Results tagged ‘ Red Sox ’

Joba and the Sox

Joba-9-26-250.jpgWhen the American League East-leading Yankees became the first team in the Major Leagues to clinch a playoff berth with a 6-5 win over the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim Tuesday night, the team elected not to celebrate beyond hugs and handshakes.

“Congratulations and let’s keep going,” said manager Joe Girardi of his message to the team. “There’s still a lot of baseball to be played. We have 10 games left, and we know what we want to do. There’s obviously excitement about being in the playoffs. It’s your first goal, but there’s other goals.”

At the time, the combination of Yankees wins and Red Sox losses that would give the Yanks the AL East division championship was four. Two days later in Kansas City, the Sox’s 10-3 win over the Royals reduced their magic number to three for a postseason berth as a second place team. Asked whether they would celebrate if they clinched a likely Wild Card slot at Yankee Stadium — which could happen before the Yankees actually celebrate winning their division — designated hitter David Ortiz replied, “Oh we will, hopefully. So we don’t have to get our clubhouse dirty. It would be great. You get that out of the way and give a welcome to the new Stadium too.”

From the team’s official postgame notes, these are some of the things the Yankees did between the lines Friday night while pounding their way to a 9-5 victory over the Red Sox as they began their three game weekend series in the Bronx:

  • Their leadoff man reached based five times, and scored three of the times.
  • Six different hitters — Jeter, Teixeira, Rodriguez, Matsui, Posada and Cano — had a multi-hit game.
  • Their runners stole seven bases on Red Sox catcher and team captain Jason Varitek, the largest number of bases they’ve swiped in a game since June, 1996, and the most at home in 27 years.
  • Alex Rodriguez went 3-for-5 to drive in four runs, tying his season high of four RBI in a single game, and racking up his most at the Stadium this season.
  • Joba Chamberlain notched his first win since early August, striking out the first 11 batters he faced.

You think somebody in the Yankee clubhouse got wind of Ortiz’s comments?

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Besides bringing the Yanks to within three games of clinching the AL East with the best record in baseball, Friday night’s game went a significant way towards answering one of their biggest questions as they approach the playoffs — namely, could Joba Chamberlain regain enough of his form to be a successful fourth starter in the rotation after having training wheels forced on him since the All-Star break?

There’s no need to recap Chamberlain’s recent struggles here. There’ve been enough words typed about his lousy performances on the mound and at his locker. After he coughed up seven runs over three innings during his previous start in Seattle, Girardi and his coaches challenged him to “step up.” Always protective of clubhouse exchanges between team members and coaches — the “inner circle,” as he characterized it Friday — Girardi refused to be more specific to the press about exactly how he presented this challenge to Chamberlain.

At his locker after throwing an impressive six-innings in which he surrendered three runs and issued only one walk and five hits, Chamberlain described the tone of the conversation as stern.

“You get challenged a lot in life, and it’s something where you gotta look yourself in the mirror and see how to make yourself better,” he would say in response to a question about it. “It was something my teammates and my coaching staff did, and it was something it was good for me to realize.”

Answering a follow-up moments later, he added that it was important to “realize there’s a lot of people in this game that want your job. And when it comes down to it, you have to look like they’re gonna take money off your table.”

An observation or two about Chamberlain:

1. He looked angry last night throughout most of the game. And an angry Joba is more often than not a successful Joba.  But inning and pitch limits and all the other constraints placed on him this season in the interest of his career longevity have too often muted that anger for reasons that can only be surmised.

“That’s all over with,” he said about the restrictions. The relief was evident in his voice and expression.

Chamberlain feeds off emotion. It is what made him special when he first stepped on the mound to electrify Yankee Stadium with two years ago, and it is what can make him special going forward.  That more than anything was what the Joba Rules seem to have failed to take into account.

2. As frustrating as his defensive reactions have been immediately after his poorer performances, Joba seems to be more able to honestly admit to a lousy performance after a better one. I’ve noticed this twice in the clubhouse. While I won’t attempt to conduct an armchair psychoanalysis, we all know he grew up under difficult circumstances. That isn’t an excuse for a lack of accountability. But public and private accountability are very different things, and it might why he has a hard time letting guard down within minutes of a bad loss.
I believe Chamberlain should be judged by how he responds to adversity on the field rather than at his locker.

