Friday, April 14, 2006

Royal Flush

The Yankees put aside all doubts about their ability to score runs by racking up 30 over the course of a three game sweep of the Kansas City Royals in the Bronx.

Minus the voice of Bob Sheppard for the first home opener since 1950, the Yanks needed some late inning heroics from their hero of heroes, Derek Jeter. The captain delivered a three-run jack to cap a 5 run comeback in the bottom of the eighth inning, giving the Yanks a 9-7 win.

The next two games were not as suspenseful, as Gary Sheffield powered the lineup from the DH spot by going 3-for-5, with a HR and 4 RBI in Game 2. Yesterday, Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon joined Sheff in the HR derby, launching the Yanks to a 9-3 victory.

But before Yankee fans can get exited, the starting pitching was still suspect. While Randy Johnson went five quality innings on Thursday, it was still only five innings due to early season physical conditioning. Game 2 saw Shawn Chacon have a rickety first inning, eventually righting the ship and going six innings while allowing seven hits and five earned runs. That’s not the type of stat line that’s going to win games against quality teams. And even though the opener had a happy ending, Chien-Ming Wang tried his best to throw a couple of cliff-hangers into the mix by blowing a 4-1 lead.

Last season the Royals gave the Yanks fits, so it’s good to see that the Bombers have this quasi minor league team under control and were able to reverse an early April slide. But these were games the Yankees were supposed to win. And they did.

The Minnesota series will be a much more significant challenge as the Twins are coming off of a sweep of the Oakland A’s and have been playing quality baseball early on.

Posted by Blind Swipe | 4/14/2006 10:20:00 AM |

Monday, April 10, 2006

Yanks Squeeze 1 of 3 from the Angels

The Yankees ended a four game skid by hammering Bartolo Colon and the LA Angels yesterday 10-1. The win ups the team’s record on their opening west coast swing to 2-and-4.

The theme of the road trip could be summed up as all-or-nothing, as the two wins came in huge blowouts against A’s Number One Barry Zito and Angels ace Bartolo Colon. The four losses sandwiched in-between can be characterized by impotent offence, especially with runners in scoring position, and some shaky defense in the field, often leading to pivotal runs. It’s especially frustrating because these close games are the types of games that differentiate playoff teams from bottom dwellers.

Posted by Blind Swipe | 4/10/2006 11:28:00 AM |

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

New Digs

Plans for the NEW $800 million Yankee Stadium cleared what many feel to be the most difficult phase of the political tightrope. The city council voted 45-2 to clear the way for the use of the two adjacent parks next to the current stadium as the site of the new complex.

Posted by Blind Swipe | 4/05/2006 11:35:00 PM |

Oh So Close

It was a frustrating affair in Oakland last night as the Yanks dropped a close one to the A’s by doing all the little things wrong.

Marco Scutaro’s bottom of the ninth line drive over Hideki Matsui’s head sealed the 4-3 win for Oakland. The Yanks can’t say they didn’t have their opportunities; leaving two on in the top of the ninth, third inning base-running blunders, and a Robinson Cano error proved to be the difference.

Posted by Blind Swipe | 4/05/2006 10:01:00 AM |

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Yanks Romp on Opening Night

Last night, despite forecast of inclement weather, the only heavy rain in Oakland came down on Barry Zito and the rest of the A’s pitching staff as the Yankees cruised to a 15-2 Opening Day win.

Randy Johnson yielded only one run over seven innings to pick up his second straight Opening Day win for the Yanks. Every starter except Posada had a hit, including A-Rod’s grand slam and Hideki Matsui’s 4-for-4 output.

Posted by Blind Swipe | 4/04/2006 07:04:00 AM |

Monday, April 03, 2006

Ready, Set, Go!

Manager Joe Torre announced his lineup to the team on Sunday, and it was prefaced with “Live with it,” leading one to believe that it will be THE lineup for the foreseeable future, barring injuries, suspensions or dismal, long-term slumps.

The most significant change comes with a shuffling of the engine room, as Gary Sheffield, Alex Rodriquez, and Jason Giambi will bat 3rd, 4th, and 5th, respectively. The lineup card is expected to remain consistent regardless of left or right-handed pitching.

Speaking of which, Torre announced his rotation on Friday, deciding to go with Chien-Ming Wang and Shawn Chacon in the third and fourth spots, joining Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina. Jaret Wright will be the odd-man out, relegated to long-relief duties. However, the Carl Pavano back problems will give Wright a couple of starts, maybe more.

Torre felt that Wang and Chacon earned their pinstripes last year and that their 2005 performances factored heavily in his decision this spring.

Posted by Blind Swipe | 4/03/2006 12:49:00 PM |

Monday, March 27, 2006

Book Review: The Last Nine Innings is Pure Baseball Science

As Opening Day bears down upon us, we are reminded that summer is just around the corner. While the Internet and your laptop may not translate well to the beach and the pool deck, a good old-fashioned hardcover read still ranks at the top of the list of warm weather mental diversions. With The Last Nine Innings, Charles Euchner provides an excellent addition to any baseball fan's must read list.

The author was inspired by another sports classic, John McPhee’s Levels of the Game, a detailed exploration of race, class, sports, business, and psychology as seen through the prism of a 1968 tennis match between Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner. Similarly, The Last Nine Innings doesn’t just re-tell Game Seven of the 2001 World Series. Instead, the play-by-play serves as a well crafted, extended metaphor and a point of departure for a deconstruction of today’s game of baseball.

