad outing: six innings pitched, two earned runs on four hits, one walk, and three strikeouts. According to the beat writers, “Hughes looked good on paper – but got hit hard.”
I am worried about Hughes. He was the number four starter last year and his arm was noticeably tired toward the end of last season. It was announced today that he will be the number three starter this year, meaning his role will be more important and he will be pitching a day earlier. Hughes needs to respond well if he wants to succeed. His ERA this spring is 4.70 – and bear in mind his ERA for last year was 4.19.
Today Freddy Garcia had a rather strange start – that’s probably the best way to characterize it. The starting rotation candidate tossed six innings and gave up five earned runs on five hits. He walked no one, fanned six, and his spring ERA is now 5.73.
It has become evident that it is now a competition for the fifth spot among Garcia, Sergio Mitre, and Bartolo Colon. Nova, with what he has demonstrated this spring, has the number four spot. Garcia was coming off a rough start and I mentioned after that game that he is under the microscope.
He is, and I don’t think he helped his cause today. However Girardi said after his performance today that he has one more shot before a decision is made regarding the back end of the rotation.
Whoever the job goes to, I don’t feel the Yankees are going to have a very strong presence in the number five spot in the rotation. Each of these three candidates have a lot to prove and they haven’t been overwhelmingly strong given their history and their numbers this spring.
Going by what Garcia showed these past two outings, well…he isn’t impressing anyone. And he only has one more chance to show that he is capable of the fifth starter role. Mitre recently had a problem with his oblique muscle and has given up a hit in each of the eight innings he has pitched this spring.
Again, not very promising signs.
Colon, although 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA this spring, has not been a force in baseball since 2005. In ’05 Colon won the A.L. Cy Young Award, only to go 14-21 since then with an ERA of 5.18 – not to mention he is overweight.
They say pitching wins pennants. The Yankee starters have a lot to prove if they want the pennant. Right now, here is what we have:
1) CC Sabathia
2) A.J. Burnett
3) Phil Hughes
4) Probably Ivan Nova
5) No one that has proven anything yet
A tie in baseball? You know it. On Saturday afternoon the Yankees battled the Toronto Blue Jays at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa Bay to a 5-5 tie in ten innings.
With the Blue Jays leading 5-4 in the bottom of the sixth, Eduardo Nunez chopped a single up the middle to score Doug Bernier, tying the game at five. From there, neither team could scrape a run across the plate.
In the bottom of the fifth, the Yanks and Jays were tied at three until Jorge Posada lined a single to right field to plate Mark Teixeira, putting the Yanks ahead 4-3. Toronto answered with a two-run home run in the top of the sixth, a blast off the bat of David Cooper to give the Blue Jays a 5-4 lead.
It looked as though Cooper took a golf swing, and Yankees’ starter Freddy Garcia knew the ball was gone as soon as it was hit. Garcia pitched six innings and was charged with five earned runs on five hits. He did not walk a batter, and struck out six.
Robinson Cano took a big swing of his own in the bottom of the first, belting a two-run homer over the right-center field wall. His shot gave the Yanks a 3-0 lead, as Cano’s round-tripper followed an RBI double hit by Alex Rodriguez.
Leading 3-0 heading into the top of the fourth, the Jays tied it up. On a wild pitch by Garcia, Rajai Davis crossed the plate. After the wild pitch, Brett Lawrie singled to drive in Yunel Escobar. Later in the frame Cooper hit a sacrifice fly to drive in Eric Thames, knotting the game at three.
Brett Cecil started for Toronto. He pitched 4 1/3 innings and gave up four earned runs on seven hits. He walked three batters and fanned one.
This has been an unbelievable spring for Mark Teixeira. The slugging first baseman is batting .353 and added a double and a run scored today, going 1-for-4 at the plate. As previously documented, Teixeira is a slow-starter. At the beginning of each year, it seems he presses and scuffles along before getting into a groove.
This year could be a different story.
Teixeira hasn’t had a spring like this since becoming a Yankee. I can recall him swinging a hot bat, but nothing like this, at least in terms of his batting average. He has been getting on base, despite not hitting any home runs this spring. His philosophy is “home runs come in bunches” and he has hit over 30 both years in pinstripes, leaving us not to worry about his power numbers.
