Results tagged ‘ Andy Pettitte ’

Top 12 of 2012

Following the untimely and bitter end of the 2012 season last night, the Yankees are undoubtedly heading back to Yankee Stadium to clean out their lockers, and are going to prepare for what will be about a five month layover until Spring Training kicks up in February.

Now that the season has come to a close, it’s time to reflect on everything that made 2012 a great baseball season. There’s no need to dwell on the tragic ALCS sweep at the hands of the Detroit Tigers, so instead, let’s take a look back at some of the best moments and times of this past season.

Just a note, I’ll be including some personal highlights as well; some moments that made it personally a fun season for me, as a writer, a reporter, and most importantly, a fan. Without any further ado, Yankee Yapping is proud to present its Top 12 of 2012!

12. Catching up with Bernie Williams

Believe it or not, one of the best highlights of the season (for me) came before the season even began!

While I was covering a high school girls’ basketball game in February, I happened to be sitting next to none other than the former Yankee center fielder, Bernie Williams. His daughter Bea led her team to a win, and getting to sit next to a Yankee legend – and a proud father – while it happened was truly an honor.

Read all about my evening with Bernie here!

11. The return of Andy Pettitte

He had an itch to come back, and he went ahead and scratched it.

In March, retired longtime Yankee favorite Andy Pettitte announced that he would be coming out of retirement. He signed a contract, got back in shape, and unfortunately it didn’t work out for him in the end.

Pettitte was sidelined for the majority of the season after getting struck in the left ankle with a come-backer on June 27 – fracturing his fibula.

I’ve discussed my feelings on the whole “coming-out-of-retirement” spiel, but when Pettitte went down, I legitimately felt bad for him, knowing he wanted to pay dividends for the Yankees. At the very least, however, he pitched well in the postseason, as he always does.

10. Home opener shutout

There is nothing like Opening Day. Spring; the feeling of new life is in the air, and baseball is back.

The Yankees made their home opener this year one to remember, beating Albert Pujols and the LA Angels 5-0 behind a brilliant start from Hiroki Kuroda. The Yankee win was one of the first of their 95 victories in 2012, setting the table for yet another strong, winning campaign.

9. Beating up the BoSox

On April 20 the Yankees’ most hated rivals, the Boston Red Sox, honored Fenway Park; their home that turned 100 years old. Red Sox Nation could only hope a nice ceremony and a champagne toast would be followed by a Red Sox win over the Yankees.

No such luck.

The Yankees beat the Red Sox quite decisively, 6-2, ruining their centennial celebration.

And it only got sweeter the next day.

Boston rebounded from the loss with a bang, touching up the Yanks for nine runs through the first six innings. Leading 9-1 in the seventh, the Red Sox had seemingly answered their loss with a win, but things are rarely what they seem in Beantown. The Yanks came back with a vengeance; plating seven runs in the seventh and adding another seven in the eighth, clawing their way back for a huge, 15-9 win over Boston.

Without question those two losses took a lot of air out of Red Sox Nation, and the BoSox went on to have one of their worst seasons since the 1970s.

8. A YES contribution

On June 8 the Yankees absolutely clobbered the Mets, beating their inferior cross-town rivals, 9-1. Robinson Cano led the way with two homers off Mets’ ace Johan Santana, and Nick Swisher and Andruw Jones followed with homers of their own.

As a matter of fact, the Yanks smacked three consecutive homers that night.

During the game, I submitted a tweet to the YES Network, and they used it on their “Extra Innings” postgame show – marking the third time they have used my insight on TV.

Hosts Jack Curry and Bob Lorenz even agreed with my comment.

More YES Network action to come later.

7. A win over Atlanta

There’s nothing like going out to your first game of the season. It took me a couple months, considering covering Minor League Baseball basically consumed my summer, but on June 18 (three days after my birthday!) I finally got out to the big ballpark in the Bronx.

The Yanks hosted the Atlanta Braves in an inter-league showdown, and backed by a dominant, complete game performance from CC Sabathia, won 6-3. The victory kept a 10-game Yankee winning streak alive; Cano and Mark Teixeira each going yard to pace the Yanks at the plate.

I did get out to one more game on Aug. 31 – yet it wasn’t as memorable, the Yankees losing 6-1 to the team they eventually ousted in the ALDS, the Baltimore Orioles.

6. Welcome, Ichiro!

The Yankees made a splash before the trade deadline, acquiring Ichiro from the Seattle Mariners. The 38-year-old veteran outfielder joined the team on July 23, and certainly did a fine job on both sides of the field.

Ichiro played in 67 games for the Yankees – and 162 overall, proving just how durable he really is. In those 67 games in pinstripes he recorded 73 hits and scored 28 runs with 14 stolen bases, 13 doubles, and five homers.

Yes. He’s still got it. Much like Derek Jeter, Ichiro has shown he is ageless. And he certainly helped propel the Yankees down the stretch and into the postseason.

Domo arigato, Mr. Suzuki.

5. YES Network Games

Another game, another YES Network appearance.

On Aug. 6, my tweet was used on the YES Network, during their “YES Network Games” competition. Michael Kay even admitted my question was difficult, although he, John Flaherty, and Meredith Marakovits all came up with the correct answer.

It’s only too bad the content and nature of the question in a way foreshadowed the season’s end.

4. Not so fast, Oakland

The 2012 Yankees had a handful miraculous late-game wins under their belt – maybe not as many as the ’09 Yankees – but when the Bombers fought back this season, you could be sure they would win.

Case in point: Sept. 22 at home vs. Oakland.

Tied 5-5 in the top of the 13th, the A’s were able to score four times and take a 9-5 lead.

Facing a surefire loss, the Bombers showcased some resiliency, and battled back to knot it up at nine, highlighted by a game-tying, two-run homer off the bat of Raul Ibanez. Ichiro later scored on an error for a 10-9 Yankee victory.

To think, while all this was happening I was hanging out with (of all people) Hulk Hogan.

3. Taking the tour

Game after game, the Yankees sit in their dugout; chill in the clubhouse. On Sept. 30 I got a taste of what that feels like.

The Yankee Stadium tour is offered year-round and on Yankee off-days during the regular season. It was something I had wanted to do for awhile, and I finally had my day.

Read all about my Yankee Stadium tour here!

2. Raul Ibanez’s heroics

Baseball in October is sometimes defined as, “unlikely hero.” And the Yankees certainly had one this year.

At the end of the regular season and into the postseason, Raul Ibanez proved to be the Yankees’ most clutch player. With game-tying and game-winning hits, he made a name for himself and earned the respect and love of all Yankee fans.

Trailing 3-1 in the bottom of the ninth on Oct. 2 vs. Boston, Ibanez slammed a two-run home run, tying it all up, 3-3. Three innings later he came up and sank the Red Sox with a walk-off single – a hit that gave the Yankees a 4-3 win over their humiliated hated rivals, but more importantly, kept them alone in first place in the AL East going into the game number 162 of the regular season.

Talk about enough drama for one season. But it was only the beginning.

Against the Orioles – the team that crept up on the Yanks for first place in the AL East towards the end of the year – in Game 3 of the ALDS, Ibanez put on an encore performance.

Down 2-1 this time in the ninth, Ibanez swung his bat hard, lifting the ball deep into the New York night and into the seats for another incredible, game-tying homer. He came up, again in the 12th, and clubbed another death blow; another long ball to give the Yankees a 3-2 victory, sending the Bronx faithful home with smiles on their faces.

Two game-tyers and two game-winners within eight days of each other. And he still had some left.

Last Saturday in Game 1 of the ALCS when defeat looked imminent, Ibanez tied the game with one swing yet again, taking Detroit closer Jose Valverde’s offering into the seats in right field.

Sadly for Ibanez and the Yankees the magic stopped there. But there’s no question that Ibanez had the best October of any Yankee player on the roster.

1. Getting past the O’s

The ALCS may not have ended the way the Yankees would have hoped for, but if nothing else, they should take winning the ALDS away from this postseason as a huge step in the right direction.

After all, the Yankees had not beaten a team in the ALDS not named the Minnesota Twins since 2001, when they beat the A’s. By the numbers, the Yankees were 4-0 vs. the Twins in the ALDS – and 0-5 vs. everyone else. The biggest question on my mind entering October was, “if it’s not the Twins, can the Yankees even win?”

Yes, they can. And moving forward, hopefully it gives them confidence. Let’s say (hypothetically) the Yankees are up against the Chicago White Sox, or the Texas Rangers, or the Angels – or even the Tigers again in the ALDS next year. With the win over the Orioles this year, they now know they can win an ALDS against a team other than the Twins.

