Well, it’s been extraordinary, the length of the season matched by its success, excitement and abundance of compelling story lines.
Today’s parade provided perfect punctuation to a memorable year — and that’s coming from someone who generally loathes parades. This one was fun.
Where did the Yankees season turn? There are several reasonable answers, but one ultimately stands out: When Alex Rodriguez returned.
With one swing of the bat he instilled confidence. And regained confidence. You could argue, and I have, that this was his most valuable season as a Yankee. Really.
The MVP always comes down almost solely to numbers, which I find silly. There is an intangible nature to the word “valuable.” Voters never seem to take that into consideration.
(If the award were Most Outstanding Player, I would understand all the obsessive numbers crunching. It’s not.)
And, to be clear, I’m not suggesting Alex should be the league MVP; Joe Mauer’s season was remarkable and the award should be his. Just suggesting that Alex has never been more valuable to the Yankees.
And who could have imagined that seven or eight months ago?
“This Week in Football”: I have been delinquent in making my picks for the week. Giants over Chargers. Why do I continue to pick the G-Men? Because their defense is getting healthier and because they have to win this game. Have to. And the Eagles over the Cowboys. The birds looked like a team ready to take off last week against the Giants. DeSean Jackson in particular.
I’ve been called for jury duty on Tuesday. If I don’t have to go, I’ll see you on “This Week in Football” next week.
I’ll pop up on WFAN in the meantime. And will continue to blog. As always, thanks for reading.
A few of us in the press box broached this subject as Game 4 slowly drew to a conclusion: Assuming the Yankees find a way to win one more game, who’s the MVP of the ALCS?
It’s Alex or CC. Or CC or Alex.
My gut reaction is Alex, who has singlehandedly changed both the ALDS and ALCS. Just ask Joe Nathan and Brian Fuentes. His remarkable numbers represent personal redemption that is almost incomprehensible in its completeness.
Will anyone ever label him “un-clutch” again?
I don’t love numbers but his in postseason are these: .407, 11-for-27, five home runs, 11 RBIs, four walks, four strikeouts. That’s the tangible part. The intangible part is that there isn’t a pitcher with a heartbeat who wants to see him at the plate right now. In any situation.
Meanwhile CC has been almost unhittable. Neither the Twins nor the Angels have had a chance when he’s been on the mound. And his best outing of the bunch arguably was last night’s, on three days rest. (He’s also saved Girardi from some of those shaky bullpen moves.)
His playoff stats, in winning all three of his starts: 22.2 innings, 1.19 ERA, 17 hits, three earned runs, 20 strikeouts, three walks. He’s thrown 327 pitches, meaning he is allowing an opponent to get a hit every 19 or 20 pitches. And he allows a baserunner every 16 or 17 pitches.
When you watch CC, he never, ever appears to lose control, of his stuff or his senses, even when he runs into a bit of trouble. He doesn’t ever seem even slightly out of sorts. It’s amazing.
So, who’s your ALCS MVP?
The (possible) World Series: Those CC vs. Cliff Lee starts could be incredible, no? And in Ryan Howard, the Phils have their version of Alex. Should be fun.
The best closer of all-time: So, on the team bus to Angel Stadium yesterday, Mariano asked me if I’d heard a story about him spitting on the ball. Yes, I said. Then he laughed.
We chatted about it briefly; he said a friend had just told him in a phone conversation about the “controversy.” Clearly, Mariano found the whole thing preposterous. (As did MLB and Mike Scioscia.)
I asked Mariano if I could repeat this story. He said yes. (Ordinarily, I consider happenings on the bus and charter to be off limits.) And I asked if I could report that he laughed.
“You can say whatever you want to,” he said, smiling. And then he laughed some more.
Mariano has the ability to dismiss the absurd, or a poor outing, as well as any athlete I’ve ever seen. His temperament is as important as his cutter in making him the closer, and competitor, he is. Maybe more so.
Seems like a lifetime ago when people were doubting him back in April and early May, doesn’t it?
The three hole: Before you lash out, here is a disclaimer: Mark Teixeira’s defense has absolutely, positively saved the Yankees’ bacon at important times this postseason. No doubt about it.
But it’s amazing how little production the Yankees and the Angels have gotten from the third spot in the order.
