Results tagged ‘ Yankees ’

Phils And Yankees: Not Their Year

CLEARWATER – As the Yankees hoped that after his minor stumble on some balky carpet that Yogi Berra has that insurance, you know, the kind that pays you cash, which is just as good as money, CC Sabathia and Roy Halladay met up in Clearwater in a dream match-up. Literally a dream, because you don’t need to spend looking much time at either roster to realize that despite the Phillies’ glittering rotation and the Yankees’ three Hall-of-Famers in waiting, neither of these teams is going very deep in the post-season (presuming they make it at all). This is contrary to Conventional Wisdom, which was last heard from telling you that Cliff Lee was going to the Yankees last winter, just as it had told you he was going to them last July. Lee is part of the Yankees’ most obvious problem: based on performance so far, Bartolo Colon is a) a vampire and b) their number two starter. Colon, with his ten-pitch warm-up sessions and newly refound control, has been a joyous mystery even to his new pitching coach Larry Rothschild. But comebacks like his almost always fizzle before the first of June and the Yanks have a long way to before Manny Banuelos, Andrew Brackman, and/or Dellin Betances join the rotation or buy them a veteran starter. The Yankees are also aging alarmingly. I will spare you my usual pronouncements on how moribund Derek Jeter is, but the recent pronouncement that Jorge Posada would not even be used as a temporary back-up catcher should tell you exactly how little the Yanks think he has left. The joke around here is that Cameron Diaz was feeding Alex Rodriguez popcorn in that Super Bowl luxury suite because he now gets too tired doing it himself. Jesus Montero offers a glimmer of youth but the reality is that in two at bats today, Roy Halladay made him look like he’d never been to the plate before (to be fair, Halladay did the same thing to Robby Cano). The Yanks only matchup with Boston at the back of the bullpen and if their lineup is better than Tampa’s, it isn’t much better. The Phils have an advantage the Yanks don’t – the NL East may be as bad as the AL East is good, but they have two enormous crises. I ran into my old friend Ruben Amaro in the hallway just before first pitch and he swore he felt better than he looked – and he looked exactly like a General Manager of a team with a devastating rotation and no second baseman or right fielder. Chase Utley’s injury is a riddle wrapped in an enigma inside some tendinitis and it would be called “indefinite” if only Amaro was that certain. Nobody has any idea what’s next, and Utley’s absence not only puts a Wilson Valdez or Josh Barfield in the lineup, but it also deranges their batting order and perhaps places Jimmy Rollins hitting in a three-hole for which he is ill-suited. Right field may be a bigger problem still. You could make a viable platoon out of Ben Francisco (who absolutely kills lefties) and John Mayberry, Jr (he homered again today) but both hit right-handed. In news that should terrify every Philadelphian, Domonic Brown’s replacement four of the last five days has been Delwyn Young, a scat back of a utility infielder who was not good enough to stick with the Pirates. This is a team that is suddenly in deep trouble on offense – Halladay looked gorgeous for six innings today but they got him only three hits before Sabathia left) and as awe-inspiring as the Four Aces look, having Brad Lidge close for them is like owning four Maseratis and employing a staff of blind valet parkers.

Babe Ruth, Alarmed

Yankees holding the Trophy Polishing Moment at their midtown suite display (about a 45-second walk from my office) Friday afternoon and I couldn’t resist. But what do you find really interesting about this photo?

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That’s right – it’s the photo of The Babe on the far left, looking as if somebody just told him the upper deck was on fire, with all his money in it. Have you ever seen that shot before? I couldn’t elude the overhead fluorescents, but I did my best.
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The uniform suggests this was not taken in New York (the Yankees wore pinstripe uniforms without any logo at home throughout the ’20s, and “YANKEES” as above, on the road). But of course it’s that extreme concern (“Is that zeppelin going to clear that Stutz Bearcat dealership?”) that is so compelling and invites the inevitable:
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Gotta make that my photo ID…
Yes, I’m tweeting. @KeithOlbermann – baseball, inside television, advisories of new blog posts here – so far no politics but that’ll probably change (let’s put it this way: it will presented gently).

