Results tagged ‘ Andy Pettitte ’

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.

I’m Not OK with It

On Feb. 4, 2011 veteran starting pitcher Andy Pettitte announced his retirement from baseball. The crafty southpaw sat in front of an audience of his peers and teammates, emotionally declaring he was done with baseball at the age of 38. Pettitte last pitched in 2010, making 21 starts for the Yanks and finishing the year with a record of 11-3 attached to a respectable 3.28 ERA.

As a player, Pettitte has accomplished nearly everything one can accomplish. He owns five World Series rings, and has been on pennant-winning teams eight times – seven trips to the fall classic with New York, and one with Houston. He is a three-time All-Star, and even earned the honor of the 2001 ALCS MVP.

Pettitte has also shown that he can get it done on the big stage with 19 wins in the postseason under his belt. His 19 victories make him the winningest pitcher in playoff history.

Really the only accolade Pettitte never captured was the Cy Young Award, and he could have easily won it several times. In fact, in 1996 he was the runner-up to Pat Hentgen. In 2003 Pettitte won 21 games which put him in the running for the Cy, but ultimately he lost out to 22-game winner Roy Halladay.

It was nice to see Pettitte bow out of the game gracefully last winter. Although I was disappointed to see him hang up his spikes, I was happy to see him give it up on his own terms. His teammates, the Yankee organization, and the fans all seemed fine with his decision.

Throughout 2011 Pettitte was asked several times if he would come out of retirement, and whenever he was asked, he remained adamant that he was staying retired. And for that, I respected him. I truly admire when players retire – and stay retired.

And yesterday, all of that changed. My respect, my admiration…all gone.

Jack Curry of the YES Network (That’s right Jack Curry, and no one else) broke the news that Pettitte, who had been in Yankee camp serving as a special instructor, is planning on coming out of retirement. He was offered a one-year minor league deal by the Yankees worth $2.5 million.

According to sources Pettitte threw a discreet bullpen session in front of the Yankee brass on Tuesday morning, and they liked what they saw. Both sides were interested and just like that number 46 is coming back. Yankee fans everywhere are ecstatic to see Pettitte return to the team, granted he has to fight for a spot in the rotation.

But unlike most Yankee fans, I’m not too happy about it.

If it’s one thing that I absolutely cannot stand in sports, it is players who make a big fuss about retiring, hold pressers, become overwrought with emotion, and declare that, no matter what, they are done with the game – only for them to come back and play, for whatever reason.

Following the 2003 season Roger Clemens announced his retirement from baseball. The Yankees sent him off with a Hummer and congratulated him on a wonderful, Hall of Fame-worthy career.

Clemens then hopped in his new Hummer and drove it all the way to Houston, where he pitched for three seasons. Come to think of it, Clemens announced his retirement for the second time following the first annual World Baseball Classic in 2006. Of course that was before he re-joined the Astros midway through ’06 and the Yankees in the middle of 2007.

I hated that. It irked me to see Clemens flip-flop so many times. And considering how close Clemens and Pettitte were during their respective tenures on the Yankees and Astros, I couldn’t help but make the comparison in the case of Pettitte coming out of retirement yesterday.

To Pettitte’s credit, he is taking far less money than Clemens did back in ’07. The Rocket was getting paid somewhere around a $million a game, whereas Pettitte will only make $2.5 mil overall – so in that regard, it’s a little different.

But it doesn’t change the fact that he retired and should have stayed retired. Whenever players play the “I’m retired, I’m not retired” card, I lose respect for them. If Pettitte wanted to remain involved within the Yankee community, he could have just as easily grabbed a blazer and a microphone and gone to the YES booth with his former teammates David Cone, Paul O’Neill, and John Flaherty.

Or better yet, he could have sought a job as a pitching coach. Obviously Larry Rothschild is occupying the job at the big league level, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t have gone out for a job coaching one of the minor league teams and worked his way up.

What also doesn’t make sense to me is that the Yankees are already at a surplus as far as starting pitching goes. The Bombers have six arms fighting for five rotation spots. Manager Joe Girardi has already said only two hurlers have guaranteed jobs: CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda.

Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, Freddy Garcia, and Michael Pineda are currently battling for the final three rotation spots and now the competition just got stiffer. All because Pettitte just couldn’t stay retired.