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For the Red Sox, Friday night’s game may have created, rather than answered, a serious question about their pitching going into the playoffs.

Jon Lester posted a July ERA of 2.60 July, a 2.41 August ERA, and 3.07 ERA in September. With a 14-8 record after last night’s game, he has been the team ace this year and was recently designated Game One starter in a potential American League Division Series appearance.

The hard line drive ball that Lester took to his right leg in the third inning looked at first as if it might end his and the Red Sox’s postseason aspirations, and was a startling reminder of how tenuous such things can be. Watching him sprawled on the infield dirt, it was hard to imagine him walking off the field on his own, let alone standing at his locker answering questions. But he did both.

Lester’s injury has been diagnosed as a muscle bruise. He said in the visiting clubhouse that he would be getting compression wraps to the leg and hopes to make his next start. Sox manager Terry Francona did not rule out the possibility. “He actually might be right on turn for his next start. But we’ll have to see how he feels and figure out the right thing to do.”
Lester’s health nevertheless bears watching. He’s a tough kid and might well be OK. But that right leg is his push off leg. If he isn’t good to go for October, neither are the Red Sox.

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And last but not least . . .
Somebody’s gotta say it: Those Boston media people really clog up the works in the press cafeteria.

A little while before the game I went to get a cup of coffee and found a mob of them around the machine. So I went over to the soft ice cream dispenser and found them swarming it too.  Finally I gave up and decided to get dinner.  More crowding and slowness at the buffet line.
“This happens whenever they’re here,” I grumbled to a venerable fixture of Yankee Stadium after plopping down at his customary table.  “They devour all the food, plus they leave the stacks of paper cups a mess!”

“I know, I know.”

“I mean, they seriously get on my nerves,” I went on. “Last time they ate all the ice cream before the stinking fifth stinking inning!”

The Fixture folded his hands across his chest and nodded his head in wizened commiseration. “What’re you gonna do? They come to New York, they finally see what real food is,” he said.

Why, why, why, A.J.?

aj_blog_082309.jpgA.J. Burnett has been awful in his last two starts and nobody can quite figure out who he blames. But some of his postgame comments, with their hints of ambiguity, have created a growing distraction the Yankees don’t need right now.

The questions first arose on August 12th after Burnett earned a no-decision against the Blue Jays, lasting six innings in a bumpy 4-3 extra-inning Yankee win. Asked about Burnett’s three wild pitches during the game, catcher Jorge Posada blamed the problem on cross-ups, saying he got curveballs from the pitcher when calling for fastballs.

“But you gotta be on your toes,” he said. “He’s gonna throw a curveball in the dirt and you just gotta try to put your body in front of it. Most of them I got.”

For his part, Burnett declined to say anything about the wild pitches, although after being pressed  for an explanation, he would comment, “It’s a curveball down in the dirt. I don’t know. I got nothin’ to say on it.”

Burnett’s next start was a 3-0 loss to the Oakland Athletics on August 18th.  In a chaotic fourth inning during which Oakland scored all their runs, he and Posada again crossed up a sign. As a result, Burnett would halt his delivery with runners on second and third, leading to a balk call that scored a run for the A’s.  

Again Burnett fielded questions about responsibility in the clubhouse afterwords. “It’s probably me,” he said. “I mean, he’s (Posada) been doing this behind the plate for a long time. And, I don’t know, I had no way of seeing it. He had the tape {on his fingers}. It’s just the at-bat.  But it’s just one of those mistakes.”

Burnett’s remarks were widely characterized in the media as an unequivocal assumption of responsibility. In his New York Daily News blog, Yankees beat reporter Mark Feinsand wrote, “I’ve covered this team long enough to know that when a player thinks it’s someone else’s fault, they say ‘no comment; to questions like this. Burnett placed the blame on himself for the cross-up, so that’s where it probably belongs.”

With due respect to Feinsand, I didn’t see things quite the same. Burnett’s words were pretty much the right ones, true, although he used enough qualifiers to create lingering questions. And his overall manner frankly had me wondering if he wasn’t so much saying what he really thought as letting everyone know he wasn’t going to say what he really thought.

Which, if it’s the case, meant he was intentionally saying plenty without saying it.
 