Unlikely Spring Training Questions From A Waiting Room

These have been bouncing around my head all off-season; some are tempests in teapots, some a little more substantial – I just havent heard many of them asked…DID the Yankees actually upgrade? Acknowledging that a healthy Nick Johnson, freed of all defensive worries, could win a batting championship (or at least the On Base crown), is a trade-off of Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and Melky Cabrera for Curtis Granderson, Johnson, Randy Winn and Brett Gardner really a win? Has Cabreras clutch late-inning hitting been forgotten, or merely written off as a statistical fluke?…ON the other end of the Granderson trade, do the Tigers know Phil Coke wasnt that great against lefties during the first half of last year, and basically stopped getting them out at all after September 1 and in the post-season?…HAS Roy Halladay ever been tested in a pennant race? Does it matter? I seem to recall several clubs drooling over the various Javier Vazquezes who pitched in obscurity in Montreal and Arizona and even Chicago…DID the Angels look at Joel Pinieros last months worth of work in 2009? Did they break out his fly-ball to ground-ball ratio? Did they note that a sinkerball pitcher who cant get the ball down will probably end up in mopup relief?…WHY hasnt anybody else written that if Milton Bradley doesnt sink the Mariners, theyll be the first?…lastly IF you are the Nats and you have as exciting a prospect as Ian Desmond and you havent unloaded Cristian Guzman, why do you go ahead and sign Adam Kennedy?

The Ordeals of A.J. Burnett

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.

Pitching, Pitching, Pitching (Updated)

What would the Giants look like in the post-season without Tim Lincecum? What about the Yankees if the A.J. Burnett they get is last month’s, not Monday night’s?

There is something bizarre about the rapidity with which the Giants had prized prospect (and the singularly named) Madison Bumgarner ready to go as soon as the news came down that Tim Lincecum would not pitch against the Padres Tuesday night. As late as Tuesday morning, newspapers in Eastern League cities had Bumgarner pitching the opening game of that circuit’s playoffs, Wednesday night, for the Connecticut Defenders. I know we have jets nowadays, and you could actually get from the Nutmeg State to SFO Airport in less than six weeks of stagecoach relays, but doesn’t it strike you that the Giants had to have had more of a hint that the incumbent Cy Young Winner’s back was acting up, than they’re letting on?
In turn, does that suggest that Lincecum is more hurt than they’re letting on? Certainly the reach to Bumgarner – the minors’ best pitching prospect even though he is barely two years removed from high school – implies that. To be fair, there was nobody on the active Giants’ roster this morning who had started a game in the majors this year (concurrent with Bumgarner’s promotion, Joe Martinez was summoned from Fresno, but Martinez pitched four innings on Saturday). Still, Madison Bumgarner, 3,000 miles away, does not sound like the likeliest emergency starter, even if you’re two games out in the wild card.
This update: as Bumgarner made his debut against the Padres, on the San Diego telecast, Mark Grant (who himself debuted as a 20-year old Giants starter before Bumgarner was born), offers an intriguing theory that uses the same evidence to reach the exact opposite conclusion. It’s not that Lincecum’s hurt, it’s that he’s just a little tired, and the rest could do him good for his next two starts, both against the Dodgers. I have to say Big Grant’s theory holds at least as much water as my own.
Meantime the Yankees are breathing a little more deeply after A.J. Burnett’s solid work on Monday, though they are fully aware that their second most expensive free agent starter was on the ropes in the night game against the Rays until Andy Sonnanstine took him off it by giving up eight runs. Forget Jeter, Sabathia, Rivera, Teixeira and all the rest – Burnett might be the most pivotal figure in New York’s post-season hopes. If he is the lights-out pitcher of the spring and early summer the Yankees are the favorites in any post-season series. 
But if he’s not, the Yankee rotation is Sabathia and The Question Marks. Andy Pettitte has been successful but nearly as generous to the hitters as Burnett. The Yankees have meanwhile completely screwed up Joba Chamberlain. This leaves… Sergio Mitre? Somebody in the Bronx is likely regretting having not given Alfredo Aceves a more serious look as a starter.
The Yankees’ starting weakness and another flaw are the kind that might not show up over the course of a long season against a lot of those pitching-poor, fundamentally-unsound AL also-rans, but could be fatal in the playoffs. The second problem is outfield defense. Brett Gardner can run down anything, but could not stave off Melky Cabrera’s bat. Johnny Damon is still a strong outfielder, and still would be better off returning the ball to the infield by FedEx. Cabrera is a mixed bag in the field. Nick Swisher could have the team’s best outfield arm, and that should terrify any Yankee fan who contemplated a playoff series turning on a successful relay play to the plate, or even a great catch in rightfield.
One other pitching note: the mutterings are that the Rockies are not as confident as they appear, that Huston Street will be back closing by this weekend or even the first of next week. Nothing firm on this, but worth noting (and thanks to the lights-out brilliance of Franklin Morales, not necessarily a big thing one way or another – except if it lingers to the post-season and experience or its lack is magnified).