Something else that confuses me is his problems staying healthy, dating back to the last season he pitched. On July 18, 2010 Pettitte made a start against the Tampa Bay Rays, and came out after just 2.1 innings of work. He hobbled off the mound, sustaining a groin injury. Pettitte didn’t make another start until Sept. 19, exactly two months and a day later.

In an interview yesterday, Yankee General Manager Brian Cashman admitted he is “concerned about Pettitte’s lower half,” and even Pettitte himself said he has to “get the lower half in shape.”

With that in mind, why even bother trying to make a comeback?  He’s only a year older, what makes him think his problems concerning his lower extremities are going to be solved? The last time he pitched his season was basically injury-ravaged. So why would he test himself, risking those types of injuries again?

Now to be fair, Pettitte hasn’t made the team yet. In all likelihood he’ll throw in extended spring training and won’t join the team until the end of April or May, or maybe even later. It all depends on how well he is pitching and how long it takes him to get ready for the regular season.

However in that respect, it’s almost another way he’s comparable to Clemens; coming out of retirement and not joining the team until after the season starts.

The bottom line is: I dislike the signing and I have lost an amount of respect for Pettitte. A lot of Yankee fans are probably going to disagree with me, and that’s fine; they don’t have to agree with me. I fully understand I am in the tiny majority of fans who think his decision to come out of retirement is not the right move.

I have a feeling the next baseball conversation I have with anyone, I’m going to take a lot of heat for my stance on this issue. But I’m not going to budge. Even if Pettitte goes on to have a remarkable season – and I hope he does, for the Yankees’ sake – the fact that he went back on his retirement will never sit well with me.

CC a Warrior, But Won’t Win Cy

Today he got hungry – and forgot his manners.

Yankee ace CC Sabathia ate up 7 1/3 innings this afternoon, giving up just two earned runs on six hits en route to the Yanks’ 9-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays at home. He walked just one batter and struck out 10 for the second straight game.

With the win, Sabathia has collected at least 19 wins in each of his three seasons in pinstripes – which ties him for most 19 win seasons (as a Yankee) with Andy Pettitte, Ron Guidry, and Mel Stottlemyre. He now has four career 19 win seasons and he has a good chance to win 20 (or more) before the 2011 campaign wraps.

Of late, the big man has been dealing like he’s been playing blackjack in Vegas.

But it hasn’t just been the past couple of starts that have put Sabathia in the running for the Cy Young Award. All season long he has been a horse. In fact, since day one he has done nothing but work, grind, and earn everything he has.

Case in point: his last start on Aug. 30 in Boston, a game the Yanks needed and won 5-2.

The Red Sox had gotten the better of Sabathia all season going into that game. His numbers proved that, as he boasted a poor 0-4 record with an inflated 7.20 ERA against the Yankees’ hated rivals. More than anything he needed to showcase his capability to win a hugely important ballgame in 2011 vs. the Red Sox.

And that’s what he did, although it wasn’t easy.

To start the game, Sabathia plunked Jacoby Ellsbury with a pitch – which probably sent a lot of skeptics and cynics into saying, “here we go again.” But he rebounded nicely, getting Marco Scutaro to ground into a force out before striking out Adrian Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia swinging to end the frame.

In the second inning, Sabathia threw a wild pitch with Jed Lowrie on first, getting himself into a first-and-second, one out jam (He fanned David Ortiz to open the frame). Boston eventually loaded the bases with two outs, but the Yankee ace responded by getting Ellsbury to ground out to second to end the threat.

The fourth was a bad inning for Sabathia, as he surrendered two runs – one of which came on a solo homer off the bat of Carl Crawford. He also allowed Jarrod Saltalamacchia to score on a double by Scutaro, giving Boston their only two runs in the game.

The Yanks had already put three runs on the board and never trailed.

However in the fifth, he got himself into more trouble. He gave up a one out single to Ortiz, followed by a Lowrie double, setting up the BoSox second and third, one out.  But Sabathia continued to refuse to buckle, as he got Crawford to line out and then whiffed Saltalamacchia to end another threat.

The big man labored; worked his tail off to earn the win – six innings pitched, 10 hits, two earned runs, two walks, 10 strikeouts, and he chucked a career-high 129 pitches to get through the game.   

If that performance doesn’t have the word “Warrior” written on it, what does?

Last year Sabathia came in third in the American League Cy Young Award voting, losing to Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners (who won, coming in first in the voting; 13-12, 2.27 ERA) and David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays (first runner-up; 19-6, 2.72 ERA). Sabathia won 21 games last year while only losing seven, and his ERA was 3.18.