Speaking of Mark…
Mark Prior once again proved his worth today, tossing a scoreless eighth inning. He worked around a double by Adam Loewen and recorded two strikeouts, lowering his spring ERA to 1.53.
Right now he deserves a spot on the roster. Prior has been one of the Yanks’ most consistent pitchers this spring and can be a valuable asset to the already-strengthened bullpen.
If he doesn’t make the team, it will be a travesty.
Notes & Things to Look Out For
· Alex Rodriguez was 1-for-2 today with two walks, an RBI, and a run scored. He is hitting a mind-boggling .412 this spring. If he continues this throughout the regular season, he will have one amazing 2011 season. He has the ability to put the team on his back and carry them. Hopefully it won’t come to that, because the team does much better when everyone is contributing. However, A-Rod looks as though he will dominate headlines this year.
· Robinson Cano clubbed his first home run of the spring, a bomb to deep right-center field. The ball flew right over an insurance sales sign – which is next to the Hooters sign at Steinbrenner Field. I have never been to Hooters, but I want to go. (You now know something about me).
· Designated hitter Jorge Posada was 2-for-3 with an RBI today, and he raised his spring batting average to .243. He has been streaky this spring, but I expect him to become a little more consistent at the plate during the regular season.
· The Great Mariano Rivera once again showed dominance in a spring outing today. Rivera, sporting the hiked-up socks, tossed a perfect inning and recorded two strikeouts. His spring ERA is, no surprise, 0.00. Typical Mo.
· Derek Jeter had three hits today, going 3-for-4 with a run scored. After the game he spoke about his stride, and how it isn’t a big deal. He also mentioned that he doesn’t care where he hits in the lineup. He was recently plugged into the number two hole in the lineup, as Girardi allowed Brett Gardner to lead off. I don’t think it matters where Jeter hits. He has hit in the two hole a lot in the past as well as the leadoff spot – and he has flourished in both roles. The Captain was wearing a Michigan shirt during his postgame interview. He wants them to beat Duke tomorrow. March Madness even reaches baseball, I suppose.
· Speaking of Gardner, he has a bruised right shin and sat out today. He was injured on Thursday when he fouled a ball off his the bottom of his leg. Foul balls off body parts (I guess I could say) are becoming a real problem in baseball. When you think about it, you are only redirecting the ball when you foul it; it isn’t slowing down an awful lot, and it is still traveling at a high speed. Many players, notably Francisco Cervelli this spring, have been hurt because of foul balls off the feet/ankles.
· Eduardo Nunez played left field today. An infielder by trade, he made a stellar over-the-shoulder catch to end the fifth inning. He did drop a catch later in the game, but it’s no big deal; after all he is an infielder. Nunez’s offense has been unreal. He is hitting .317 for the spring and was 1-for-4 today with an RBI. In my mind, he will make the team. The Yanks would be crazy not to give him a ticket to New York.
· Joba Chamberlain, who like Mitre suffered a strained oblique, threw off a mound today and seemed alright, according to reports. He is expected to pitch in a game within the next few days.
· Pedro Feliciano (sore upper left arm) and Boone Logan (sore back) are expected to be ready for Opening Day. This so-called “revolutionary bullpen” needs to stay healthy.
· Rafael Soriano doesn’t want to face A.L. East opponents during Spring Training. He actually had his pitching schedule changed so he didn’t have to face the Orioles on Wednesday. I just have one question: is this guy for real?
· Tomorrow afternoon the Yankees will travel to Phillies camp. CC Sabathia will start against Joe Blanton. The Bombers will play the Rays at their camp on Monday night, followed by a game at Orioles camp on Tuesday afternoon – which is the next televised game on the YES Network.
· The Yankees’ spring record is now 8-12-3.
Spring Training is simply practice. It’s easy to talk about and it’s easy to sum it up – yes we are talking about practice. Of late, the Yankees have not been practicing very well, dropping their fifth straight Grapefruit League game today against a team they usually have no problem beating, the Minnesota Twins. The Bombers lost a squadoosh, 9-2.
The highlight of the afternoon was a solo home run hit by Alex Rodriguez in the bottom of the second inning. His homer tied the game at one and was his second of the spring.
The only other run the Yankees plated was a sacrifice fly in the eighth inning off the bat of Kevin Russo which knocked in Eric Chavez.