Something Happened To Him

The very first entry in this blog was about the spring training work of a young relief pitcher, so impressive that it inspired home plate ump Tim Tschida to come over to the pitcher’s bench and say it was the most remarkable thing he’d seen all spring. Daniel Bard had not only struck out the Tampa Bay side, but he had cleared 100 MPH four times, and, according to Tschida he had put one in each corner of the strike zone. 

“How can you resist the temptation to take him north?,” I asked Terry Francona. The Boston manager laughed. “He’s still so young. If something happened to him, it could be crushing. But you’ll see him by summer.” 
Tonight here at Yankee Stadium, something finally happened to Bard. 
Brought in to protect Boston’s lead after 31 innings without a run and 36 without an extra base hit, having logged a save, five holds and 42 strikeouts in his first 30 appearances, the rookie instead surrendered a blast to Johnny Damon, who seemingly began to swing as the ball left Bard’s hand. With all false modesty aside, I then turned to one of my oldest friends, ESPN Radio Network Senior Director/Executive Producer John Martin and said “if Damon can time him, Teixeira can time him.” Teixeira promptly timed him into the upper deck. 
And now Francona has more to worry about than being swept four games here and falling six-and-a-half out. He has to deal with Daniel Bard’s first “something” – his first big league loss – a pivotal moment in the kid’s career and his team’s season.

The Ichiro Comedy Hour

After getting handcuffed by Hideki Matsuis second inning sac fly here at Yankee Stadium for an error that ultimately did no damage to the Mariners, Ichiro Suzuki got a mock roar of anticipation and excitement from the crowd as he lined up to catch Francisco Cervellis fly just two batters later.

Ichiro – of the underpublicized sense of humor and the giddy giggle whenever Ken Griffey tickles him, promptly pulled a Justin Upton. As he squeezed Cervellis fly to end the inning, he fake-tossed it towards the stands, giving the fans something to really roar about.

Leading off the top of the third, the one-named wonder was called out on by umpire Jerry Meals on a check swing – held his bat level in that limbo pose for a second, begging for the ball call. When it didnt come, he unfroze the pose and finished the swing.

Vin Scully, Voice Of The Yankees

The advent of the Mets’ annual visit to Dodger Stadium always reminds me of one of the greatest baseball stories nobody tells.

Let’s correct that.
A decade ago, when I was still working full-time in sports and in Los Angeles, it was the Yankees coming to town for an exhibition game, and, with them, my friend Michael Kay, at that time still a member of their radio team. Michael is usually pretty direct, but on the field before the game, he was hemming and hawing something awful until I finally blurted “out with it!” He explained he was just too nervous to introduce himself to the legendary Vin Scully, even though both were not only major league broadcasters, but also alums of Fordham University in New York.
Mike was still repeating his apology when I explained I knew exactly how he felt. When I had first worked in Los Angeles as a local sportscaster in the ’80s, it had taken me two years to screw up the courage to introduce myself to this nonpareil of my business. As I reassured Michael, Vin was easily the nicest famous person in the sport, maybe in the country. And he always had a story that in some way related to you.