Beating the Orioles may have taken a lot of effort, but perhaps it gave them some knowledge.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………

Honorable Mention: The Hudson Valley Renegades

As I’ve written about several times, I had the pleasure of covering the Hudson Valley Renegades this season, a MiLB team. The ‘Gades were a huge part of my summer. I spent many nights in the Dutchess Stadium press box, watching the team battle to win after win.

The Renegades went on to beat the Tri-City Valley Cats in the New York-Penn League Championship Series, winning their first league title since 1999 – and only their second league title in team history.

I had so much fun covering the Renegades, and it meant a lot when their manager, Jared Sandberg, told me that not only had he read several of my articles about the team/game recaps, but he was impressed with how well-written they were.

Very encouraging to hear, especially from a former big leaguer and the nephew of a Hall of Famer.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………

It’s tough to say goodbye to the 2012 baseball season, because it was one heck of a time.

My only hope now is that 2013 will be just as awesome.

The bitter end

The Yankees made all kinds of history in the American League Championship Series. Unfortunately for them, it was the type of history they didn’t want to be making. For the first time since 1976, the Yankees were swept in a four-game postseason series, thus ending their run for what could have been their 28th World Series title.

The Detroit Tigers have clotheslined the Yanks to the canvas on their chase for 28.

There’s always blame to go around when the postseason ends prematurely, but most of it lies on the lack of production at the plate. The Yankee offense went about as frozen as a cooler in Antarctica, batting .188 overall for the playoffs and a miserable .196 with runners in scoring position.

Any self-respecting manager or coach would say those numbers will just not get the job done in October, and obviously it didn’t for the Yankees.

Up until CC Sabathia’s rough Game 4 outing, the pitching was certainly a bright spot for the Bronx Bombers in the ALCS. As a matter of fact, every pitcher (save for Sabathia this evening) turned in a quality performance. Phil Hughes left Game 3 early, but David Phelps and the bullpen piggy-backed him, and the Tigers only scored two runs – the Yankee offense flaking and falling 2-1.

It’s clear pitching wasn’t the problem this postseason.  The bats just died.

Now with the off-season on the horizon, the Yankee front office has a number of decisions to make. The hitters have around 4-5 months to think about what happened in 2012, but will some of them be back in pinstripes in 2013?

Let’s start with the giant elephant in the room.

Alex Rodriguez

A-Rod was once again the center of October attention – and again, not in a good way.

After being benched in Game 5 of the ALDS for batting .125, Rodriguez only saw seven at-bats in the ALCS. He finished with an overall BA of .130 with no homers, no RBIs, and 12 strikeouts.

Aside from 2009, A-Rod has been a non-factor in the postseason.

What really caught everyone by surprise were his antics in the dugout during the ALCS, sending the ball boy to give two women (reportedly models) sitting in the stands a baseball with his phone number on it. His act garnered all kinds of media attention, and may have led to his benching in the ALCS. He only played in six of the Yanks’ nine postseason games.

Then, out of nowhere, speculation and trade rumors came up about the Yankees possibly moving Rodriguez to the Miami Marlins. General Manager Brian Cashman quickly squashed the rumors as bunk, but later several sources claimed the possible deal wasn’t as false as Cashman initially said it was.

During his postgame interview Rodriguez didn’t indicate that he wants to leave New York – and he does have a no-trade clause in his contract, although according to sources he told his close friends he’d approve a deal to be traded, if it meant going to another big-market team.

“I will be back,” he said after tonight’s loss. “I have a lot to prove. I’ve never thought about going to another team. My focus is on staying here. Let’s make that very, very clear.”

If A-Rod opts to stay, it will be a tough road moving forward for the Yankees. Rodriguez has been plagued by injuries these last few seasons, his offensive numbers have steadily declined, and as evidenced by this October, he struggles in the postseason – to the point where they’re paying him, a key player, to sit on the bench in important games.

The way I see it, if the Yankees can move A-Rod and receive decent, younger players in exchange for him, jump at the chance. Rodriguez is 37 and will be 38 next year – and he is under contract for another five years.    

Bottom line: if you can get out of it, get out of it, Yanks.

Nick Swisher

Unlike Rodriguez, Nick Swisher is a free agent. He durably played in 148 games this season and hit 24 home runs, knocked in 93 runs, and batted a respectable .272 for the season.

Sadly for Swisher, once the postseason begins everyone forgets about those solid numbers.

Swisher absolutely tanked in the playoffs, batting .167 with no homers, just two RBIs, and 10 strikeouts. He came up short in several key spots in the ALDS and ALCS, and wasn’t his normal self before Game 2; not even facing the crowd in right field while warming up. He also missed a ball in the lights in Game 1, which in turn helped lead to the Yankees’ loss.

Yankee beat writer Bryan Hoch at one point tweeted, “The Yankee faithful have seen enough of Swisher, I’m afraid.”

I’m afraid he may be correct.

Although Swisher did hint that he does in fact want to return to the Yankees, there’s a good chance it might not happen. He will certainly find another team willing to take him on if he doesn’t come back to the Bronx, because he offers such a strong, positive presence wherever he goes – and his success reflects that.

It’s just unfortunate that in what could have been his last game at Yankee Stadium, the fan-favorite was booed and jeered off the field – an ungracious way to bow out, if it was indeed his last game in pinstripes.

Other Free Agents & Decisions

  • Hiroki Kuroda. The righty from Japan signed a one-year deal during the off-season and won 16 games – and probably would have won more had he received better run support. If I’m Brian Cashman, I’d certainly try to return Kuroda. He earned it.

  • Andy Pettitte. I’ll be the first to admit, I was at first a little unhappy when Pettitte decided to come out of retirement (in my personal view, I feel he went back on his retirement, a la Roger Clemens and Brett Favre). However, when he was struck in the leg by that come-backer, and he was sidelined for the majority of the season, I felt bad for him, because I know he wanted to pay dividends for the Yankees, and he didn’t exactly get the chance to. I could see him returning for 2013 but ultimately it’ll be a decision he makes over the winter. If he does come back, I’d expect him to come back for a cheap price.
  • Rafael Soriano. The man who filled in so nicely for Mariano Rivera this year can opt out of his contract and attempt to test the open market for more money. If so, the Yankees will have to decide whether or not to pursue him in free agency. But will they have to if…
  • Mariano Rivera returns? Rivera is a free agent and reportedly made a decision about retirement following 2012, but after his season-ending knee injury in May he told the world he will be back. I can’t imagine him being with another team other than the Yankees, especially if 2013 is his final year.
  • Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones. The way I see it, the Yankees have to get younger. Chavez and Jones are both past their prime; their best playing days behind them. I covered a high school football game last week, and as it was, I happened to catch up with the school’s baseball coach – also a Yankee fan. He raised a legitimate question: “Where’s our versions of (Bryce) Harper, (Mike) Trout, and (Manny) Machado?” I answered him, “Playing for the Seattle Mariners,” referencing Jesus Montero. The Yankees have to breed their younger guys better – and they can’t do that clinging to the older guys.

  • Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain. Both made their respective debuts in 2007, and both were touted to be the future aces of the Yankees. Six years later, neither has lived up to the hype; both with injury-ravaged careers and mediocre-to-subpar numbers. The Yankees are facing a tough decision with Hughes and Chamberlain. I could see them bringing one back and not the other, but right now I couldn’t tell you which would stay and which would go.
  • Raul Ibanez. About as clutch as clutch can be in the postseason, Ibanez is now a free agent. However, he’s also 40 years old. If he does return, I can’t see him coming back for a lot of money; he’d have to sign back for an inexpensive price. Looking at it objectively though, he may have earned himself another contract, simply by his late-inning October heroics. It’s just another decision the Yanks will be faced with.

  • Ichiro. Although he’ll turn 39 on Monday – and this kind of goes against my plea to develop younger players – Ichiro this year proved he can still field, hit, and run just fine. If it were up to me, I’d try to get him back. It’ll be interesting to see if the Yankees make him an offer to play next year, and if they do, what type of money they’ll offer him. I’d imagine it’d only be a one-year deal. Anywhere between $7-9 million, perhaps?
  • Derek Lowe. No I don’t expect him back. He was a rental.
  • Jayson Nix. He’s a maybe. We’ll have to wait and see.

There are also a number of free agents on the open market; potential players from other teams the Yankees can pursue. I’m anticipating a busy off-season, given the number of possible moves the Yankees can make. I’m also anxious to see what happens, considering Cashman and the front office are hoping to keep the payroll under $189 million.

………………………………………………………………………………………………..

As per the end of every season, I’d like to thank the loyal readers of Yankee Yapping! I know 2012 didn’t end with a World Series Championship like we wanted, but it was still a fun year for baseball and the Yankees.