The Twins roughed up starter Freddy Garcia for four earned runs on six hits in 2 2/3 innings. Garcia walked two and struck out three, but was scuffling from the get-go. In the top of the first, Jeff Bailey singled to score Denard Span.
In the bottom of the third the Twins took the lead, scoring three runs. Luke Hughes doubled to drive in Bailey. He later came to the plate, as did Bailey, on a ground-rule double by Rene Rivera later in the frame, giving Minnesota a 4-1 edge.
The Twins widened their lead in the fourth, scoring four more runs. The highlight of the inning was a three-run blast off the bat of Brian Dinkelman. Earlier in the inning Hughes reached on an error by Derek Jeter, as the Yankee Captain dropped a popup in the infield.
Jeter’s error allowed Span to cross the plate. Leading 8-2 in the ninth, Chris Herrmann grounded into a force out, permitting Justin Huber to score and give the Twins nine runs for the game.
The Yankees, now 6-10-2 in Grapefruit League play, will visit the Red Sox tomorrow night.
Notes & Things to Look Out For
· It’s amazing how things unfold sometimes. Recently I have sung the praises of the starting pitching and as soon as I commend them, they begin to falter. Freddy Garcia had a rough day. 2 2/3 innings pitched, four earned runs, six hits, two walks, and three Ks. His ERA this spring is now 4.70 and he holds a 1-1 record. Is his bid for a spot in the rotation in jeopardy now? Probably not, but I think the Yankees are going to be watching him a little closer from now on.
· Although the Yankees haven’t been scoring a lot of runs, the regulars have been hitting the ball pretty hard. Alex Rodriguez went 2-for-3 with a solo home run today. He is batting .440 at press time and as documented, he is in great shape. I read a few days ago that he “feels like he is in 2007 form.” If you recall, A-Rod hit 54 homers that season with 156 RBIs and secured a .314 batting average. I would like to see that again.
· Mark Teixeira added another spring hit and was 1-for-3 today. He is hitting .360 to this point. Hopefully he will finally start hot instead of pressing at the beginning of the year. Either way, he is raking this spring.
· Mariano Rivera, wearing his socks high, struck out the side in the bottom of the sixth. It was his first spring outing and he looked dominant, to no one’s surprise. There really isn’t anything to say that hasn’t already been said about how Rivera continues to shut down virtually every hitter he faces. He is one of the natural wonders of the world, or at least a natural wonder of baseball. He yawned after he walked off the mound, as if to say, “No big deal.” Nine of the 12 pitches he tossed were strikes.
· Rafael Soriano gave up his first hit of the spring in the fifth inning of today’s game, but worked around it. He surrendered a single to Denard Span, but allowed no runs. No walks or strikeouts, but he is a powerful force – at least that’s what I sense out of him. I get the feeling he is going to be one heck of a setup man.
· This afternoon, Derek Jeter made a defensive blunder by Luis Castillo’ing that popup in the top of the fourth. (Yes, I turned Luis Castillo into a verb, meaning Jeter dropped the ball). At the plate Jeter was 1-for-3, snatching a single that would have played for a 1-3 putout, if pitcher Glen Perkins could have fielded the ball cleanly. The ball caromed off Perkins and Jeter reached. I’m not so worried about Jeter; you can’t be. He generally puts up the same types of numbers every year, and it is easy to know what to expect from him. But it is becoming evident to me that the Yankee Captain isn’t the same player he was 10 years ago.
· The Yanks made their first round of cuts this weekend. Adam Warren, D.J. Mitchell, Andy Sisco, Brian Anderson, Buddy Carlysle, and Hector Noesi have been reassigned to Minor League camp. More cuts will be coming soon I’m sure, what with Opening Day two weeks from this Thursday.
· In yesterday’s 6-5 exhibition loss to the Washington Nationals, A.J. Burnett gave up a two-run home run to Michael Morse, but recovered to retire the next nine batters he faced. He struck out the side in the first inning. It’s good to see him in this form; not getting rattled after giving up a long ball. Burnett is looking a lot better than he did last year around this time. Credit him with nine innings for the spring so far, and just two runs allowed.