Teixeira is hitting .133 in the playoffs, Torii Hunter .222.
Neither Teixeira nor Hunter has an RBI in the ALCS. If Hunter could have managed a big hit in Game 2, this series might be tied.
The Angels won’t lie down; they’ve overcome too much for that. Scioscia says it’s a “one step at a time” deal at this point; of course he’s right. And it’ll start with free-agent-to-be John Lackey in Game 5. But at some point the Angels’ bats have to help out.
The umpires: Where to start? Their incompetence, even on the easiest of calls, is the story of the postseason. It’s been that bad, that obvious, that inexplicable.
And people are finally starting to pay attention.
Yankees fans aren’t obsessed with this, and understandably so, because their team has benefited from most of the calls.
But maybe the sheer volume of blatantly bad calls has exposed the umpires’ collective arrogance and will lead to changes. For example, most of them simply refuse to move physically – even a step or two – to get into better position to see a call properly. And it’s mind-boggling that they so rarely confer with each other when there is doubt. What in the world would be the harm in talking it out, to try to be sure?
At least in the NFL they attempt to get the calls right and, in a sport where the number of simultaneously moving parts is unparalleled, almost always succeed.
As you know, Tim McClelland – the crew chief in this series – blew two calls last night, one immediately after second base ump Dale Scott inexplicably went Phil Cuzzi on us by signaling Nick Swisher safe.
McClelland explained his makeup call by saying, “In my heart I thought (Swisher) left too soon” from third base.
In the next inning, McClelland had a “Three Stooges” moment. Afterward he had no choice but to admit the replay “showed that Cano was off the bag when he was tagged. I did not see that for whatever reason.”
(How the famously even-keeled Scioscia didn’t get thrown out there, I’ll never know. And Scioscia simply refuses to make the umpires part of the story in this series, which says a lot about him.)
Anyway, here’s the most troubling part to me. When an umpire, no less a crew chief, admits to making a bad, bad call because it was in his heart, that sounds like dangerous territory. Imagine arbitrators at any level relying on heartstrings over rule of law to make decisions. Yikes.
Thank you: Speaking of the inexplicable – given the lack of blog posts by me over the past month – this blog remains popular. Really popular. I’m shocked and deeply grateful. Here are the rankings. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And we’ll do another chat soon. I promise.
This Week in Football: After a 2-1 week, guess who’s out of the cellar? Me! Take that, Ross, Howard, Gary and Gordon! It helped that the Favres, my pick, beat the Ravens, Tucker’s pick, head-to-head. Here are my picks for this week, only slightly later than TWIF producer Jared Boshnack would like them: Giants will rebound against Cards, but the pass defense has to improve. Lots. Jets over Oakland, which isn’t an easy choice. They have to simplify for Sanchez, no? And Saints over Dolphins because Sean Payton is a creative genius.
The Yankees and White Sox are under way after a 64-minute rain delay. A rain delay. Go figure.
In other news that cannot possibly qualify as surprising, two more stars in the game have been exposed, having shown up positive for performance-enhancing drugs on the 2003 list, the one with 104 names. The one that was supposed to be confidential. Manny and Big Papi join A-Rod. Nearly six months later.
The leaky faucet that is baseball’s steroids past continues to drip.
The most telling part of today was the reaction – weary, subdued reaction – from Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira in the clubhouse. Damon said the news surprised him – really, how could it have? – but couldn’t have said anything else about his former teammates. Damon later joked that perhaps he will turn out to be the biggest idiot of them all for never noticing, never suspecting.
Damon and Teixeira – and on the other side of the field, Ozzie Guillen – said the list of the 104 should be made public in a once-and-for-all attempt to deal with and then move past the hovering dark cloud. That the guilty were once promised confidentiality no longer seems to sway the weary. They’ve had it.
Those who compromised the confidentiality – and, make no mistake, they are a different brand of guilty — ultimately may win.
“I guess,” Damon said, shrugging, “you really can’t trust what anybody says nowadays.”
And maybe you simply can’t trust an entire era even though a bewildered Jeter again felt compelled to offer this reminder: “Everybody wasn’t doing it.” Upon today’s news, try to convince anyone that steroid use wasn’t pervasive in the 2003 Red Sox clubhouse.