Be sure to keep up with YY during the off-season. I’m sure I’ll have stories, and analysis and highlights of what’s happening as the hot stove cooks. Also be sure to follow me on Twitter (@AJ_Martelli) and keep up with YY on Facebook (#ShamelessPlug)

Thanks again, everyone. And Go Yankees!

Yanks oust O’s, now out for RAWR-demption

It wasn’t the Twins, but the Yankees still won.

Coming into the 2012 playoffs, the Yankees were 0-5 against teams not named the Minnesota Twins in the American League Division Series. Finally, they got over the hump; eliminated a team other than Minnesota with a 3-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles last night to advance to the American League Championship Series.

Although they did leap the ALDS hurdle, it will only get more difficult for the Bombers from here. Waiting for them in the ALCS are none other than the Detroit Tigers – the team that not only beat them in five games in last year’s ALDS, but booted them in four in the first round of the 2006 postseason.

The Yankees have a lot going for them in the ALCS, but at the same time, a lot is working against them.

Advantages

  • The possibility of only facing Justin Verlander once. It took five games for the Tigers to finish off the Oakland A’s in the ALDS, and the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner and MVP pitched twice. In a best-case-scenario, they deal with Verlander once and be done with it.
  • Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, and Derek Jeter’s numbers vs. Detroit’s Game 1 starter, Doug Fister. Teixeira has a homer and four RBIs in 12 at-bats lifetime off Fister, while Swisher holds a homer and two RBIs over his head. Jeter owns a .385 batting average with two RBIs off him. If they can swing the bats the way they have in the past off Fister, they might be able to take some wind out of the Tigers’ sails, right from the start.
  • Andy Pettitte starting Game 1. It kind of goes with the “taking the wind of out the Tigers’ sails” motif. Pettitte is battle-tested in the postseason, and if he takes the ball tonight and gives the Yankees quality, there’s a good chance the Bombers can get a quick, 1-0 series lead. Pettitte always affords them a chance to win.
  • June 3. Phil Hughes, who hasn’t been consistent this year to say the least, pitched his way to a complete game, four-hit victory in Detroit. Hughes only allowed one earned run to the lead the Yanks to their 5-1 win – and it’s worth noting he outdueled Verlander for that win. The long ball was a problem for Hughes this season (35 homers allowed, second most in the majors), but if he turns in a performance like he did in Game 4 of the ALDS, it’s good news for New York.
  • CC Sabathia and a rested bullpen. Sabathia really strutted his stuff in the ALDS – especially in the clinching game last night, going the distance. Not only did he give the Yankees an extreme amount of confidence going forward, but he rested a rather taxed bullpen, what with two ALDS games going beyond nine innings.

  • The Tigers’ bullpen. Jose Valverde blew a key save to keep the Oakland A’s alive, and is notorious for flirting with disaster. In a close, late-game situation the Yankees can easily capitalize on his mistakes. Valverde saved 35 games for Detroit during the regular season, but he’s not exactly Mariano Rivera, or even Rafael Soriano.

Disadvantages

  • Obviously, the way the Yankees have been swinging the bats. Offensively, the Yankees had about one inning in the ALDS – the ninth inning of Game 1 – in which the bats were clicking on all cylinders. Other than that one frame, the Bombers have been (to put it mildly) struggling at the plate. Swisher, Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Ichiro, and, well…virtually everyone might benefit from some extra batting practice.

  • The psyche of Alex Rodriguez. It’s no secret when it comes to the postseason, A-Rod is constantly being thrown under the microscope; then being ragged on for folding at the plate. Outside of the 2009 playoffs, it’s not unfair to say Rodriguez has been an October goat. In the four games he played in the ALDS A-Rod was 2-for-16 with no homers, no RBIs, and the stat that sticks out like a sore thumb: nine strikeouts. He was benched for the deciding game because of his poor performance in the ALDS, but he has an opportunity to channel his inner 2009 and put it behind him. In my opinion, it’s a mental issue – one that he must get over in order to be successful.
  • The King with three crowns. Miguel Cabrera, for his entire career, has never been an easy out for the Yankees; in fact, he’s a Yankee killer. And if you’re talking about the all-time champion Yankee killers – players like Ken Griffey, Jr., Edgar Martinez, Manny Ramirez, and David Ortiz – Cabrera must be mentioned in the same breath. It’s going to be quite the task pitching to him, and the guy behind him, big Prince Fielder. The poisonous 1-2 punch in the heart of the Tigers’ batting order will undoubtedly pose the biggest offensive threat and potentially supply the Tigers with plenty of offense.

 

  • Verlander. Kind of tough to ignore the giant elephant in the room. Verlander may not have had the best season numerically vs. the Yankees, but he’s still one of the most feared pitchers in the American League. Like Sabathia he closed out the ALDS with a brilliant complete game gem. I’d like to see what it’d be like if he matched up with Sabathia in the ALCS; a showcase of virtuosos and a pitcher’s duel would be my bet.
  • Postseason history vs. Detroit.  The Yankees were able to get over beating a team not named the Minnesota Twins in the ALDS, but now can they get over a team that has twice eliminated them in October?

Well, now that I mention it…

The last time the Yankees faced a team in the ALCS that had twice eliminated them in the ALDS: the Angels, in 2009. They were able to get over the halo hurdle in six games, then go on to claim the World Series. If the Yankees are lucky, history will repeat itself.

But they have to tame the Tigers if they want it to.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Before the ALDS, my cousin C.J. from Baltimore (yeah, I know about the A.J. – C.J. thing, heard it a million times) wrote me a little message on Facebook:

“Here come the O’s, buddy. Gonna be a good series!”

I responded, “Definitely! O’s have a fire in them, but it’ll be tough to cool off Robinson Cano. May the best team win.”

Obviously it wasn’t tough for them to Cool off Cano, but the Yanks still won. I wrote back last night,

“Good series, cuz. O’s battled like warriors, came up just short. Hope the Yankees can knock off the Tigers now!”

C.J., the class act he is, replied, “Aw man, what a classic series. Already can’t wait for next year. Best of luck to you guys!”

I’d just like to thank C.J. for being (in a way) a gracious loser; not making me, a Yankee fan, feel bad about winning the ALDS, him being an O’s fan – and even going as far as wishing me luck (as a fan) in the next round.

Thanks again, Ceej. And it was a classic series. I hope the Yankees and O’s meet again in the playoffs next year. I’m up for another series.  

Clean Rocket Fuel

Perjury was the case that they gave him. And he’s innocent.

Innocent?

In May, 2007 I sat in a sports bar with my dad. Roger Clemens had just agreed to return to the New York Yankees days before, having spent three seasons with the Houston Astros, dipping in and out of retirement.  I overheard another fan sitting at a nearby table, fawning over Clemens’s comeback.

“He is THE greatest pitcher of our era,” he said to his friend. “I’m so glad he’s back.”

Clemens went on to have a mediocre half-season for the Yanks, finishing 6-6 with a 4.18 ERA. He had to leave his only postseason start vs. Cleveland in the ALDS early with a groin injury.

Knowing Clemens’s history – admitting his career was over, only for him to rejoin his team halfway through the year – I never expected his start vs. the Indians in the ‘07 ALDS to be his last game. I got the feeling that Clemens, even at 45 years old, would somehow find his way back to the majors in 2008.

That is, until the can of worms was opened on Dec. 13, 2007; the possible secret to his longevity revealed.

Clemens was named in the infamous Mitchell Report, a 409-page document which deeply explored steroid usage in Major League Baseball.  The Rocket’s name was mentioned 82 times. Upon the release of the report, and his name being linked with steroid usage, Clemens vehemently denied using performance-enhancing drugs, steroids, HGH, or any other illegal substance in order to gain an unfair advantage on the diamond.

The main whistleblower in the whole ordeal was Brian McNamee, a former personal strength coach of Clemens and his former teammate and friend, the recently hobbled Andy Pettitte. McNamee confessed that he personally injected Clemens with steroids, sparking a huge he said-she said case.

In a nutshell, McNamee claimed, “Yes, Roger took steroids. I know because I gave them to him.” Clemens contended, “No, I didn’t take them. Brian is lying.”

Determined to tell his side of the story, Clemens appeared on 60 Minutes in January of 2007 to plead his case. In the interview, he stated that McNamee only injected him with Lidocaine (a pain reliever) and B-12 (or Vitamin B).

What particularly stood out to me in that interview was his response to Mike Wallace’s question about the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Wallace inquired about what Clemens’s chances of making the hall might be, given the steroid allegations.

“What makes you think I give a damn about the Hall of Fame?” Clemens answered, in clearly a frustrated tone.

That did it right there for me. That response alone wiped away a great deal of respect I once had for the Rocket. No player, no matter what, should ever speak that way about the Hall of Fame, because being a member of that exclusive club is an honor every player should “give a damn about.”