· Among the Yankees making the trip to Boston camp in Fort Myers tomorrow: Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher, Jesus Montero, Dellin Betances, Manuel Banuelos, and Mark Prior. Regular starters Jeter, Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, and Jorge Posada will not be there. Sergio Mitre will make the start.
· The next televised game on YES is Wednesday night March 16 vs. the Baltimore Orioles.
On Tuesday the Yankees played the Atlanta Braves to a 5-4 win. Today the Braves gained a measure of redemption, beating the Yankees 6-2 in an exhibition at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Tied at two heading into the top of the seventh, Yankees’ reliever Steve Garrison imploded. The Braves scratched four runs across the plate to take lead and eventually the game. Brent Clevlen singled to score Diory Hernandez to give Atlanta a 3-2 edge. Matt Young followed with an RBI single which plated Brooks Conrad, giving the Braves a 4-2 lead.
Later in the frame Wilkins Castillo grounded out to short, allowing Clevlen to cross the plate. Ed Lucas topped out the huge inning with a single to score Young, giving the Braves six runs in the game.
The Braves scored their initial run in the top of the first on a single by Chipper Jones to score Martin Prado. Jordan Schafer clubbed a solo homer in the second to give the Braves their second run.
The Yankees scored their first run in the second inning on a long solo home run over the right field wall off the bat of Jorge Posada. In the bottom of the sixth, Alex Rodriguez grounded to third, which allowed Andruw Jones to score, tying the game at two.
Tommy Hanson made the start for Atlanta and turned in a good outing. He tossed four innings and gave up one earned run on five hits. He didn’t walk a batter and struck out two.
Phil Hughes started for New York. He pitched four innings, and gave up two earned runs on seven hits. He walked one batter and K’d two.
Notes & Things to Look Out For
· First off, thoughts and sympathy go out to all affected by the earthquake in Japan. An 8.9 on the Richter scale? – Now that is serious. Yankee pitcher Kei Igawa was permitted to leave the Minor League training facility in an attempt to contact his loved ones in Japan. Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Takashi Saito was also allowed to leave camp, concerned for his relatives back home. We as Americans are left praying and hoping everyone in the Far East will be OK. I can’t help but think of Hideki Matsui, too. I am praying for him and everyone else in Japan. May God be with all of them during this crisis.
· Phil Hughes has a 5.00 ERA this spring. Today he fell behind a few hitters and surrendered a home run, also allowing seven hits and nine total base runners. Was I impressed? Not really. Did he look sharp? Not really. Am I concerned? A little bit. A lot of people jump all over A.J. Burnett’s back for having a poor record and an inflated ERA last season – and rightfully so, Burnett had an off-year.
But what they don’t realize, or seem to remember, is that Hughes pitched to a 4.19 ERA last year (about one run lower than Burnett, who notched a 5.26 ERA) and lost the deciding game of the American League Championship Series. His record last season was 18-8, which is probably why everyone is quick to forgive him. I’m just worried Hughes had a “fluke year” in 2010 and will not be as effective in 2011. His arm seemed to tire towards the end of last year and if it happens again, it could cause some problems for the Yankee rotation.
· Derek Jeter had a hit today and his average is now at .333. It’s good to see the Captain hitting above .300 again and I’m sure he will continue to work on the stride adjustment.
· It was documented that Mark Teixeira is in mid-season form. The slugging first baseman is batting .364 this spring and was 1-for-3 today. The Yanks need a lot of production out of Teixeira this year and right now he is proving that there are no carryover effects of his injuries last year – the hamstring and the broken toe. Traditionally he is a slow starter, but maybe he can leap that hurdle this year and have a big month of April.
· Jorge Posada’s home run today was a BOMB. At 39 years old he is still showing that power he has generally possessed throughout his career. Today he homered from the left side of the plate and the ball would have landed in the second deck at Yankee Stadium, had the game been played there. Although he probably won’t catch at all this year, he might still see some field time. In yesterday’s 7-0 loss to the Phillies, he played first base.
· Regulars Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, and Nick Swisher did not play. Granderson and Swisher played in Dunedin against the Toronto Blue Jays, as the Yanks were in split squad action. Granderson was 1-for-3 with an RBI and two runs scored. Swisher was also 1-for-3 with an RBI.
· Although Granderson and Swisher both had good days at the plate, the other squad lost to the Jays, 10-3.