Most proponents for Hernandez’s Cy Young win argue that his individual numbers were better than Sabathia’s and Price’s – and that’s true. He led the league in batters faced (1,001), games started (34), ERA (2.27), innings pitched (249 2/3), and hits-per-nine (7.0).

Plus, he was able to post a winning record on a ballclub that gave him virtually no run support, another factor contributing to his winning of the award. Hernandez had a lot going for him; the writers recognized that and rewarded him for it.

I have always maintained that the Cy Young Award should go to the Most Valuable Pitcher – because the award says MOST VALUABLE PITCHER on it.

Sabathia (and Price, for that matter) were more valuable to their respective teams. Sabathia carried the Yankees into the stretch run and helped get them into the American League Championship Series. Price did much of the same. He stood at the forefront of the Rays’ pitching staff, leading them to the AL East crown.

There’s no doubt that Hernandez had an incredible year in 2010 because the numbers do not lie. Yet, the question has to be asked: if he was on a team (like the Yankees or Rays) that was locked a tight pennant race, would he be the same pitcher?

The Mariners were not going to the playoffs last year. Hernandez could have taken the mound every fifth day with no pressure whatsoever. Win or lose at the end of the day, Seattle wasn’t in the running for the AL West. Hernandez probably pitched “hakuna matata,” if you will; with no worries in his head.

Sabathia and Price had a lot to worry about, though. Both were the aces of pitching staffs that were going to be playing autumn baseball; they were under much more scrutiny and more likely than not, were thinking hard about the postseason.

But that was last year. Hernandez won. It’s over and done with.

With Sabathia’s outstanding numbers this year (19-7, 2.99 ERA) he is once again a candidate for the Cy Young Award. His stiffest competition is, without a doubt, Justin Verlander (21-5, 2.34 ERA) of the Detroit Tigers.  Verlander has put the Tigers on his back and carried them to first place in the AL Central.

You name the pitching category, Verlander leads it.

I think what is going to win him the award, along with his numbers, is this question: where would the Tigers be without Verlander?

It’s a legitimate question. The answer: probably not in first place.

But another question needs to be raised: where would the Yankees be without Sabathia?

Same answer: probably not in first place.

The Yankees have three pitchers in their rotation with losing records. Bartolo Colon is 8-9, Phil Hughes is 4-5, and A.J. Burnett is 9-11. Without Sabathia’s 19 wins and brilliant workmanlike efforts, the Yankee ship would be sunk.     

I still find it amazing the Yankees are in first place, considering three of their starters don’t own winning records. It’s pretty incredible that they have been able to continue to win games despite receiving subpar starting pitching at times.

Verlander has a little bit of an edge over Sabathia in terms of the Cy Young voting, as his numbers are a hair above the Yankee ace. Knowing the writers, they will give it to Verlander – and if he does win the award over the big man, I cannot dispute it in any way – certainly not the way Hernandez’s  Cy Young win can be brought into question .

It was easy to point out why Sabathia (or Price) should have won over Hernandez, but Verlander is for real.

If a pitcher has 21 wins and September just started, he is doing something right.

There are, however, a couple different Yankees who are in consideration for other awards, namely the AL Most Valuable Player Award and the AL Rookie of the Year. Curtis Granderson is leading the majors in runs scored with 125 and in RBI with 107. He is second in home runs with 38 to Toronto’s Jose Bautista, who has 40.

The only thing that’s killing Granderson is his .271 batting average. If he can raise his BA, he’s a shoo-in for MVP.

Meanwhile Ivan Nova (15-4, 3.89 ERA) is up for AL Rookie of the Year. Each of the past two seasons a pitcher has captured the award (Andrew Bailey of the Oakland A’s in 2009 and Neftali Feliz of the Texas Rangers in 2010). Nova will hopefully keep the line moving and become the first Yankee to win Rookie of the Year since Derek Jeter won it in 1996.

Last year I truly felt Sabathia deserved the Cy Young. Although he is having a great season, Verlander looks to be the favorite this year. But there are other Bombers who are in the running for league-wide end-of-the-year accolades. If not one player wearing pinstripes takes home an award, I will be thoroughly convinced that…well…

The writers hate the Yankees.