The saga continued in February of 2008 when Clemens stood before congress and claimed he never used PEDs, steroids, or HGH. Being that Clemens swore under oath he never used steroids, if it came out that he was lying, he could have faced jail time – such is the punishment for lying under oath, or in judicial terminology, perjury.

The host of congressmen were divided during the hearing. In fact, I recall watching the coverage of the hearing and it seemed half of the committee believed Clemens and the other half sided with McNamee.

Talk about giving new meaning to the phrase, “a house divided.”

Clemens was indicted in August 2010 and his trial began July 13 of last year. The case was declared a mistrial and as a result Clemens was retried.

This whole mess finally came to a head 11 days ago, Monday, June 18, when Clemens was found not guilty on six counts of lying to congress about using steroids, HGH, and performance-enhancing drugs.

Where was I when I learned of the Rocket’s innocence?

Of all places, Yankee Stadium. I guess that’s poetically just.

Perhaps in a way to celebrate his successful trial, Clemens attended a Boston Red Sox game recently. He sat in the Green Monster seats, protected by a group of security guards. Maybe it was the Rocket’s way of attempting to endear himself back into the hearts of his baseball fans in Boston, where he started his career and flourished.

But it was for naught. Clemens was booed by the Fenway Faithful.

Clemens, to me, will now forever be a mystery. Now I have a barrage of questions that I’m not sure will ever be answered.

Should the fans, now knowing he technically didn’t lie, forgive him and consider him one of the most elite pitchers in not only Yankee history, but baseball history?

Does the fact that he was found not guilty really prove he was innocent? Or in other words, did he get away with perjury?

If he really was telling the truth, is he the rightful “greatest pitcher of our era?”

Despite his asinine comments, is he worthy of the Hall of Fame now?

If he came back to Yankee Stadium and sat amongst the bleacher creatures, how would he be received by Yankee Universe in comparison to how Red Sox Nation reacted to his presence?

I don’t know. And I might never know, for sure.

Little Big Leaguer

The Yankees made it two in a row tonight, winning a decisive 8-3 game against the Royals to take the series two games to one. The Bombers received their second straight brilliant outing from the returning Andy Pettitte, who walked one and struck out eight over seven innings of work. The crafty lefty only made two mistakes, solo homers served up to Billy Butler and Mitch Maier.

Other than those two hiccups, Pettitte twirled a gem. (Stands, applauds)

The Yanks finally saw some production out of Alex Rodriguez, who hadn’t homered since May 6. Tonight Rodriguez smacked two long home runs to help push himself out of his slump. Curtis Granderson also homered, his 14th round-tripper of the year and his first in a week.

The Yanks roughed up Kansas City starter Will Smith, who if you follow me on Twitter or the Yankee Yapping Facebook page, was the butt of every “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” obscure reference tonight. 

It’s funny how after being read the “Yankee Yapping Riot Act” the bats came alive. The trick for the Yanks will be to keep those bats alive and kicking when they begin their series on the west coast Friday night against the 22-23 Oakland Athletics.

While it’s nice to see the Yanks slowly but surely come out of their funk, something caught my attention over the weekend that I didn’t get a chance to write about, as reporting about the High School sports scene here in the New York suburbs for my newspaper is occupying a lot of my time these days.

This past weekend the Yankees played the Reds, losing their first interleague series of the year, 2-1. Cincinnati has a third baseman by the name of Todd Frazier, who played in the Little League World Series in 1998 – and won.

Frazier, a New Jersey native, was on the Toms Rivers squad that beat Japan in the ’98 LLWS, and once they mentioned that series it was almost as if a spark had gone off in my head. I actually remember that Little League World Series, all because of one memory.

1998 was the first year I played Little League, and at the end of the season each Little Leaguer in the country was issued a newsletter. In the newsletter was an article about the Toms Rivers team winning the LLWS; in fact I vividly remember the picture that came with the article of the team celebrating and the Little Leaguers walking out of South Williamsport, PA with the trophy.

There were also interviews in the newsletter with Derek Jeter and Pettitte – and they talked about their experiences in Little League, which was cool to read about. I recall reading about how Pettitte was an opponent of Little League pitchers throwing curveballs, for fear of ruining their arms at a young age.

Whenever someone mentions Little League, I get this warm, fuzzy, nostalgic feeling inside; it brings back a flood of memories. The Little League I played in was located in Beacon, NY, and I still feel to this day we had one of the best programs in our area at that time.

Our teams were named and fashioned after actual MLB teams: there were the Mets, the Red Sox, the Indians, the Giants, the Dodgers, the Pirates, the Cardinals, the Orioles (although the second year I played they became the Blue Jays), and the Athletics, among others.

As fate would have it, I wound up on the Yankees. Believe it or not, this was my uniform…

Little League was a struggle at first, but I learned as I went along that hard work pays off. Basically the entire first season I played, I only reached base if I walked. I also had to watch each one of my teammates receive the game ball after every game we won for their efforts, always having the feeling I would never be given the game ball because I struggled so mightily.

It was enough to get down on myself and get dejected. But I didn’t quit. I kept trying.

Gradually my swing got a little better; I started making contact. Eventually I recorded my first base hit and first RBI off the Indians, a sharp line drive single to center field which drove in a runner from third.

After the game my coaches awarded me the game ball; my first hit and my first RBI. It felt incredibly good to finally do something positive offensively and even better to be recognized for it. I still have the ball and I will probably hold onto it forever.

The second year I played I was given the game ball after a win over the Dodgers. I drove in what turned out to be the winning run by laying down a bunt, and reaching second base on the throw. Because of my hustle I got the ball – and yes, I kept that one, too.

My Little League years are a cherished time in my life; they were sweet and innocent. I was just a kid who loved baseball, I got to play, and even enjoyed a little bit of success. Obviously not to the degree that Frazier did, but it doesn’t matter. Only a small amount of Little Leaguers do get to enjoy success at the Major League level.

To all the Little Leaguers playing out there this season: my message is to enjoy yourselves. I hope you love taking the field day after day as much as I did when I played.

If you were to ask me to describe my Little League experience in one word, it would “fun.” And that’s what baseball is supposed to be.

Covering the Bases

Andy Pettitte made his long-awaited return to the Yankees yesterday, doing relatively well for a pitcher who hasn’t been in a live MLB game since Oct. 18, 2010. The veteran lefty tossed 6.2 innings and let up four earned runs on seven hits. He walked three and struck out two in a 6-2 series finale loss to the Seattle Mariners.

Pettitte really only made two mistakes – a pair of pitches he left out over the plate that Justin Smoak and Casper Wells were able to get around on, each clubbing two-run home runs. Other than showing that little bit of rust, he was his normal self.

But I’m not ready to pass any judgment on his performance. In fact, the subject of this entry has absolutely nothing to do with Pettitte.

Roughly two weeks ago I was on Twitter (might as well call me the “Titan of Twitter” these days) and one of my dear friends, Micheal Robinson, tweeted this:

Right after I read his tweet, I realized how fortunate I am to cover the game of baseball as a member of an exclusive club – the press. Last year the editor at the previous newspaper I worked for covered most of our local High School baseball teams, as I took on the task of basically becoming the girls’ lacrosse beat writer. (I did however cover a small amount of baseball last season).

This year my new editor has given me more baseball games to cover and only a select amount of lacrosse games. It’s easy to say this spring season has been a lot of fun for me.

The only thing I ever wanted to be was a baseball player. I had the opportunity to play at the High School level, but not beyond that. For awhile it bothered me, but lately it’s dawned on me that, albeit right now it’s only at the level I played at, it’s the next best thing.

I might not get to actually play the game organized, but I get to be around it as much as possible.

And as a reporter who’s covered the game at the High School level, I figured I would share some experiences and things a cub reporter can expect covering baseball; the sights, the sounds, and what you pick up on as a journalist.

So for Micheal, and everyone else aspiring to be a baseball writer, this is for you.

Baseball’s National Anthems

Of the dozen or so baseball games I’ve covered this spring, in between innings two songs are usually always blaring through the speakers: Centerfield by John Fogerty and Glory Days by Bruce Springsteen. Both of these tunes represent the spirit of the game, and fittingly, I am usually expecting to hear them at every game I go to cover.

 

“Balls in, Comin’ Down!!!”

The average baseball fan knows that before each inning begins, the defense is allowed to warm up. The pitcher tosses to the catcher to get his arm loose, the infielders take grounders, and the outfielders play catch to stay limber.

What the average fan may not know is the terminology used at the end of each warm-up routine. The catcher will yell out the phrase, “Balls in, comin’ down!”

The infielders and outfielders must then throw their warm-up baseballs back to the dugout, and the catcher (on the last warm-up pitch) throws the game ball down to the second baseman – as a practice throw for when a runner tries to steal second base.