· Austin Krum made a diving catch to rob Ed Lucas of a hit in the sixth inning. Highlight-reel worthy catch, if I do say so myself. Joba Chamberlain tipped his cap to Krum – and his line: one inning pitched, no runs, two hits, no walks, and one strikeout. Chamberlain’s spring ERA is now 3.60.
· Rafael Soriano made his second appearance of the spring today. He tossed a perfect fifth inning, striking out Brooks Conrad and Martin Prado while getting Chipper Jones to ground out. Soriano will be the eighth inning setup man and I am really excited for him. He looks as though he will be lights out.
· Soriano will be setting up the incomparable Mariano Rivera, who has yet to throw a pitch in a game this spring. He will however get his first spring action on Sunday, according to the YES Network.
· Ivan Nova started against the Blue Jays today. His line: three innings pitched, two earned runs on five hits, two walks, one K, and he gave up a homer to Jose Bautista. He’s been fairly solid up until now. He can bury one shaky start. He has to come out strong next time to stay in contention for a spot in the rotation.
· Steve Garrison will not make the team. Not after today. But I have a feeling he wasn’t making it anyway. He recorded the loss and basically blew the game against the Braves.
· Jesus Montero went 0-for-3 without a hit today at the Blue Jays. His batting average has dipped below .200 and yes, I am a little worried about that. Especially now that he has a chance to make the team because of Francisco Cervelli’s foot injury.
· Behind the plate for the Braves today was Brian McCann. He threw out Jeter and Justin Maxwell trying to steal. The guy has a great arm.
· Former Yankee Scott Proctor got the win today, even though he blew a save. He is now 1-1 this spring, trying to resurrect a career torn down by arm problems. He has Joe Torre to thank for that. On a side note about Proctor – he really resembles WWE superstar John Cena. It’s uncanny how they look alike.
· The Yankees are now 6-7-2 in Grapefruit League play.
· Tomorrow the Yankees will visit the Washington Nationals. On Sunday they will come back to Tampa to play the Minnesota Twins – which is also the next televised game on the YES Network.
Through 5 2/3 innings, the Yankee pitchers kept the Phillies off the bases. That is until Wilson Valdez smacked a line drive homer off Hector Noesi, a shot that landed over the left field fence at Steinbrenner Field. That blow ended the combined perfect game the Yanks’ hurlers were compiling and plated the only run for the Phillies, as the Bronx Bombers went on to beat them 7-1 this afternoon in an exhibition.
In the bottom of the second Eduardo Nunez crushed a three-run home run deep to left field off starter Roy Oswalt, giving the Yankees a 3-0 lead. Curtis Granderson came up to the plate the next inning and pulled a two-run shot over the left field fence, and the Yanks took a 5-0 lead.
Oswalt was pulled after 2 2/3 innings pitched, and he gave up five runs (three earned) on four hits. He walked no one and struck out three.
In the bottom of the fifth, Jorge Posada singled to plate Brett Gardner. Later in the frame, Granderson scored on an RBI single off the bat of Eric Chavez, giving the Yankees seven runs.
A.J. Burnett started for the Yankees and did not give an inch. The lanky right-hander tossed three perfect innings without allowing a walk. He only had one strikeout, but it was a big one. Burnett whiffed brand name first baseman Ryan Howard.
So far this spring Burnett has tossed five scoreless innings.
Notes & Things to Look Out For
· Obviously A.J. Burnett is doing something right, at least to this point. I mentioned after his first start that he looks like a different pitcher, and it’s the truth; his delivery and arm angle are not the same. His different look gives me a sense of confidence in him, because he didn’t have a good spring like this last year. In fact, I believe I made a remark last spring saying, “His numbers this spring are worse than Joe Biden’s mouth.”
· On a side note about Burnett, he tossed 45 pitches and 30 were strikes. He is demonstrating command – another positive. He looks as though he will be OK, but he is still a work in progress and he’s got a long way to go. Baby steps.
· Jorge Posada laced a double in the bottom of the third, and came around to score on a single by Eric Chavez. Oh wait…he actually didn’t. Posada missed the base and pitcher Vance Worley (who relieved Roy Oswalt) appealed at third and Posada was called out. It helps to touch the base when you’re running. It’s a general rule.