Reliving History: 1998

 

Newest piece of my collection

Yesterday I added a new piece to my seemingly never-ending Yankee memorabilia collection. I purchased the official “Winning Streak Dynasty” banner from Modells, since they were having a sale and marketing it for a relatively low price.

Just by glancing at the banner, and each of the 27 years the Yankees have won the World Series, gave me an idea: a look inside some of the World Series the Yankees have won. I figured I would explore the reasons why the Yankees won that specific year, provide some background on the regular season, examine turning points that made each fall classic special, and identify the key players who made it what it was.

 

I figured I would first relive a very magical season: 1998.

1998 Yankees

 

Regular season record: 114-48

Postseason record: 11-2

Manager: Joe Torre (3rd season)

Key off-season additions: David Wells, Scott Brosius, Chili Davis, Chuck Knoblauch

Home Run Leader: Tino Martinez (28)

RBI Leader: Tino Martinez (123)

Hits Leader: Derek Jeter (203)

Wins Leader: David Cone (20)

Saves Leader: Mariano Rivera (36)

 

 

Slow Start

The 1998 Yankees, who went on to set a Major League record for most games won overall in a season, began their year in a slow fashion. They lost four out of their first five games to start the year, including a 10-2 beat-down at the hands of the California Angels.

Manager Joe Torre called an “angry meeting” and aired out some of his feelings to his players. The pitchers and the position players noticed somewhat of a rift between each other; some batters were hit and felt the pitchers did not do enough to retaliate.

They eventually found their groove on April 7 against the Seattle Mariners, beating the M’s 13-7. From there, they won their next seven games and wound up ending April with a record of 17-6.

 

Perfection

 


Perfect Game.On May 17 starting pitcher David Wells tossed a perfect game at home vs. the Minnesota Twins. He retired 27 consecutive batters leading the Yanks to a 4-0 win. It was only the 15th perfect game in MLB history and only the second perfecto thrown by a Yankee.

Later in the season on Sept. 1, Wells almost threw another perfect game. Facing the Oakland Athletics, Wells was perfect through 7 2/3 innings. Needing only seven outs for another perfect game, Jason Giambi lined a single off an 0-2 count to break it up.

 

Base-brawl

 


Fight w/ the O'sMay 19 marked a turning point in the season. After Baltimore Orioles’ closer Armando Benitez allowed a three-run home run to Bernie Williams, he pegged Tino Martinez in between his shoulder blades. He was immediately run from the game, but the HBP practically caused a riot.

A fracas ensued and the Yanks and O’s exchanged shoves, and eventually punches.

The Yankees went on to beat the Orioles 9-5 in that game, and also swept them in that series three games to one.

 

A Year-Long Tear

The Yankees only lost 17 games in the summer months of July and August, while winning 42. Williams described the season as a “year-long tear,” as there really was no other way to characterize how the Bronx Bombers played.

They basically rolled into towns and beat teams up, clinching the American League East with a 7-5 win over the hated Boston Red Sox on Sept. 4–the earliest they had clinched the AL East since 1969. To that point in the season they won 102 games and were set to meet the Texas Rangers in the American League Division Series…

 

 

Playoffs

 

1998 playoffs

In the ALDS, the Yankees easily handed the Texas Rangers a clean sweep. Juan Gonzalez, the player who eventually captured the 1998 A.L. MVP Award was no match for the starting pitching the Yanks had. David Wells, Andy Pettitte, and David Cone shut down the Rangers three games in a row, each notching a playoff win.

Rookie Shane Spencer, Brosius, and right field warrior Paul O’Neill led the Yanks, all hitting home runs in the first round of the postseason.

The American League Championship Series pitted the Yanks against began the defending A.L. Champs, the Cleveland Indians. New York was looking to erase their 1997 ALCS defeat and beat the Tribe 7-2 in Game One.

Game Two however was an ugly defeat for the Yanks. The game was tied up until inning number 12 when Travis Fryman laid down a bunt. Reliever Jeff Nelson threw the ball to first base, as the second baseman Knoblauch covered the bag. The ball hit Fryman in the back and Knoblauch argued with the umpire instead of retrieving the ball, which at that point was trickling down the first baseline.

Enrique Wilson scored and the Indians went on to win 4-1. The momentum carried into Game Three, as the Indians brought the lumber with them. Playing at home, sluggers Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez left he yard twice, and Mark Whiten added a homer en route to a 6-1 win over the Yanks. They pounded Pettitte while newly acquired Yankee Bartolo Colon cruised to a complete game victory.