If you were to attend a Yankee game, you wouldn’t be able to hear the catcher yell it out, sitting in the stands. But attending or covering a High School game, you hear it all the time, easily.

I remember first hearing the phrase in Little League, and since then, every time I go to a Yankee game I quietly utter it to myself. It’s nice hearing it again whenever I cover a baseball game; it gets me very nostalgic.

The Question

As a reporter, you need materials to cover a game. It should come as no shock that generally a pen and a notepad are required, and a good reporter usually has a recorder, perfect for postgame interviews.

A journalist must keep a good eye on the game and write down everything they see. While covering two games this season, I have been asked the same question; once by a student spectator and once by a parent:

“Are you a scout?”

Both times I just chuckled and replied, “No, I’m just a reporter, here to cover the game.”

I was later told I must have the look of a scout. But I was surprised I was asked the question, especially on more than occasion. After all, I didn’t have a radar gun, an essential tool all scouts bring to baseball games – and reporters don’t.

Amazing Feats

Just because the players I report on are in High School doesn’t mean they aren’t incredible athletes and humble kids. Last year I witnessed something at a High School baseball game that I’ll probably never forget.

On May 7, 2011 I covered an event called the Sorrentino Cup – a game played between Yorktown High School and Lakeland High School here in New York.

A senior pitcher by the name of Jonathan de Marte of Lakeland absolutely shined; he struck out 14 batters, didn’t issue a walk and took a perfect game into the last inning.

He retired the first batter and got himself into a 3-2 count on the second-to-last batter, a player named Jake Matranga.  De Marte left his fastball up in the zone and Matranga blasted it, connecting for a solo home run to break up the perfect game bid.

When the ball flew over the centerfield wall, I couldn’t imagine at that moment what he was thinking; I know I was left in sheer disbelief. He was literally staring the perfecto right in the eye, and with one pitch it was over.

Afterward I interviewed him, expecting him to be down on his luck, even though his team won the game 4-1 to capture the Sorrentino Cup. I had no choice but to anticipate the worst, thinking he would be in a foul mood; losing his perfect game when he was so close to it.

Totally the opposite. He was as cool as the other side of the pillow.

De Marte had preserved his perfect game the inning before when one of the Yorktown hitters hit a weak ground ball in front of him. He pounced of the mound and made a spectacular play, almost hiking the ball through his legs like a football center to get the out.

“I’d rather lose the perfect game on a home run than on a weak ground ball like that,” de Marte said of the situation. “I’m not too upset about it, I’m just glad we won.”

Words I never thought I’d hear from him. A High School pitcher, yet as professional as Derek Jeter.

De Marte went on to win New York State’s Gatorade Player of the Year – becoming the only player in history to win the award twice. Lakeland was eliminated in the playoffs, falling short of a sectional title. I wrote a story about him winning the Gatorade award, and again, he was just as humble as he was the day he lost the perfect game.

“It’s exciting to be the first player in New York to win it twice in a row, back to back,” he said. “It’s proof that hard work pays off, but I’d trade it in to still be playing.”

In that same interview he told me Tommy John went to one of his games to see him pitch, and even went to his house after the game to give him advice on what to do should he get drafted.

I hope it happens for him.

This year de Marte is pitching at Richmond University in Virginia. Sometime down the line I look forward to hearing about which team he gets drafted to. What he showed me that day – everything from the athleticism and dominant pitching to the dignity and class after the game – he has the makings of a big leaguer.

Broken Records

Some of baseball’s most unbreakable records include Ted Williams batting .406 for an entire season, Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, and Barry Bonds’ 762 home runs.

Believe it or not, High Schools keep records, too. And on May 4, at a game I was covering, a pitcher broke one.

At Byram Hills High School in Armonk, N.Y. (the same school I met Bernie Williams at) senior pitcher Scott Rose broke the school’s all-time strikeout record by fanning the last batter of the game – his 89th career strikeout to claim the record. He pitched his team to a 7-4 win over visiting Horace Greeley High School.

Funny thing was, he wasn’t even thinking about the record until the last batter.

“I didn’t have it in mind because I wasn’t getting a lot of strikeouts until that inning,” he said. “But once I got that first one in the seventh, it was definitely on my mind for the second. It was cool, but more important that we got the win.”

If Rose goes on to bigger and better things, I’ll be able to say, “He broke his High School’s strikeout record…and I covered the game.”

Family Ties

There is so much more that meets the eye in baseball, more so than any other sport. In 1990, Ken Griffey, Sr. and his son, Ken Griffey, Jr., became the first father and son duo to play on the same team, the Seattle Mariners. That same season, on Sept. 14, they became the first father and son tandem to hit back-to-back home runs.

Crazy to think about.

On April 28, I covered Valhalla High School’s game at Croton-Harmon, two local teams with strong baseball programs. A senior pitcher named Matt Cassinelli started for Valhalla, while his brother, Justin, started at second base.

In the top of the fourth Justin legged out an RBI triple, lacing the ball to deep left-centerfield. The 3-bagger gave Valhalla a 4-0 lead, and they wound up winning the game 4-3.

Justin wound up giving his brother Matt just enough offense to pick up the win.

I asked Matt after the game what he thought about his brother driving in the deciding run, and his response left me in hysterics.

“I think I’ll be cooking a big dinner for him tonight.”

Only in baseball would I have gotten an answer like that.

Solid Sluggers

Right now, the hottest hitter in the majors is undoubtedly Josh Hamilton. Currently the Texas Rangers’ outfielder is batting .402 with 41 RBIs, and is leading the bigs in basically every offensive category.

Hamilton has 18 home runs in this young season, four of which came on the same day. On May 8 he smacked four home runs in one night, dismantling the Baltimore Orioles’ pitching.

Although none of the baseball players I’ve covered have hit four homers in a game, one player crushed two in one day.

The first game I covered this season was a game played between Horace Greeley High School and John Jay-Cross River. John Jay has a strong, well-rounded fundamental squad whereas Greeley possesses a good amount of talent, but really only one power hitter: a senior catcher named Andres Larramendi.

Larramendi will be catching for Princeton University next year, and I quickly found out why he is going to such a great college. On Opening Day he showcased his power, blasting two home runs in his first two at-bats; bombs deep over the left field wall.

I asked him about Princeton after the game, and he told me he couldn’t be more excited to go to a school with such a strong baseball program. As for his multi-home run game:

“I saw two fastballs,” he said. “I was just able to get around on them and put a good swing on them.”

Who knows. I may have covered the next Josh Hamilton that day.

Fantastic Firsts

Typically when a player records their first base hit, the baseball is sent back to the dugout. The team will take it, polish it off, and present it to the player as a memento. As a matter of fact, I remember in my first year playing Little League, I recorded my first hit and my first RBI in one of the last games of the season.

After we won the game, the coaches presented me with the ball, which I still have.

When I got back to the dugout my teammates were so happy for me; they practically jumped on me, whacking my helmet and patting me on the back. Such was the case on April 5 when I covered Briarcliff High School’s Diamond Classic, a tournament they host at the outset of each season.

Briarcliff’s left fielder Spencer Kulman blasted his first varsity level home run, a shot that carried deep over the left field wall. His team retrieved the baseball from behind the fence and gave it to him, but not before they came out of the dugout and congratulated him after he crossed the plate.

He was moved by their gesture.

“It was really nice for them to come out for me like that,” he said. “I’ve hit a couple home runs in practice but never in an actual game. It’s a great feeling.”  

……………………………………………………………..

The only thing I ever wanted to do was play baseball. I am fortunate enough that, even though at a small level, I was able to.

But now, although I’m not playing anymore, I have the next best thing: being around it and involved in it as much as humanely possible. I hope that everyone who loves the game as much as I do can be as lucky as I am, covering such a wonderful sport.

For the Heck of It? Spit Happens

The Yankees have begun somewhat of a winning streak, beating the Royals 10-4 on Sunday and following it up with a 5-3 win last night over the Rays. David Robertson nailed down his first save of the season, giving the Yanks their first taste of life without Mariano Rivera.

Although he didn’t make it easy on himself – and he never does – Robertson slammed the door.

Andy Pettitte is set to make his return to the Bronx on Sunday, as he will start against the Seattle Mariners. Pettitte hasn’t exactly been dazzling in his minor league warm-up starts. Nonetheless, he will look to aid the inconsistent and banged up rotation.

Tonight David Phelps will take the hill vs. Tampa Bay, hoping to roll the Yankee win streak over to three games – that is, barring a rainout.

Yes, it’s been a soggy day here in New York.

While things are OK in Yankee land, something happened on Sunday that was all over baseball; something dirty. Something that I just had to write about and express my opinion on.