“That’s probably what is being said,” Damon said, “and that’s what makes guys like me upset.”
Teixeira suggested that kids look to himself, Matt Holliday and Chase Utley as players who’ve put up numbers since 2003 and “have done it the right way.”
Or how about young players like Evan Longoria, Adam Jones, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and the Upton brothers, who weren’t even in the game back then?
Or how about the ones – perhaps not as numerous as we’d hope – who came out of the steroid era clean, who are able to look themselves squarely in the mirror?
After talking to the media, Jeter went to the batting cage to stow his bat in the Yankees dugout. As he did, a few kids wanted autographs, which he signed. An older gentleman at the edge of the dugout simply asked to shake his hand. “I admire,” he told Jeter, “the way you’ve always played the game.”
Jeter shook his hand. And said thanks.
Can you believe Michael Jackson is dead? When he was a kid, Joba had a poster of Chipper Jones on the wall of his bedroom. We had a poster of Michael Jackson. Just startling news. Right up until gametime, CNN was playing on the TVs in the press room here at Turner Field. Everyone’s talking about it. Probably everywhere.
Speaking of Joba, he was delighted to meet Chipper before the game. The two talked for 15 minutes. Chipper was gracious, giving Joba some tips based on the considerable amount of video he watched before facing Joba last night. Chipper probably had some worthwhile advice; he had two hits. Anyway, Joba was almost awestruck talking about Chipper after BP. That’s cool. And a reminder that Joba is so young, at 23. And that Chipper, at 37, is old. By baseball standards. (By the way, Joba wanted to thank media relations guru Jason Zillo for setting up the meeting with Chipper. So we’ll help him out with that.)
Derek Jeter: There were signs wishing Jeter a happy birthday a day early; he turns 35 tomorrow. One woman held this sign: “I’m on my honeymoon. Come see me, Derek.” Someday we’re going to have to ask Jeter if he notices this stuff. How could he not?
Alex Rodriguez: He said before the game that the past two days are the best he’s felt at the plate. Then he crushes a first-inning solo home run to center. And now an RBI-single to center.
Chicken parmesan: It’s a favorite of Kay’s, and they’re serving it tonight in the press dining room. He gave positive reviews. We second that. And the Edy’s soft-serve for dessert didn’t hurt. We ate dinner with Sweeny and Pete Abraham. They, too, have fond memories of MJ from when they were kids.
Watching the U.S. Open, it’s amazing to see the rain continuing in the New York area. Those golfers must hate it. Of course, they have a lot of company.
The weather in South Florida has been unbelievably perfect. If you like 90 degrees with some humidity. Really, no one has complained, but the Yankees are making sure to drink plenty of water, and Girardi says he regularly checks with players to make sure they feel OK.
Pettitte mentioned last night that he struggled a bit in the heat, though his numbers didn’t show it. The best evidence was when he knelt at second base after hitting the RBI double. CC likes the heat, so he’ll probably pitch a complete game tomorrow.
Alex Rodriguez: As expected, he’s sitting for the second game in a row. Unlike yesterday, he did take BP in the cage and he did some agility work in the outfield before the game. He could pinch hit. Which would debunk some of the wild theories circulating thanks to the local media here, who suggest more sinister reasons for his absence. Listen, everything isn’t always as it appears, but if you’ve seen Alex play lately, you’d agree he needed a break. Even if the break, unfortunately, came in his hometown.
Father’s Day: Our feature on the Molina family, including all three brothers, airs tomorrow before the game. They’re still coping with the loss of their papi last October. Again, we know this is self-serving, but it’s worth watching.
Erik Bedard: He’ll be available in the trade market, assuming his shoulder comes along and he returns in a couple weeks. (He might pitch for the Mariners when they’re at Yankee Stadium.) The trade that took him to Seattle seems to be one of those deals that doesn’t take years to evaluate. The O’s got their center fielder for now and the future in Adam Jones, who’s having a breakout season, and a closer in George Sherrill, who might or might not be trade bait. Even if they’d just received Jones in return, it would have been well worth it.