· Nick Swisher made a stellar catch in the top of the fourth to rob Placido Polanco of a hit. In foul ground, Swisher bent over the bullpen railing to make the catch, then front-flipped into the Yankee bullpen. He held on for the catch. It kind of reminded me of July 22, 2009 – the day Swisher ran up the right field wall at Yankee Stadium to make a fantastic catch, worthy of the highlight reel. I was at that game and the crowd went nuts. Everyone loves Swisher.
· Right after Swisher’s catch, Jimmy Rollins chopped a ball off Chavez’s glove at first. He stayed with it and flipped the ball to Joba Chamberlain, who actually covered the base. The big man got to the bag in time, getting Rollins out. Score that crazy play 3-1. It looked more exciting than it sounds.
· Speaking of Joba Chamberlain, he had a good line today: one inning pitched, no hits, no walks, and no strikeouts. It was a step up from his outing on Saturday against the Washington Nationals: one inning pitched, two earned runs on two hits, two walks, and no Ks. I hope this isn’t another up-and-down year for Chamberlain. Whatever Burnett is doing, he needs to do the same. Chamberlain’s ERA this spring is now 4.50.
· Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez did not play. Today was a split squad day (meaning there are two games; some players play in the first game and others play in the second). The regular infielders will play later tonight at the Orioles.
· What happened to Roy Oswalt today? He couldn’t get through the third inning. I think it was just an aberration for him, much like CC Sabathia’s poor start on Saturday vs. the Nationals (five runs in 2 2/3 innings). Against National League hitters this year, he’ll hold his own.
· Brett Gardner was 1-for-3 today with an RBI, a walk, and a stolen base. He was hitting from the leadoff spot today and seems capable of that role. He will most likely have to improve his bunting if he wants to hit in the number one hole.
· I have the feeling the fifth infielder spot is going to come down to Chavez and Nunez. Today Chavez had three hits in three at-bats, knocked in a run and came around to score once. He is batting .471 as of press time. Nunez showed a great amount of power with his home run and he is averaging .286 at the plate so far. Ramiro Pena might be the odd man out, only hitting .063 so far. He will have to turn on the jets if he wants to make the team right out of camp.
· “Perpetual” Pedro Feliciano tossed a perfect fifth inning with two Ks. I get the feeling he will be the primary lefty specialist. Sorry Boone Logan.
· Curtis Granderson is batting .357 this spring and has hit two homers so far. He hasn’t even played in every game, and if his numbers are any indication, he is primed for a big season.
· Mark Prior pitched around a Pete Orr double in the eighth, not allowing a run. He didn’t walk a batter and he fanned one. As I wrote a few days ago, I am pulling for him and I want him to be this year’s big comeback story. He is a hard worker and I get the feeling he wants nothing more than to bounce back and help the Yankees. So far he is proving he can do it.
· Jesus Montero went 0-for-1 at the plate today and struck out, leaving a man on base. He hasn’t really had the opportunity to break out, yet he is still hitting .250. His counterpart Austin Romine will get the start at catcher in tonight’s exhibition vs. the Orioles.
· Former Yankee Nick Johnson signed with the Cleveland Indians today. I feel sorry for them.
· Tomorrow afternoon the Yanks will travel to the Wide World of Sports to visit the Atlanta Braves (the game will be broadcasted on the YES Network). Freddy Garcia will make the start for the Bombers.
· The Yanks are now 4-5-1 in Grapefruit League play. (Subject to change, pending the outcome of the game vs. Baltimore tonight)
Ramiro Pena’s grounder in the bottom of the ninth with two outs looked as if it had a one-way ticket to center field. If it had gotten through the infield hole, it would have tied the Yankees’ exhibition with the Red Sox tonight at five. Oscar Tejada made a great play to rob Pena of a game-tying single, ending the tune-up game and giving Boston 5-3 win over New York.
Tejada not only made the game-ending play on defense, but he helped out on offense, padding Boston’s 2-1 lead. In the top of the seventh he clubbed a two-run triple to give the Red Sox a 4-1 edge. They had scored earlier in the frame on an RBI single by Juan Carlos Linares, breaking a 1-1 tie.