The Washington Nationals hosted the Philadelphia Phillies, and lost 9-3. In the first inning, Philadelphia starter Cole Hamels beaned 19-year-old rookie outfielder Bryce Harper with a 93 mph fastball, right on the back between the “3” and “4” on his jersey.

Harper recovered and eventually made Hamels pay for it, stealing home plate straight up later in the inning. The Nationals also received retribution by retaliating, plunking Hamels in his first turn at bat in the third inning.

After the game the media questioned Hamels about the HBP. His response:

“I was trying to hit him,” he said. “I’m not going to deny it. That’s something I grew up watching, that’s kind of what happened. So I’m just trying to continue the old baseball because I think some people are kind of getting away from it.”

Basically the message Hamels sent was, “Welcome to the big leagues, kid.”

I’m sorry, but that’s just not a good enough reason to intentionally hit someone. It’s a classless act of shameless unsportsmanlike conduct. The way it appeared, Hamels almost seemed proud of himself after the game; happy he got a piece of the new kid everyone is talking about because of his ability and talent.

Unlike Hamels, Harper showed some class afterward. He called Hamels a good pitcher and in a lot of ways brushed the bean ball off his back, not making much of the situation. Harper proved he has a lot of, I’ll say, Jeterian qualities.

Now in certain circumstances, intentional HBPs are…I don’t want to say “acceptable,” but understanding. A hitter can be plunked but for a good reason, such as last year in David Ortiz’s case. He flipped his bat, showed up the Yankees, and as a result CC Sabathia hit him with a pitch later in the Yankees’ series vs. Boston.

It’s just business. And even I have been guilty of such actions, when it was called for.

In fifth grade I played CYO basketball. I was on a travel team and we had a long season; not a lot of my teammates had ever played organized ball before and we took our lumps pretty hard. As a matter of fact we didn’t win a single game that entire season.

One game we were getting absolutely pounded, losing by a significant margin. Late in the fourth quarter, the other team didn’t bench its best player; he was still in the game, knocking down 3-point field goals like it was nothing.

I contested one of his last shots from outside the arc, trying my best to throw him off-balance so that he would miss the basket. It didn’t faze him, though. He put the ball up through my arms and into the net for another 3-pointer, following it by pumping his fist in celebration.

His team and its supporters went bananas for him, cheering and hollering as loud as they could.

As any player with pride and an ego would, I didn’t take kindly to it at all. There was absolutely no reason he still needed to be on the floor with his team winning by that much. Not to mention he came off about as conceited and cocky as any player I had ever faced.

When the final buzzer sounded and the beatdown was over, our teams lined up to slap hands, as all teams do following a game in honor of sportsmanship. I made sure to be the last player in line – he was lined up first on his side.

I figured that would be the best way to execute my little retaliation scheme.

When no one was looking, I hocked the biggest loogie of my life, and then spat it into my right hand.  I smeared the matter all over my palm, making sure it was saturated with my slime.

He looked at me with a huge, egotistical ear-to-ear smile on his face as I approached him.

“Good game!” he said to me, with enthusiasm.

As he received a handful of my snot and saliva, I grinned back at him.

“Yeah. Good game.”

Right away he became angry, as any player would after being spat on. He tried to confront me, but my teammates separated us before any other kind of altercation ensued.

He may have shown me up on the court, but I got the last laugh.

It wasn’t long after that I quit playing organized hoops and started playing baseball. The next season I began my Little League career and played baseball through my second year in High School – and never again did I spit on my hand and slap an opposing player with it after a game.

Yet at the same time, I never again faced an athlete as full of himself as that one basketball player.

Was it the nicest way to get retribution? Absolutely not. It was disgusting, actually.

Did it need to be done? In my mind, yes. He had to dish what he served.

As a competitor, you can’t let someone get away with being a show-off. The same way the Yankees couldn’t let Ortiz get away with the arrogant bat flip, I couldn’t let that kid get away with making me and my team look like a bunch of losers.

A message had to be sent – and I made sure to send it.

But going back to the topic at hand, and to bottom line it, Harper didn’t deserve to be hit by Hamels. He didn’t show-off; didn’t show-up the Phillies. In no way did the situation call for a bean ball, and for Hamels to openly admit he hit Harper simply as a so-called “welcoming” to the majors is absurd and nonsensical.

Had Harper crushed a 450’ homer off Hamels, and then danced his way to home plate – the way that kid remained in the basketball game and hit a 3-pointer when his team was already up big, and then reacted as if he had just won the NBA Finals – I would understand it; the situation would call for it.

But the way Harper has conducted himself so far – as a gentleman – it was totally unnecessary. I can only hope the next time he faces Hamels, he does take him deep.

Hamels deserves it. The same way that player deserved a handful of my slobber.

99 Problems

Well…at least it may seem like that way. Although the Yankees don’t technically have 99 problems, the gaping holes in the pitching staff are not making things easy for the Bronx Bombers.

Despite a late-game attempt to stage a comeback this afternoon at home, the Yankees dropped the second game in their three-game series with the Detroit Tigers, 7-5.

The loss rested primarily on the shoulders of, no surprise, the starting pitching. As a matter of fact, most of the games the Bombers have lost this year were the result of the starters putting the offense in a hole they weren’t able to climb out of.

Something undoubtedly needs to be done, but the solution to this problem isn’t as simple as calling up a young arm to replace a scuffling starter. Even the highly-touted young men in the minors are in trouble.

To bottom line it: the Yankee pitching hasn’t been consistent. Today’s culprit…

Freddy Garcia

For the second consecutive start, Freddy Garcia only pitched 1.2 innings. His last time out the Red Sox shelled him at Fenway; seven hits, five earned runs before the end of the second inning, and it was time for him to hit the showers.

But the Yankee offense miraculously bailed Garcia out, coming back from a nine-run deficit to win.

Today, he wasn’t as lucky.

The Tigers tattooed Garcia for six earned runs on five hits, chasing him from the game before the second inning concluded. The Yankees tried to chip away on the strength of two home runs off the bat of Nick Swisher and one from Curtis Granderson.

A valiant effort, but it could not be done.

Not that I ever want to wish ill of the Yankees or want them to lose, but in a strange way, I’m glad they did – only because Garcia deserved the loss, which he recorded. Garcia is now 0-2 this year with a skyscraping 12.51 ERA.

He has only pitched 13.1 innings in the four starts he’s made and has allowed 19 earned runs in those games. If that isn’t enough, opponents are averaging .403 against Garcia.

It’s only been four games, nonetheless the question right now is: how long are the Yankees going to let this continue? The fans have lost their patience, as evidenced by the deafening chorus of boos he received walking off the mound today.

Garcia’s nickname is “The Chief.” It’s my presumption that soon he’ll be the Chief of a different tribe.

But Garcia isn’t the only starter who has hasn’t pitched up to his potential.

Phil Hughes

In 2007 Sports Illustrated dubbed Phil Hughes the “Pocket Rocket,” comparing him to a young Roger Clemens. It’s hard enough to live up to such a comparison, but even more difficult trying to live up to it in pinstripes.

Hughes hasn’t exactly been a total bust, but he certainly hasn’t been what the Yankees had hoped for. He’s been a big leaguer since April, ’07 – that’s five years and the start of a sixth, by my math – and really only has two good seasons to show for it.

In 2009 Hughes was relegated to the bullpen where he shined in a setup role for the better part of the year. He went 8-3 and struck out 96 batters in 86 innings pitched. Hughes helped lead the Yankees to the ’09 World Series title and followed up with a stellar overall record in 2010, pitching out of the rotation.

Hughes won 18 games, but started to decline; his arm tired. Since the end of the ’10 season, he hasn’t been the same pitcher, going 5-5 last year with disabled list stints and poor outings.

This season Hughes is 1-3 with an elevated 7.88 ERA. His pitches look flat and his fastball has no movement, giving hitters the ability to feast upon it. Each of Hughes’s losses have been convincing defeats; he’s let up 14 earned runs in the 16 innings he’s pitched.

It’s just not working out for him right now.

I’m not sure if there is an answer for it, other than the Yankees may have flip-flopped him too many times; juggled him from the ‘pen to the rotation too much. The constant role reversal from starter to reliever may have caused too much wear and tear to his arm, and more particularly, his rotator cuff – which he had surgery on.

The same way I have no answer for his sudden pitching neurosis, I have no answer for what the Yankees should do about Hughes.

Trade him? His value is too low.

Send him to the minors? No point.

Hughes may be having a rough go of it, but not as rough as his partner….

Joba Chamberlain

While Joba Chamberlain may not have been given a special nickname by Sports Illustrated (except for maybe “Joba the Hutt” in a joking manner) he was the most excitable and energetic pitcher to come up through the Yankee farm system.