Little did I know.
As Michael began to hyperventilate, I made the introductions. Vin asked about Fordham, about Mike’s youth, about his newspaper career, about the Yankees. And then came the story: “Michael, did you know; Keith, I don’t even think I told you this — I nearly became the Voice of the Yankees?”
Absolute silence for two or three beats, and then, from Kay and Olbermann, a joint “whaaaat?”
“When the Yankees let Mel Allen go in 1964, I got a phone call from the man who they had brought in to run their broadcasting operation, Craig Smith,” Vin began. “He had been in charge of the World Series broadcasts forever, so I’d known him about ten years by then. And he asked me if I’d like to come home to New York and become the lead announcer. He offered a very handsome salary, and a long contract.
“Well, I was amazed, as you can imagine. I’d found a wonderful home here in Los Angeles, but remember, this was only seven years after the Dodgers left Brooklyn. I was still a New Yorker through and through. Plus, here was a chance to work again with Red Barber. And recall, too, that this was just before the Yankee dynasty collapsed. As much as Mr. O’Malley had done here and in Brooklyn, the Yankees were still the marquee name in sports. If it had been 1958 or 1959, when I still missed New York so, I would’ve said yes before he hung up the phone.”
“So, I thought long and hard about that one. But I had a young family, and I think we had all just truly adjusted to living here – takes just about seven years, I think – and in the end I turned it down.”
Michael and I each sputtered various observations about how changed the baseball world might have been. Vin Scully doing the Yankee games? Would the franchise still have ebbed with such a benign but effective salesman at the microphone? Would the Dodgers’ roots, still growing in 1964-1965, have gone in as deeply as they did? Would CBS’s failed experiment in corporate ownership have succeeded, and George Steinbrenner never have bought the Yankees? What would have happened to the man to whom the Yankees gave the job Scully turned down? Would Joe Garagiola have ever wound up on The Game Of The Week, or The Today Show?
Vin laughed. “Oh, to tell the truth, I don’t think it’d made that much difference. It’s not very important.” He excused himself to go back to preparing for his broadcast, and, as usual, made it seem like I had done him a great favor by introducing Michael to him. After Vin had left, Michael and I sat there on the Dodger bench for a few moments in silence. Then he said “If he had been the Yankee announcer when I was growing up, I never would have dreamed of applying for a job as his gopher, let alone as his partner.” I told him that once again I knew how he felt – it was very tough knowing that my sportscasts often preceded Vin’s play-by-play on cable. It seemed somehow a sacrilege to pretend to deserve to be on the same channel.
Still, think of it: 45 years of “Hi again everybody, it’s time for Yankee Baseball!” Or maybe Steinbrenner would’ve quarreled with Vin and eased him out. Or, likeliest of all the alternate-galaxy theories: working in New York, where in the ’60s all the network and advertising executives were still located, Vin Scully would’ve gone on to the Game Of The Week, or something even higher up on the tv food chain, a lot earlier than he actually did.
Who knows – maybe he’d still be doing it – and doing it on NBC.

Sacrifice Fly Double Play?

The McCarver Theorem was just validated again here at Yankee Stadium (go to a game, you’ll always see something, or a combination of things, you’ve never seen before), when Brian Buscher of the Twins hit into a sacrifice fly double play.

The Twins were threatening, first and third, in the second inning of a scoreless game, with one out. Buscher skied to center and Brett Gardner’s weak throw dribbled towards the plate, far behind runner Justin Morneau. But as Morneau scored, the real thrills were going on in the background. The other runner, Michael Cuddyer, not only was deked into slidinginto second base, but when he got up, he decided to turn towards third.
Yet still as Cuddyer raced back towards first, another level of misdirection played out. The Yankees didn’t bother throwing to first; catcher Francisco Cervelli instead tossed to Derek Jeter, standing at second.
Lost amid his befuddled slide, flinch towards third, and scramble back to his base of safety, Cuddyer had somehow failed to touch second on the way back. He was declared out for missing the base, while the television cameras and most in the press box thought that lead runner Morneau might have been called out for leaving too early from third.
Scoring: sacrifice fly, double play (8-2-6), RBI for Buscher.
The sage of the official scorer’s desk, Bill Shannon, claimed never to have seen it before in his umpteen years covering games. Same too for Bob Ryan and Gordon Edes of The Boston Globe. Add me to the list and you’ve got about 150 years of professional watching.
Incidentally, Mark Teixeira has just provided Empty Stadium’s mandatory explosive homer to right – a blast deep into the bleachers in right-center. 3-1 Yankees, as they still bat, bottom third.
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