Thome killed the Yanks in the ALCS

But the Game Three loss marked the last time the Yanks would lose a playoff game in ’98.

Down two games to one, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez took the hill, needing a clutch outing to keep the Yanks alive. Seven shutout innings later, and with some help from O’Neill (who homered) Hernandez and the Yanks picked up a 4-0 Game Four win.

Game One winner Wells took the ball again in Game Five. Now with the ALCS even at two, the Yanks rolled to a 5-3 win, under the strength of a fourth inning home run off the bat of Davis to give the Yanks a three-run lead. Kenny Lofton and Thome both hit home runs, but the Yankee bullpen was able to hold off the rest of the Cleveland lineup.

Now needing one win to get the fall classic, the Yanks came home to play Game Six. They jumped all over Charles Nagy, scoring six runs in the first three innings. Cleveland did not give up easily however, scoring five runs in the fifth, with the main blow being a grand slam from Thome.  

The Yankees answered with three runs in the six, plating runs on a triple by Derek Jeter and a single by Williams. They went on to make a winner out of Cone, beating the Indians 9-5 and winning the A.L. pennant for the 35th time.

The Yankees were then headed for the World Series, set to play the San Diego Padres.

ALCS MVP: David Wells (2-0, 2.87 ERA, 15 2/3 IP, 12 Hits, 5 ER, 2 BB, 18 K)

 

 

   The World Series

 

Yankees vs. Padres

1998 was the 94th World Series played in MLB history and the Yankees were gunning for their 24th title in franchise history. The Padres were looking for their first World Series victory, having lost the fall classic in 1984–the only other year in their history that they won the National League pennant.

In Game One, San Diego took a 5-2 lead, getting home runs from sluggers Greg Vaughn and Tony Gwynn. But going into the seventh inning, the Yanks came up with a plan. Knoblauch atoned for his ALCS blunder, smacking a game-tying three-run home run into the left field seats.

Later in the frame with the bases loaded, everything changed.

Martinez came up with the bases loaded and on a full count, blasted a grand slam home run into the upper deck tier seats in right field, giving the Yankees a 9-5 lead.

Grand Slam Tino!

Yankee Stadium exploded.

And it was the turning point in the series, simply because the Yankees carried the momentum from that home run with them the rest of the way. In Game Two, the Yankees beat the Padres 9-3, with home runs off the bats of Williams and Jorge Posada.

Heading out to San Diego and the Yankees up two games to none, Cone took the mound in Game Three. Both teams didn’t score until the sixth, when the Padres plated three runs. The Yanks answered with two in the seventh, receiving a two-run home run from Brosius.

Trevor Hoffman was called on in the eighth inning. San Diego manager Bruce Bochy wanted his closer to nail down a six-out save leading 3-2 going into the frame. Hoffman folded however, giving up a three-run home run to Brosius, which gave New York a 5-3 lead.

Vaughn cut the lead to one with a sac fly in the bottom of the eighth, but the Padres could not rally all the way back, and the Yankees took Game Three, 5-4.

Many people argue that Game Four was just a formality, and in a lot of ways it was. The Padres were all but defeated in the ’98 World Series after Game Three, having been outscored 24-13 in the previous three games. Pettitte toed the rubber, hoping to wrap up New York’s 24th Championship.

He succeeded.

Both teams were kept off the board until the sixth, when the Yankees plated a run on a groundout by Williams that scored Jeter. The Yankees added two more runs in the eighth, with an RBI single by Brosius and a sac fly by Ricky Ledee to score O’Neill.

The Padres made an effort to come back in the eighth, loading the bases on Nelson. However, Mariano Rivera wiggled out of the jam and pitched a scoreless ninth to clinch the World Series title.

Bliss.

 

World Series MVP: Scott Brosius (8-for-17, .471 BA, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 3 R, 14 total bases)


MVP 

  

 

Winners.

1998 was just one of those special seasons that nothing went wrong. They have been described as “The Greatest Team Ever” being that they won 125 total games and only lost 50. Those types of seasons don’t come around very often and when they do, it’s important to remember them.

I will always remember the 1998 baseball for the Yankees–not Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa breaking the home run records. I had more fun watching a team play every game as if it were their last than watching two guys race for a hallowed baseball record.

I think that says a lot about how exciting the Yanks were.

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