The big night continued for Tejada in the ninth when he singled to score Linares, making it a 5-1 ballgame. Daniel Nava drove Tejada in to score in the sixth inning, accounting for Boston’s first run in the game.
Robinson Cano recorded his first hit of the spring in the bottom of the sixth, an RBI double which plated Pena. Before Pena made the final out, the Yanks tried to stage another comeback by scoring two runs. Jordan Parraz singled to score Austin Krum and Gustavo Molina drew a bases-loaded walk which plated Kyle Higashioka.
Bartolo Colon started for the Yankees and although he did not face most of the regulars, he put up a strong showing. The tubby right hander tossed three innings and scattered two hits while not allowing a run. He walked no batters and fanned five BoSox.
On the other side Clay Buchholz made the start for the Red Sox and also showcased good stuff. The 26 year-old righty pitched three innings and allowed only one hit. He walked two and struck out two.
Tonight the Yankees and Red Sox met for the first time in 2011 and there will be a lot more where that came from. The rivals will meet again on Monday March 14 in another exhibition and will of course face off 18 times during the regular season. Not to mention they have a good chance to square off in the postseason.
Things to Look Out For & Notes
· The Yankee starters are proving their worth. They have only allowed one run in the first 15 innings they have pitched this spring, and have registered 13 consecutive scoreless innings. So far they are probably making it difficult for Joe Girardi, since they have all been producing.
· Russell Martin caught behind the plate tonight for the first time. After the game he told the YES Network that he feels good and felt comfortable catching. At the plate tonight he struggled, though; he was 0-for-3 and left three men on base.
· In some bad new for the Yanks, Francisco Cervelli will be out of action for at least a month. The details of his injury became apparent and he has a broken foot. He worked hard in the off-season, slimmed down, and looked good through the first few games. But then he fouled a ball off his foot on Wednesday vs. the Astros, and now he can’t play for awhile. Tough break for such a great guy.
· Now that Cervelli is out of action, the chances that Jesus Montero makes the team are high. Contrary to what I originally assumed, Jorge Posada will not be catching at all this season, at least from the looks of things. That being said, this is Montero’s chance to impress and maybe make the team.
· Robinson Cano has been pressing to begin the spring, but finally broke out with an RBI double tonight. Good to see the real Cano finally come out to play.
· Alex Rodriguez was 2-for-3 tonight with a double, and he now has four doubles for the spring. His double tonight, on any other night or in any other ballpark, would have been a home run. The wind down there in Florida keeps pushing the ball back and he is just missing home runs. Wait until he gets back to New York. He won’t be missing many homers at Yankee Stadium.
· I cannot believe I am even saying this, but Bartolo Colon is actually pitching very well to this point. When the Yankees signed him the headline in the New York Post read, “Cheap Colon.” Right now, that Colon smells pretty good. He does need to lose weight, however. He looks out of shape and that can eventually catch up to an athlete.
· Yesterday I wrote about Mark Prior and what he has been through in his career. He impressed me tonight: one inning, no runs, no hits, one walk, two Ks. I am really pulling for him and I would like to see him make a solid comeback.
· Manuel Banuelos pitched tonight and once again put up a strong showing. He worked two innings and gave up no runs on one hit. He walked a batter and struck out three. The 19 year-old lefty will probably not make the team coming out of Spring Training, but he is unquestionably turning a lot of heads and raising eyebrows. He topped out at 96 on the speed gun tonight and looks way ahead of his age.
· I made a small comparison in my head tonight: before 2007 began the Yankees had three promising prospects – Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy. Here we are just before 2011 and we have Banuelos, Dellin Betances, and Andrew Brackman.
· Lefty specialist Pedro Feliciano pitched tonight, giving up an earned run on two hits. No walks and no strikeouts, but he did better than the other lefty reliever Boone Logan, who took the loss tonight. Feliciano might pitch more this season than Logan. When he was with the Mets, they gave him the nickname “Perpetual Pedro,” being that they used him almost every day to get the big left-handed hitters out.
· The Red Sox left most of their stars at home. Only Buchholz, Jed Lowrie, Jason Varitek and Josh Reddick made the trip to Tampa. Reddick had a great diving catch in left field to rob Cano of extra bases in the bottom of the second. I’m pretty sure Carl Crawford has that spot locked up, but Reddick could state a claim to be Boston’s fourth outfielder.