Like Hughes, Chamberlain debuted in 2007 and made an immediate impact, throwing close to 100 mph every time he came out of the bullpen in relief. Another way he was like Hughes: his constant role reversal.

Chamberlain was made a starter in 2008, and then as everyone knows, placed on the infamous “Joba Rules,” limiting his innings in ridiculous ways. In ’09 he worked as a starter and out of the ‘pen before once again being made a full-time reliever.

You would think the Yankee brass would just come up with a definite plan for their young arms, right?

Think again.

The injury bug has bit Chamberlain so many times over the last two years. Most recently, a trampoline incident fractured his ankle, probably ending his season. Chamberlain has made it clear he is adamant about returning this year, but even if he does, it’s fair to say he might not be the same flamethrower he was when he first joined the show.

The Yankees made a trade in the off-season, most likely to help make up for the lack of production they were getting out of Hughes and Chamberlain.

How’d that work out?

Michael Pineda

On Jan. 13 the Yankees swapped one of their prime young bats, Jesus Montero, in exchange for Michael Pineda, a promising starting pitcher who was a sensation in Seattle; the supporting cast member to Felix Hernandez’s star.

After a good-looking Spring Training, Pineda experienced pain in his pitching shoulder. He got it checked out, was diagnosed with tendinitis, and was ultimately placed on the 15-day DL literally right before the first game of the year.  

Following Pineda’s tendinitis, an MRI revealed he has a torn labrum, forcing the Yankees to shut him down for the entire season.

The 23-year-old will not pitch in 2012 while Montero currently has three homers and 12 RBIs for the Mariners.

Talk about a punch in the gut.

I joked the other day that when the Yankees visit Seattle this year, Brian Cashman should walk right up to the Mariners’ GM and simply say, “You hustled me, man.”

All kidding aside, it remains to be seen whether or not Pineda will pay dividends, because his injury hasn’t given him the chance to show the Yankees what he can really do. But until at least 2013, the trade basically was useless.

The Yankees have two other young arms waiting in the wings; possible hole-fillers for Pineda.

 However…

Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos

It’s tough to analyze each of these young hurlers, because they’re both pitching in Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. I haven’t seen first-hand what they have been doing, so it’s tough to say if their numbers are indicative of how well or how poorly they’ve pitched.

But what’s that old saying? The numbers don’t lie?

24-year-old Dellin Betances has made five starts this year and is 1-2 with a 7.25 ERA. He’s allowed 22 hits in the 22.1 innings he’s pitched, along with 21 runs (18 of which have been earned). He’s struck out 19 batters – but that doesn’t look good next to the 21 walks he’s issued.

In 2009 Betances had Tommy John surgery and right now it seems as if he isn’t one of those pitchers that has had the procedure and thrived afterward.

After today’s loss, a lot of fans said, “Call up Betances and designate Garcia for assignment.” But from the way things are looking right now, that scenario would be almost as useful as replacing Garcia for…well…Garcia.

According to the numbers, Betances hasn’t been pitching well at all. And his teammate, 21-year-old southpaw Manny Banuelos, is having the same bad luck.

Banuelos has made two starts this year and is 0-1 with a 10.13 ERA. He’s thrown just 5.1 innings and let up six earned runs on 14 hits. Banuelos walked seven batters in those two games and only struck out two.

Making matters worse, Banuelos is currently on the DL, making his improbable call-up basically impossible. After a stint on the DL, I don’t see any likely scenario this year in which Banuelos gets the call to the big team.

What do you do when your present and future are betraying you?

Turn to the past…

Andy Pettitte

Although I have expressed my disdain for Andy Pettitte’s decision to come out of retirement – disdain that I still uphold – I did follow up by mentioning I wish no ill will on Pettitte and that if he returns and succeeds, more power to him; it will only help the Yankees.

And the Yankee pitching is hurting in the worst way right now. Therefore, I don’t see how Pettitte can do anything but help.

Due to inclement weather conditions, Pettitte will pitch for Class-A Tampa in his next start (he had been slated to start for Double-A Trenton). From there he will be evaluated and hopefully, for the Yankees’ sake, be ready to join the team and aid the banged-up rotation in the coming weeks.

The Yankees’ 39-year-old lefty has had noted groin and elbow issues in the past. Hopefully the Bombers can catch a break for once, however, and Pettitte will return and fill the void left by the fledgling, young members of the rotation.

Rest easy, Yankee fans. Help is on the way.

…………………………………………………………

Just a Thought

Today I was texting with a friend while Garcia was getting lit up. He suggested the possibility of signing free agent Roy Oswalt.

If the Yankees could get him cheap, I’d say it’s a great idea. Low risk, possibly a high reward.

Like I said: just a thought.

Red Sox Learn the Lesson They Taught

The game was in the bag. The Red Sox tore apart Yankees’ starter Freddy Garcia and led 9-0 going into the sixth inning, ready to avenge their 6-2 loss to the Yank…Highlanders the day before – the day they celebrated Fenway Park’s centennial.

But Boston learned what they taught the Yankees in October, 2004: no lead is safe.

Mark Teixeira hammered a solo home run over the Green Monster in the sixth. The round-tripper was followed by a seven-run barrage by the Yanks in the seventh inning. If that wasn’t enough, the Bronx Bombers continued to slaughter the Boston bullpen, adding another seven runs in the eighth to complete an improbable comeback, finishing the Red Sox off, 15-9.

Incredible. An enormous lead and a surefire win for the Red Sox wiped away; another humiliating loss to their most hated rivals.

And to the Yankees and their fans: yet another feather in the cap; another triumph.

I watched the game up until the sixth inning. Basically I saw Teixeira’s solo home run, watched Philip Humber complete his perfect game vs. Seattle, and left the house, having covered a girls’ lacrosse game earlier in the day, and having been invited out to dinner by a group of friends last evening.

Assuming the Yankees were going to lose, I didn’t listen to the game on the radio in the car. I was left in utter disbelief when I found out the Yankees had pulled to within one run – and even more stunned when I heard they came back to win it.

As a matter of fact I was so excited, I did cartwheels in the rain. Here’s the proof:

Here’s what I made of the whole game…

Implosion

These past few seasons, the Yankees have a strange way about them when it comes to facing pitchers they haven’t seen. They don’t seem to generate sufficient offense against pitchers they have never faced. Because of that, it came as no shock to me that Felix Doubront was mowing the Bombers down one by one through the first six innings.

But Teixeira’s home run chased Doubront from the game and Boston’s bullpen – which is thin and weak – blew it. The Red Sox ‘pen pitched three innings, surrendered 14 runs (13 earned), issued four walks, and only struck out two batters.

It’s impossible to win when the relief corps can’t finish the game. Boston proved that yesterday.

Giving the Red Sox ‘pen the most problems was Nick Swisher, who not only clubbed a grand slam in the seventh inning, but picked up a go-ahead two-run double in the eighth which gave the Yankees a 10-9 lead.

Swisher finished the day with six RBIs – and he wasn’t the only Yankee with that many runs driven in.

Teixeira also punished the Boston relievers, notching six RBIs. He hit a three-run homer in the seventh to pull the Yanks within one run and later gave his team a cushion, smacking a two-run ground-rule double in the eighth to pad the lead.

Overall, what I took away from the bullpen collapse: a huge hole in their arsenal; a major vulnerability. If the Yankees were able to overcome a gigantic deficit and dismantle the Red Sox relievers, any team can – especially when the closer is blowing the game.

Alfredo Aceves is filling in for Andrew Bailey, the closer Boston signed to supplant Jonathan Papelbon.  The Red Sox have played 14 games this young season, and Aceves already has two blown saves.  He took the loss yesterday and his ERA is currently a bloated 24.00.

And it’s not just him.

Five of the six relievers the Red Sox used yesterday have an ERA over 4.00.

Boston is 4-10 right now, good for last place in the AL East. And if they don’t straighten out that bullpen in a hurry, things are only going to get worse for the boys from Beantown.

Freddy Garcia

Last weekend I covered a high school baseball game. It was a tight one, with one team winning by just one run, 4-3. The winning pitcher’s brother drove in what turned out to be the deciding run, and when I interviewed the pitcher after the game, he had one thing to say about his brother’s clutch hit that secured a win for him:

“I’ll be making a big dinner for him tonight.”

Freddy Garcia probably did the same for Swisher and Teixeira. They bailed him out of what would have been his second consecutive loss.

Garcia has not pitched a good game this year, at 0-1 with a 9.75 ERA. He’s averaged just four innings pitched per start, and only lasted 1.2 innings yesterday. The Boston offense did a nice job knocking him around in the early-going. Garcia let up five earned runs on seven hits without walking a batter and without recording a strikeout.

