This thing in Atlanta. This is really happening? The Braves, 8-1/2 behind the Rockies 18 days ago, have won 15 of 17, are two behind the Rockies in the Wild Card, and four behind the Phillies for first in the division, with five to play? It is of course impossible, even for a team on as much of a roll as Bobby Coxs, to pull this off – except we so easily forget: this is almost exactly what the possible victims here, the Rockies, did to San Diego in 2007. Plus there are two very relevant facts here: since Jim Tracy took over, Colorado has been so hot that they necessarily had to cool down (as will the Braves), and if Atlanta pulls this off they can thank Jair Jurrjens. After he beat the Marlins tonight he rose to merely 9-1 against the NL East (yes, its 4-0 versus the Mets; that still leaves 5-1 versus everybody else). This is one of the more remarkable stats of the last few years. And lets not even start talking about how the Phlounderin Phillies have enabled all this.
Not only was Jon Lester in good enough shape to stick around and do interviews after the Red Sox 9-5 loss to the Yankees – he did them standing up. The impact point just below the right knee is just red right now – he expects a bruise by morning – and he insists he will not only make his next start but he will not even limit his next in-between starts throwing session.
To my knowledge, no team since the 1985 Cardinals of Vince Coleman ever made a statement with a stolen base, but here in the Bronx tonight the Yankees came close. As noted in the first post, New York stole three bases – basically uncontested – off Jon Lester and Jason Varitek in the first. The game count is now seven (including one from Alex Rodriguez that shouldve been called a bak on Hunter Jones). Rodrigue has three, Jeter two, and Cano and Damon one each. The message may be less about Boston having to watch out for the Runnin Yanks and more about putting some doubt in the minds of Terry Francona and John Farrell that their pitchers – even southpaws like Lester and Jones – are doing enough to keep runners close. That, in turn, could mean more throws to first, and that could lead to the length of the average Sox-Yanks game increasing from eight hours to a week-and-a-half.
Nothing broken. Jon Lester left tonights game here with nothing worse than a contusion of the right quad – x-rays at Yankee Stadium negative and hes day-to-day (were all day-…). After Lester had been levelled by Melky Cabreras third-inning line stove – as Sox radio play-by-play man Joe Castiglione had put it in the press box hallway half an inning earlier – our season hangs in the balance in the trainers room.
Well that changes everything. The 78th pitch of Jon Lesters long night here at Yankee Stadium just rocketed back off Melky Cabreras bat and the inside of Lesters right knee. He started to drop to the ground before the ball did, and when Terry Francona and the training staff helped him down the steps toward the Boston clubhouse, Lester has to hop from one step to the next. As the old grim joke goes, I dont know what it is, but Im guessing its broken.
The last time Boston was here in the Bronx one of the franchises many great baseball minds nodded gravely at my contention that the Yankees might not be that great a team, then could contain his disbelief no longer, smiled broadly at me, and asked, in the way only friends who consider each other slightly nuts can ask, Really?
The Baseball Prospectus folks (sorry, subscription required, these are not plugs, I just really find their work useful) analyzed the nine possible playoff teams four-man rotations based on Support Neutral Winning Percentage, which I think I understand but probably dont. The Cards lead at .575 with the Tigers second, the Red Sox third (.561) and the Yankees, dragged down by Joba Chamberlain, eighth at .520. Thus – natch – Jon Lester has sputtered through a long first three innngs capped by a second-deck home run by Alex Rodriguez, while Chamberlain is perfect through three, havng struck out three of the bottom four Boston hitters and popped up the fourth (Varitek) behind the plate.
Jason Varitek, who for my money is the only reason the head-to-head matchup between the teams offering us playoff previews tonight here in the Bronx end up 4-3-2 Yankees instead of 4-3-2 Red Sox, must have just tied some kind of dubious record. In the first inning he and Jon Lester were victimized by three stolen bases without a single throw. Two were on balls that popped away from the Boston veteran but the third was not. It was pointed out, in the Baseball Prospectus Annual I believe, that veterans who guide pitching staffs without contributing offense are not called catchers – theyre called coaches. If Varitek is not producing that vaunted glove and brainwork behind the plate the Stockings need to move him out, Victor Martinez in, and almost anybody to First.
The Sox sloppiness afield has cone in contrast to the unlikeliest of Yankee brilliance: a Joba Chamberlain barehanded pick-up of Ellsburys squib in the first, and a stop, slide, and hope grab by Nick Swisher to rob Ortiz just now in the second.
I don’t really remember the last time I saw him, but it may have been 1987. I never knew his name and I could not then verify his story, but he claimed that he had been at every one of Gene Mauch’s opening days since 1965 (and a lot of other Mauch-managed games, even some in spring training).
Ever heard a Stadium PA guy play the charge call in the bottom of the first inning? It is a neat summary of the Mets 2009 season, and it sounded out tonight here at CitiField not long after Jerry Manuel confirmed Carlos Delgado had suffered new setbacks and now would not make a late-season cameo after hip surgery in June. It had been assumed that if Delgado did not reappear it would augur poorly for his chances of 2010 employment here or elsewhere. But Manuel seemed to recognize an awful truth few others did not in saying Delgado might be back after all. That truth is this: he is earnest and he has flashes both of an instinctive ability to play the position, and even an occasional flash of brilliance. But Daniel Murphy is not now a major league first baseman. After a game-losing, panicky, assumption-driven fiasco in Atlanta Wednesday, Murphy tonight failed to make what would admittedly have been a special pick-up on a tough hop off the bat of Christian Guzman in the top of the first. And a first baseman needs to be special defensively if he has no real history of power, and has produced only 10-56-.262-.414 on his first big league season. Consider Delgado, in a power-starved lineup and in only 26 games, ended at 4-23-.298-.521. The Mets cannot assume his viability for 2010 but he is no more of a risk than Murphy appears to be now.
Off-point, talk in the press box here tonight of the NFL fiasco in which Jerry Jones spent – what was it? Eleventy Billion? – to install a video screen that is within easy reach of the leagues punters. Not that any of us was here for it, but the last confirmed new stadium screw-up on that level came in Brooklyn in 1913 when Charlie Ebbets opened his new home for the Dodgers. Reporters followed Ebbets to centerfield for the ceremonial raising of the flag, everybody applauded, and then some scribe asked So, Charlie, where do we sit? It was only then that the Dodger owner realized that Ebbets Field had been built without a press box.
At their current trajectory, the Yankees are going to be eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Here in the Bronx, A.J. Burnett – to my thinking the most important player on the roster – has again succumbed to the yips, and, for the fourth time in his last nine starts, surrendered six or more runs – twice in twelve days to the less-than-daunting Orioles. As on Monday, Burnett, staked to a 1-0 lead, wobbled in the second, giving up a blast to Nolan Reimold and then walking Matt Wieters with one out. There followed three successive singles – the last two of them dink hits by Aubrey and Andino – and then the almost predictable kaboom: a crushed and crushing grand slam by Brian Roberts.
Burnett’s ability to handle misfortune – or even ordinary adversity – seems to be declining. And as was speculated here in the press box by Pete Caldera of The Bergen Record, on what can the Yankees depend if they were to lose a Sabathia playoff opener 1-0 and had to hand the ball to Burnett in an essential second game? More daunting still, until today Burnett had made 14 starts at Yankee Stadium and only once given up more than three.