Kenny Singleton: Kenny bought dinner for the guys – pizza for Kay, hot dog for himself and pizza and ice cream for O’Neill. O’Neill also ate a full meal in the press dining room, which featured lobster ravioli. Tomorrow, it’s O’Neill’s turn to buy since Kay paid yesterday. We had the lobster rav. Didn’t like it, but ate it. That’s so pathetic. We might get in on the O’Neill order tomorrow.
Dolphin Stadium: It sounds like the locals have turned out in greater voice tonight. Perhaps they didn’t like the way Yankees fans took over the stadium last night. Or perhaps they’re awaiting the salsa band and fireworks show that follows the game. A bunch of us are thinking about sticking around.
Strange to see Alex in a polo shirt and pants in the clubhouse, as all of his teammates scurried about in uniform, preparing for BP. Alex won’t start tonight or tomorrow because he is fatigued or, as he said, “running on empty.”
It’s mind-boggling that Alex had played in all 38 games, just three as DH, since returning May 8. And that pace has taken a toll, or so it seems. He is 8 for 55 in June, in an 0-for-15 skid and hitting .212 with nine home runs and 26 RBI. (In 2007, the MVP season Alex repeatedly has said he wants to copy in terms of his approach to the game, he had 26 RBI and 10 home runs after just 14 games.)
Alex suggested that yesterday’s marathon, which included a five-and-a-half-hour rain delay, played into his reaching the tipping point in terms of fatigue. “Yesterday was an absolute nightmare for me,” he said, describing a nearly 13-hour workday that began with 9 a.m. work with Kevin Long.
Oddly, Alex said he told Girardi on Thursday night that he needed a break. But, he was in the original lineup today, until he met with Girardi and was joined via phone by Cashman. Then it was determined that Alex will miss two days. The Yankees also have a day off Monday. It’ll be interesting to see what effect this respite has when Alex returns.
Angel Berroa: He just crushed a double, his first hit since April 28. We’ll leave the jokes to Abraham.
Nick Swisher: We asked him how he spent the rain delay. For a long time he worked on the collage in his locker. (Yes, he said we may photograph it and show it to you — but not until it is a finished product.) Then he ate. (The YES booth was a food orgy. Disgusting.) Then he watched some TV. Then he slept — in uniform in case the rain suddenly ceased. It was a long day.
Derek Jeter: Should he be running on that gimpy left ankle? He’d say yes, of course.
Paul O’Neill: He’s back from Paris where, he says, “they don’t eat.” You can imagine how he felt about that. Well, he just sent Matthew — not Matt — to the Edy’s concession stand for ice cream. Two vanilla cups. One for him. One for me. He is so nice! We didn’t even want the ice cream. But you just don’t say no to ice cream from Paul O’Neill.
Dolphin Stadium: It has been renamed Land Shark Stadium. But every piece of permanent signage still reads Dolphin Stadium. Anyway, it looks like rain (again), but they’re playing Meatloaf over the P.A. We love Meatloaf. He was at a game a couple of years ago in Toronto (we think) and we became a public embarrassment swooning over him. It wasn’t restraining-order stuff, but it was a little much.
The visiting clubhouse in Cleveland is kind of like a mini arcade. There’s the Big Game Hunter Pro, aka the Kyle Farnsworth Game. Farnsworth never looked more comfortable than when he was playing that game. And rather scary with the play rifle in his hand. Ramiro Pena appears to have developed quite a fondness for the Farnsworth game. “I love it,” he said, while shooting.
There’s a Nintendo game — an original — and a Cornhole bean bag game, which A.J. and Tomko played in the tunnel leading to the dugout. About an hour in, both were sweating.
Gardner and Bruney regularly do battle on a Tiger Woods video game. The winner gets custody of a Tiger figurine. Today, while sitting at his locker, Gardner painted the figurine green, then hid it from Bruney and swore a couple of us to secrecy. (The green paint on his fingertips might have been a giveaway.) After that, Gardner borrowed Joba’s laser and pointed the little red light at unsuspecting teammates.
Meanwhile, Bruney and CC — tonight’s starter — were playing a Nintendo baseball game on the big screen. (CC might have had more trouble with that game than he is with the Indians.)
And in Posada’s locker sat a framed back page of Newsday from May 17, 2006, when Teixeira — then a Ranger — barreled over Posada at home plate. Teixeira signed the paper, “To Jorge: Thanks for your forgiveness. Now we are best friends! Mark Teixeira”
The first-place Yankees are a fun bunch.