· Nick Swisher, Brett Gardner, and Curtis Granderson did not play.
· Actor Richard Gere threw out the honorary first pitch tonight. According to what they say, he is a big Yankee fan. I always liked that guy…
· The Yankees will face the Washington Nationals tomorrow and the Houston Astros Sunday. The next televised game is on Monday against the Phillies and A.J. Burnett will start that game.
· So far the Yanks’ Grapefruit League record is 2-4-1.
Some of the best stories in sports are the stories of comebacks. Most people are familiar with Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers, who was a highly touted prospect but fell victim to temptation and drugs. He worked as hard as he could and made it back to become one of MLB’s best players.
If you are a football fan, David Tyree’s name comes to mind. He was arrested and lost everything, becoming another athlete with a drug addiction. Yet he exorcised his demons and eventually had the huge “helmet catch” to help propel the New York Giants to a 17-14 Super Bowl victory in 2008 over the undefeated New England Patriots.
The so-called “rise up from the ashes” tale is one everyone enjoys – not just sports fans.
At 30, life in baseball has seemingly not yet begun for Mark Prior. Stemming back to his debut in 2002 with the Chicago Cubs, he has a history of injuries and he has never really been able to recover from them. You name it, Prior has been through it.
Hamstring injuries, Achilles injuries, shoulder surgery, elbow strains, a tweaked oblique, tendinitis – he has not had an easy career considering all these problems.
Although he has been hurt most of his career, he still holds a lifetime record of 42-29 with an ERA of 3.51, and he has fanned 757 lifetime batters. He was the second overall pick (in the first round) by the Cubs in the 2001 draft and he even made the National League All-Star team in 2003. That being said, he has the makings of a very good pitcher.
Now, if he can only find a way to translate it to his career without getting hurt.
Since leaving the Cubs after 2007, Prior has bounced around baseball. He tried to make it with the San Diego Padres, but never pitched a Major League game for them. He was released by the Padres in August of 2009 and in June of 2010 he went back to USC, where he had previously attended College.
He worked out for a Major League scout, but was deemed “just all right.”
In September of last year Prior agreed to a deal with an independent team – the Orange County Flyers of the Golden Baseball League. Exactly a month after he had agreed to play for the Flyers, he signed a Minor League contract to pitch for the Texas Rangers. He made it clear that he wanted to pitch for a Major League club and hoped to catch on with the Rangers in a middle or long relief role.
Obviously he didn’t get a roster spot on the Rangers, but that didn’t mean he was giving up.
This past off-season the Yankees signed Prior to a Minor League deal. He has only pitched one inning this spring- a perfect frame against the Detroit Tigers on Monday March 1. He has also been working out with the team consistently and hopes to accomplish what he didn’t with Texas – receive a spot in the bullpen as a middle or long reliever.
In a recent interview with the YES Network, Prior described his arm strength as “good” and stated that he needs to prove that he can stay healthy. One of his goals this spring is to show everyone what he is made of.
“I want to show everybody that I can stay healthy and I can still pitch,” he told YES. “I know how to pitch. My stuff may not be what it used to be, but it’s still good enough to get guys out at this level.”
Prior added that he wants to get comfortable pitching in games.
At the trade deadline last season, the Yankees acquired Kerry Wood, who was Prior’s teammate for five years on the Cubs. At one time the two were considered a “dynamic duo,” if you will, being the Cubs’ top tier starting pitchers. Like Prior, Wood sustained a number of injuries and analysts and fans questioned his ability to return from them and effectively pitch.
Wood proved to everyone that he can indeed still pitch, as he went 2-0 with a 0.69 ERA down the stretch for the Yankees. He was also instrumental in fortifying the Yankee bullpen, acting as the bridge to Mariano Rivera for the second half of 2010.
Prior was happy to see his former teammate succeed in pinstripes.
“I know Woody had a great time here, he really enjoyed himself here, and I think it revitalized him to continue on and keep playing,” he said.
“He pitched outstanding the last two months of the season for the Yankees and hopefully I can do just as good a job as he did.”
Everyone loves a comeback story. And this year Prior might be the guy the fans look at and say, “He’s the guy who rose above; the guy no one believed in, but he proved us wrong.”
The fans should be rooting for him. I am.