Not good.

It’s obvious his spot in the rotation is in jeopardy with Andy Pettitte about two and a half weeks away from being ready to re-join the show.

Via Twitter and Facebook yesterday, I read a lot of fan complaints about Garcia’s pitching. Lucky for them, he probably won’t be in the starting five much longer. When Pettitte returns, Garcia will most likely be relegated to the bullpen while the veteran southpaw gets slid into his rotation slot.

Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira

 

Twelve of the 15 runs the Yankees scored were driven in by Swisher and Teixeira. Both have been so streaky and hot-cold, but in the early part of this year have in a lot of ways cemented their value to the Yankees.

Swisher played a pivotal role in the second series the Yankees played this season in Baltimore, blasting what turned out to be the game-winning home run on April 11. The switch-hitting right fielder has 20 RBIs, which at the moment leads the American League.

There has been a lot of speculation (at least among some fans) about Swisher possibly being traded this year. But right now it’s not an option; the Yankees would be foolish to let him go, considering the way he’s been swinging the bat.

To bottom line it: Swisher is raking, and won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

As for Teixeira…

I don’t know how many times I heard Tim McCarver proclaim yesterday how much of a “notoriously slow starter” Teixeira is. Not that I usually agree with anything McCarver really ever says, but it’s true. Historically, the Yankee first baseman never comes out of Spring Training strong.

But in mid-2009 Teixeira claimed that his “home runs come in bunches” – and while it’s true he typically never gets off to a hot start, Teixeira’s statement about home runs coming in bunches is true.

Case in point: his two homers over the Green Monster yesterday.

Teixeira now has three homers on the year and is batting .288 with 11 RBIs. I wouldn’t exactly call that a slow start, but he has to become more of a situational hitter – like he’s been, so far.

Bobby Valentine

Throughout his tenure as Red Sox skipper, I never had anything negative to say about Terry Francona. I thought he did a lot right by his team; keeping troublemakers like Manny Ramirez in check and dealing with the unconventional, fun-loving ways of David Ortiz.

He led the Red Sox to the playoffs five times in the eight years he served as manager, winning two World Series titles along the way.

Francona will always be a beloved figure in Boston, like Joe Torre is in New York.

But after failing to make the postseason the last two years, the Red Sox brass moved him out as manager and moved in the always-controversial Bobby Valentine – who is a polar opposite of the type of manager Francona was.

Valentine has dug himself a fine hole, and hasn’t exactly endeared himself to the Red Sox fans. In both losses to the Yankees this weekend, the capacity crowds at Fenway Park in unison chanted, “We Want Tito!” at Valentine, showing their displeasure at how he has handled his team thus far.

I can’t say as I blame them.

Valentine has done a lot of talking and not a lot of winning, and I can see why that has rubbed the Red Sox fans the wrong way. He called out Kevin Youkilis, questioning the veteran third baseman’s commitment to the team. Valentine also agreed to appear on Michael Kay’s ESPN New York radio show once a week – another reason the BoSox fans are unhappy with him.

I’m not one to ever make predictions, because there’s an old saying about never being able to predict baseball. But looking at things objectively right now, I don’t see a way Valentine keeps his job all the way through the season. In other words, by the time the year is up, I don’t think he will be Red Sox skipper.

He may have been hot stuff in Japan, and he was able to maintain his post as head of the Mets for awhile, but Boston is a different type of baseball city. Valentine is a long way from Japan and even though New York and Boston are only 206 miles apart, he is light years away from his days as Mets’ manager.

The only way I see Valentine staying in Boston is if he closes his mouth and does some winning. Otherwise…

The game tonight has been postponed due to rain – probably the best thing to happen to the scuffling Boston team.

The Yankees (9-6), on the other hand, will go to Texas to play the Rangers tomorrow night, looking to roll their three game win streak into four.

Clarity Spelt P-E-T-T-I-T-T-E

The year was 1995. The place: Jackson, Mississippi. Having spent 10 hours on a bus, during which Sheldon Cooper had to twice violate his personal rule against relieving himself onboard a moving vehicle, Cooper finally arrived at the fourth annual Dixie Trek Convention – only to find that his idol, Wil Wheaton, decided he had better things to do than show up and sign his action figure.

Heartbreaking. But this of course is fiction; a yarn made for television’s hit show The Big Bang Theory.

Want to hear a true story?

The year was 2001. The place: Bronx, New York. Having spent an hour and 45 minutes on a bus with my eighth grade class (no need to relieve myself, if memory serves me correctly) I arrived at Yankee Stadium, excited to receive an Andy Pettitte bobblehead – a stadium giveaway.

The novelty bobblehead was to be given out to fans 14 and younger and I was at 13 years old at the time. As each of my classmates filed into the “House that Ruth Built” through the turnstiles, they were handed a Pettitte bobblehead. It came to be my turn and the distributor squadoosh’d my dreams.

“Sorry, this is for fans 14 and younger,” he told me, with an angered look on his face.

“But I’m 13! The rest of my class got one!” I pleaded.

He just shot me a look of disbelief, as if to say, “Yeah, right.”

Although I was in fact 13, the man refused to believe it. No bobblehead for me.

Looking back, Pettitte may have been behind this conspiracy. I can just picture him in the clubhouse before the game that day, joking around with his great buddy Roger Clemens.

“Yeah. Yeah this little punk A.J. Martelli is coming to the game today with his puny little friends. He thinks he’s getting my bobblehead. Well, HA! That’s not happening.”

Alright, I doubt Pettitte said that, but the rest of it is true. I was indeed denied a Pettitte bobblehead, and no, I have never fully recovered from it. In fact, around the holidays I got together with a number of my old classmates and one of them took a sort of poll.

“By a show of hands, who still has their Andy Pettitte bobblehead?”

I could only hang my head in eternal, burning shame as I reminded them of what transpired that fateful day.

Maybe this is just another reason I should be angry with Pettitte?

Nah. I’m not angry with him. Just disappointed.

This past weekend I wrote about my bemusement of Pettitte coming out of retirement, much to the chagrin and displeasure of my fellow Yankee fans. Many people criticized my viewpoint and strongly disagreed with my opinion on the subject.

And I respect that; everyone has the right to disagree with me.

But I ask that everyone consider and respect my opinion, no matter how strongly one can disagree with it.

Too many athletes are doing this; flip-flopping and weaving in and out of retirement. I am not a proponent of athletes flipping their careers on and off like light switches. When Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Brett Favre retired, he made himself the center of the sports world; everyone was talking about him, and rightfully so, he was ending a Hall of Fame-worthy career.

Or was he?

No, he wasn’t. After making a huge fuss about the conclusion of his playing career, he played two more seasons – and I hated that. I lost some respect for a longtime number one QB because of his actions.

Clemens was the same story, and even before the HGH/steroids information leaked, I lost respect for “The Rocket.” Either play the game, Clemens, or don’t.

Now, Pettitte has traveled down the same road of coming out of retirement after declaring he was, no matter what, done. Essentially he did the same thing Favre and Clemens did – which I didn’t like. I bashed Favre and Clemens for going back-and-forth.

Just because his name is Andy Pettitte, I’m supposed to be perfectly fine with it?

No. I think I would be a hypocrite if I was perfectly fine with it, seeing as how I reacted to Favre and Clemens.

A few days following the announcement of Pettitte’s comeback I was on Twitter. I received a tweet from my good friend Steve over at STATandSTUFF. Finally, someone saw eye-to-eye with me; understood where I’m coming from.

Come to think of it, I hadn’t even really considered his notion; he’s correct. Now younger arms like Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova, and Phil Hughes – who have all pitched very well this spring – may have to duke it out even harder for a rotation spot, because the possibility of Pettitte occupying a slot in the starting five is high. (Although in my last post I did note that the competition for a rotation spot became stiffer).

At least someone agreed with me.

To make things clear though, I am not attempting to wish any ill will on Pettitte. If he makes the team and goes on to have a standout 2012, good for him; more power to him. I can only hope that he does pitch well and dominates in the postseason, for the sake of the Yankees.

Yet, when I look at him from now on, there will be somewhat of a smudge next to his name – right next to his HGH admission. To me, he is in the same category of Favre and Clemens, and I know it makes me unpopular to think that way.

But I refuse to change my stance on the issue. That is, unless something were to happen…

I suppose I could erase any anger/resentment over Pettitte’s flip-flopping ways if:

For one, he personally delivered one of his bobbleheads to me, and apologized to me on behalf of himself and the Yankee organization.

That mishap back in ’01 was just plain wrong.

And secondly, I’d forgive him if he apologized for going back on his retirement. Pettitte made himself look bad, and if he recognizes that, I could easily forgive him and all would be forgotten.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 25 other followers