Another save by Mo: Last night, we walked with Mariano from the clubhouse to the team bus. We had to go through the Indians family room and up a flight of stairs. At the base of the steps, a young Cleveland player and his wife were struggling with their baby’s stroller. The player was holding their sleepy daughter and the wife couldn’t manage to lift the stroller on the steps. So Mariano did what a lot of people wouldn’t have — he carried the stroller up the stairs. You should have seen the looks on the faces of the Indians player and his wife. They were completely in awe. Mariano and the couple exchanged some words in Spanish and then he got on the bus.
Aces wild: Had a nice pregame chat with Aceves, who likes to show off a nasty cut on the base of the big toe on the bottom of his right foot. It’s gross. He says it’s not the slightest bit painful. Anyway, he loves his role, even thought it is not defined in any way. He says he wants to pitch every day, doesn’t care if he pitches three innings (as he did last night) or the eighth inning (Girardi likes Aceves’ versatility too much to limit him to one inning on a regular basis) or comes in as a long man (as he did when Joba was hit and left in the first inning against the O’s) or as a starter. He just wants to pitch and he doesn’t complain. He also says his shoulder feels better than ever and is amazed that he has no soreness whatsoever. Then he showed us the toe, so the conversation ended.
Swish-talk: Swisher reports that his dad, who is here, likes his Swish-hawk haircut and his stepmother absolutely loves it. “It’s so easy,” he said. “Just run some water through it, a little gel and it’s done.” He was also delighted when we passed along the message from Polly Tompkins. Delighted!
It’s been a while, huh? How are you on this Memorial Day?
Last homestand was a eventful one, wasn’t it? Four walk-offs, five pies in faces, two My9 games, a FOX telecast, a broken-bat home run and eight wins in 10 games.
Now we’re on the road and a day game is kinda nice today. A barbecue would be nicer, but we’re not complaining.
Bad news – actually, continuing bad news – for Bruney, who is back on the DL because his elbow just won’t cooperate. The MRIs have come back clean; Bruney suspects they’re missing something. He also says he’s disappointed and frustrated and has to figure out what’s going on. He said Sunday “it just felt wrong” while he was playing catch. That’s not good. And this is a guy who wants to pitch. So the bullpen will have to continue to weather the storm without its supposed 8th-inning guys, Bruney and Marte.
Alex is 2-for-2 and it looks like he’s getting into the swing of it, literally. They’ve always booed him here in Texas. The admission that he took performance-enhancing drugs while a Ranger doesn’t seem to be resonating with this crowd. They booed him more heartily in previous stops here. Plus, there are a lot of Yankees fans in the stands today.
Hughes did a great job getting out of the second. A grittier Hughes is a good sign.
Nady is scheduled to play in a simulated game of some sort in Tampa tomorrow. He’ll hit only. Posada, Molina and Ransom are also in Tampa; they’re not ready for any game action yet.
It’s hot here in Texas. They tell us we’ve arrived just in time for the muggy weather. And there are plenty of little bugs around. Terrific!
We’re digging the red hats for a one-day holiday thing. Hope you’re having yourselves a nice day.
In response to one of your comments, we talked to Aceves and Girardi about the reliever’s role. Girardi says, yes, he would be interested in using Aceves — and Coke when he’s healthy again — for two-inning appearances. If those two continue to pitch well, it would be an obvious help in building the bridge to Mariano.
Aceves, however, told us he couldn’t do that every time out. Two consecutive games of two innings of work would likely be his limit. Then, he said, he’d need at least a day off. Even today, Aceves said, his shoulder is a bit sore – just normal soreness – after pitching two scoreless innings last night.
So it’s something that’s possible at times, just not every time. Good question.
It’s getaway day, which means everyone is hoping beyond hope for a quick game. It’s also “Ladies Night Out” here at Rogers Centre. Yee-hah!
As we write this, Leiter is rolling his chair over his jacket. Repeatedly. Now he realizes it and is staring down at the blue jacket, which is rather dusty. Especially one of the sleeves. The inning just ended, and Leiter is worrying about having to wear the jacket on postgame and looking dirty. This is the stuff from the booth you don’t see.