I wasn’t alone in being a bit thrown off by Burnett’s remarks — Feinsand blogged about it precisely because my confusion was shared by many others who’d seen the locker room interview on YES.

Interpreting a player’s words is an uncomfortable exercise for me. It’s a bit unfair to parse and analyze what a ballplayer says moments after a tough loss, when emotions — most particularly frustration — are still running high. And the confusion only multiplies when his comments are relayed to his catcher (albeit in summary) for a response.

That’s exactly what happened after Saturday’s 14-1 loss to the Red Sox at Fenway in which Burnett allowed nine earned runs in five innings of work. It was an ugly performance during which little went  right for him. There were walks, pitches getting pounded for doubles, flying over the wall,  you name it.  In the fifth inning, with the Yanks trailing by seven, David Ortiz slammed a badly placed fastball over the Green Monster in left, prompting Burnett to turn toward the wall with his hands outspread. “Why? Why? Why?” he appeared to say. “Why would you throw that?”

This was a mistake for several reasons. First it can be viewed by teammates as showing up his catcher on the field. Not good. Second, it was caught by television cameras on a FOX national broadcast. Worse. Third, and worse yet, it happened in Boston, where the local media would have a field day stirring the pot, even at the price of inaccuracy. Blogger John Haggerty of WEEI sports radio’s official website would go so far as to misquote Burnett when he typed: “As Ortiz circled the bases following his homer to left, Burnett raised his hands up in mock outrage and appeared to ask with incredulity, “Why? Why? Why? Why would you CALL that? Why?”

Which brings me to the worst consequence of Burnett’s display of emotion, namely that he and Posada once again had to answer questions about their functional relationship in the clubhouse.

Burnett again seemed to take responsibility without really embracing it, suggesting he should have shaken off Posada’s calls more often. After saying the main problem with his outing was that he “threw a lot of balls I didn’t want to throw”,  he was asked whether there had been more communication problems with his battery-mate

“I didn’t have a lot of conviction on some pitches,” he replied. “It’s our {pitchers’} job. We throw what we want to throw. He’s (Posada) there to aid, so it’s definitely not him. I had a good hook today and I definitely should have used it more in more counts and more often.”

That’s a pretty wishy washy answer — and hardly a ringing endorsement of Jorge Posada’s pitch-calling behind the plate. Meanwhile, the veteran catcher, who attributed the pitcher’s problem’s to mislocation, seemed less than thrilled when informed Burnett had been “lamenting some of the pitch selection”.

“Well, you know, when the balls leave the park, you’re gonna look back and you’re gonna see the pitches that you call and pitches that he threw,” Posada said with a resigned smile. “That’s about it.”

But it isn’t. Burnett and Posada’s relationship has become a story that will hover over the clubhouse at least until Burnett’s start, and well beyond if it’s another  ineffective one. It’s also a legitimate issue as the Yanks launch into the season’s stretch run and hopefully the playoffs. Stating the obvious, the Yankees’ number two starter and his catcher must be in synch for the team to continue its success.

This season Joe Girardi has shown a dramatic evolution in game management skills. He’s has done an impressive job composing and handling his bullpen. He must now demonstrate that he can also manage his players, put an end to the public back-and-forth between Burnett and Posada, and see that they fall into, if not quite harmony, then an acceptable working relationship.

There’s really no other choice except failure for the Yanks. After everything the team has accomplished this season, both men would surely agree that is unacceptable.

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A Large, Unsettling Question


Cano-6-22-250.jpgPreisler@jeromepreisler.com

If you are a baseball fan, and you woke up feeling good about your team today, that team probably isn’t the New York Yankees.

Entering the twelve-game stretch that began when they were swept by the Boston Red Sox at Fenway on June 9-11, the Yankees were 34-24, ten games over .500 and  tied with the Sox for first place in the AL East. They had a game-and-a-half lead over Toronto, and a six game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays.

Today they are 38-31, seven games over .500, four games behind the first place Red Sox, hold a one game lead for second place over the Toronto Blue Jays, and are only two games ahead of the fourth place Tampa Bay Rays.

They have lost three out of the last four series, and would have lost all of them if it hadn’t been for Mets second baseman Luis Castillo dropping a pop flyball that would have closed out Game One of the Subway Series for his team had it landed in his glove. Two of those series losses have been against National League East teams with losing records, one of them the worst in baseball. They also come as the Red Sox and Tampa Bay are busy beating up on their NL counterparts.

Despite an elite roster bolstered in the offseason by the costly acquisitions of CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett,  Mark Teixeira and currently dormant reliever Damaso Marte, they are doing just slightly better than the 40-35 record they held last season at this time, remain only one game closer to the Red Sox in the standings, and are exactly the same number of games behind them in the loss column.

As of right now, this makes the 2009 New York Yankees a tremendous, expensive disappointment.

If you are a Yankee fan this morning, and you watched our team lose the rubber game of last weekend’s set against the Florida Marlins on Sunday, you might recall hearing former Yankee, and current YES broadcaster, Paul O’Neill, comment that this was an extremely important series for the Florida franchise. As young team, he said, they needed to prove they could play against the Yankees.

But it was arguably a far more important game for the Yankees, who suffered yet another series loss to a team that had no business beating them, and have gone south in more ways than one heading into Atlanta for an interleague series with the Braves.

If you are a Yankee fan this morning, it leaves you wondering a few things.

After stalwart long reliever Alfredo Aceves had thrown almost three innings in scoreless relief of CC Sabathia, who left the game in the second inning with a sore left bicep, manager Joe Girardi pulled him from the game at the bottom of the fifth, replacing him with the unreliable Brett Tomko. At the time, the Yanks held a 3-1 lead.

Aceves currently boasts a sparkling 2.32 ERA and had thrown 43 pitches before leaving the mound. His final, hitless inning of work was his most economical; he’d needed only 9 pitches to get through it. Prior to Sunday’s game, he had last seen action on June 18th in a scoreless nine-pitch outing against the Washington Nationals. The day before, June 17th,  he had pitched a scoreless 2/3 of an inning against the Nats, dispatching them with only five pitches.

Tomko’s ERA for the season stands at 7.20. With the Yanks leading the Nationals 5-1 in the series opener, he threw a scoreless ninth inning to preserve the victory, while Mariano Rivera tossed in the bullpen, ready to close out the game if he ran into trouble. His previous appearance–on June 12 against the Mets–didn’t go as smoothly, as he surrendered 4 runs on three hits and two walks in a horrific 2/3 of an inning. Before that, he’d given up a run  to the Red Sox on two hits and a couple of walks on June 9th, when he threw a total of 47 pitches in 2 1/3 innings of relief.

The Marlins scored 3 runs against him in 2 innings to tie the game. Two of their hits were homeruns.  Tomko would leave it to fellow relievers Phil Coke and David Robertson to give up the lead, with the assistance of a throwing error from Melky Cabrera.

But let’s get back to Aceves a moment. A converted starter, he threw a season-high 70 pitches against the Red Sox on May 4, 50 pitches against Baltimore on May 21, and has since had several outings when he threw over 30 pitches.

On Sunday, with the Yanks needing a series victory before an off day on which Aceves would be guaranteed rest, his manager’s decision to pull him is at the very least problematic. It appears that instead of considering how fluidly Aceves was throwing the ball, Girardi opted to be cautious with his pitch count. The result was a Yankee loss.

Recently, a reader of this column asked my assessment of Joe Girardi’s performance as the Yankees’ manager. I told him that I thought it would take a full 2009 season before I could fairly evaluate it.

I still believe that. But if Girardi has shown one serious and noticeably recurring managerial flaw, it is a seeming tendency to have his eyes in his notebook when keeping his head in the flow of the game would better serve the team’s cause. It is a negative that has proven costly on more than a single occasion.

The bad little things I detailed in a previous entry–errors, base running gaffes, and walks to opposing batters–have continued to hurt the Yanks since they lost their winning ways in Boston.  Their bats have been sluggish,  their pitching  spotty, and their overall play lackluster at best.

How much of this falls on Joe Girardi is still an open question, and will remain so for a while.

But on a grey Monday day in 2009 in which the Yankee record and position in the standings is uncomfortably similar to where they were last year–Girardi’s first season as manager, and the first in 13 years that did not see the team make the playoffs–there is no doubt that question has begun to take a very large, unsettling shape.