Last night’s game went three hours, nine minutes. None of the Blue Jays previous five games lasted longer than 2:34. For whatever that’s worth.
Leiter just asked if we’re writing about him. Yes. We’re also wondering what happened to the Mike and Ike’s.
Swisher’s haircut is creating waves in the clubhouse. It looks a bit like someone took lawnmower blades to his head. Actually, he went to A.J.’s stylist in Toronto – which is another story unto itself. Anyway, in the near future, we will have a Swisher InnerView on “Batting Practice Today presented by Audi” and you’ll get an up-close-and-personal look at his hair. We’ll try to give you a heads up. That should be entertaining.
So Jeter’s back, as is Matsui. Bruney should return within a week. Coke could be available tomorrow. Nady plans to swing a bat in the cage tomorrow. Girardi says it’s too early to forecast a return date for either Posada or Molina; Posada is in Tampa, but not yet playing games, and Molina remains in New York.
That’s today’s injury update, brought to you by Benadryl. Or whatever allergy medication we’re taking today.
Leiter just said he didn’t buy more Mike and Ike’s. He also said he read the blog – really, he read it! – and was amused that Mike and Ike’s are so popular. Keep reading, Al. And bring those Mike and Ike’s next time. 🙂
Tomorrow will be Alex’s first game at Yankee Stadium. Something tells us he’ll be very happy to see the home fans after some of the treatment he’s received here and in Baltimore. Sources say the Toronto fans – particularly on Tuesday — have been as unruly as any the Yankees have seen in a while. They were throwing coins into the Yankees bullpen and yelling all kinds of vulgarities. And we thought Canadians were a gentle sort.
Hello there. Today has been kind of crazy, as you would expect. Alex seems relaxed, as his first at-bat would suggest. First pitch? You’ve GOT to be kidding! He also looks thinner, tanner and happier than you might remember.
He says he’s refocused, which would be a great sign of personal growth. And we choose to believe him. He also says this “absolutely” represents a new chapter for him. (He must have read this blog yesterday.)
Anyway, he’s back and that’s a good thing. The circus was in full throttle today and hopefully will go away by tomorrow. That would be a very good thing.
Lots of news. Honestly, can’t repeat everything here; hopefully you saw the pregame. One addition: Cervelli is a very confident guy. He might find a way to make this work. (We say that with virtually no knowledge of his actual ability behind the plate, but Posada did give him an endorsement.)
Our most interesting conversation was with Mariano. That is often the case. He still has allergies, which he’s had since March. Or February. (We mention this incidentally; he says he’s allergic to yours truly, but that is totally, 100 percent impossible.)
Mariano says he is fine: “I believe and I know that I will continue to get better” in terms of velocity and arm strength following shoulder surgery after last season. He says that will happen naturally, by pitching.
Nothing about last night, Mariano says, “felt out of the ordinary” — except the two home runs, of course. Mariano shrugs, he credits Crawford for a good at-bat and says (like a ton of pitchers will say at some point this season) that Longoria can hit even the slightest mistake a long way.
Mariano seemed to be as good as ever in early-to-mid April when he didn’t allow a run in his first seven innings. His numbers turned with that 31-pitch, Jason Bay-polluted outing on April 24 in Boston. Since then, he’s allowed five earned runs and four HRs in 4 1/3 innings. But he says nothing changed before or during that Friday night game against the Red Sox. And he insists his shoulder feels better now than it has at any point this season.
His treatment on his shoulder is routine, the same as always, he says. When we spoke at about 4 p.m. or so he said he hadn’t even had any treatment yet. He was relaxing at his locker. If something were truly wrong, you’d think he would have been in the training room.
Just trying to be logical here.
Mariano also says — with a smile — that Yankees fans are “spoiled” — imagine that — and that as soon as he has a bad stretch, they wonder if he’s hurt or if he’s losing it.
He’s not losing it, he says. “At the end of the season, we’ll see numbers as great as they always are.”
More good news: It’s Crab Cake Night in the press dining room. The limit is one. We secured two. Much like elementary school, it pays to be nice to the cafeteria ladies. Kay has an enormous plate of grapes (and strawberries) in front of him. Much like a Roman emperor.