What gives Euchner’s account a fresh coat of perspective is that instead of focusing on stats and personalities, he vividly illustrates each player’s approach to baseball and the game’s individual components. Crammed with interviews with players like Derek Jeter, Curt Schilling, Randy Johnson, Matt Williams, Jorge Posada, Steve Finley, and even Shane Spencer, to name a few, The Last Nine Innings provides unprecedented mechanical detail as to how each player prepares for the season, a series, a game, and right on down to their routine as the pitcher steps on the rubber. And in doing so, Euchner gives a true peek into the science of baseball at a depth far beyond the tabloid headlines generated by the current BALCO scandal.

But why would a Yankee fan want to relive that game? Simply put, Euchner’s pitch-by-pitch, microscopic account of that gripping and decisive contest proves that the journey supersedes the destination. Each at-bat unearths a wealth of technical nuggets many young ballplayers would spend thousands of dollars on baseball camp tuition for.

For example, we learn about Matt Williams’ “One-Hand Fred” approach to hitting that he picked up from then Giants manager Dusty Baker. We go through Curt Schilling’s meticulous scouting regimen and are reminded that he wasn’t always this prepared to pitch. It would surprise many that Roger Clemens, the opposing starter that night, probably had the most impact on Schilling’s career. And thankfully, we are given an alternative to Barry Bonds’ alleged BALCO cocktails with the novel off-season conditioning regimen Steve Finley used to prolong his career.

And the best thing about The Last Nine Innings is that it is written in simple, clear and concise prose, making it a perfect read for younger aspiring ballplayers – or those of you adult fanatics who sat in the back of class reading box scores instead of Crime and Punishment.

Read The Last Nine Innings and the next game you watch will be the first nine innings of the rest of your baseball life.

Posted by Blind Swipe | 3/27/2006 10:56:00 PM |

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Japan Wins!

Congrats to Japan, who captured the inaugural WBC championship last night with a dominant 10-6 win over Cuba.

A week ago, it looked like Japan’s championship aspirations were pick-pocketed by a bogus late-inning call which handed a crucial second round win to the US. But all was righted by the baseball gods when Team USA was unable to get past Mexico, allowing Japan to back into the semifinal round. To their credit, the Japanese team made good that divine intervention by defeating the two best teams in the WBC.

Looking back on the tournament, one would have to say it’s an unqualified success. With attendance in the neighborhood of 3/4 million and TV ratings coming in beyond initial projections, in spite of March Madness, Bud Selig, for once, deserves a pat on the back for his vision and persistence. Meaningful baseball in March - who’d a thunk?

Despite the all that was right, the tourney still needs some tweaks. MLB hasn’t specified what may be in store for the event in 2009, but that won’t stop me from making a suggestion or two.

The main problem is the timing. I’m sure organizers wrestled with this from day one, as some teams, like Japan, were in the midst of their seasons and were reluctant to take a timeout.

The current schedule proved problematic in a couple of ways. Many of the elite players were reluctant to play because it may disrupt their spring routine, and we know how ballplayers are about their personal rituals. But more importantly, the play of those who showed up was affected by the calendar. Those who watched the games witnessed an odd marriage between post-season intensity and pre-season execution.

Defensive blunders, unreliable pitching, and a void of clutch hitting personified those teams who relied heavily on MLB players. While all of these deficiencies are normal for a spring training game, they are frustrating when there’s stuff on the line.

The end result was that the teams with the fewest MLB players went the deepest into the tournament, culminating in a championship game where Ichiro was the only MLB player in either dugout.

So, what’s the solution? It’s simple, push the tournament back to the first week in April and have the showcase open the season. This way, everyone gets their spring training in and the flow of the season isn’t disrupted, even though the post-season would be extended by two weeks. Moreover, every player can hit the ground running with the best chance of playing their best baseball. Such a move would eliminate the need for pitch limits, reduce the risk of injury, and curtail many excuses for not playing. However, I don’t anticipate as many players bailing the second time around given that just about every participant raves about their WBC experience.

Lastly, the move would get MLB out of the crosshairs of the NCAA Tournament. Even though, for the most part, the WBC was able to dance around college hoops, the first inning of the final was preempted by the double OT Michigan/Notre Dame game. While that contest was a thrill, the typical explosion of late game timeouts drove me insane. Admittedly, though, the preemption was a perfect storm and unlikely to recur on a consistent basis.

With that, I’ll leave you with the All-Tourney Team:

C Tomoya Satozaki (Japan)
1B Seung Yeop Lee (Korea)
2B Yulieski Gourriel (Cuba)
SS Derek Jeter (USA)
3B Adrian Beltre (Dominican Republic)
OF Ken Griffey Jr. (USA)
OF Ichiro Suzuki (Japan)
OF Jong Beom Lee (Korea)
DH Yoandy Garlobo (Cuba)
P Daisuke Matsuzaka (Japan)
P Chan Ho Park (Korea)
P Yadel Marti (Cuba)

Posted by Blind Swipe | 3/21/2006 10:48:00 AM |

Friday, March 17, 2006

Team USA Will Watch from the Clubhouse

Last night Mexico defeated the United States to allow Japan to advance to the semifinal round of the WBC, joining Korea, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba.

The 2-1 defeat was a stunner for the country that invented the game of baseball. But, as has been demonstrated over the past two weeks, the rest of the baseball playing world has caught up to the US.

The biggest surprise of the tourney is the only undefeated team, Korea. The fundamentally sound squad, which has been bolstered by exceptional pitching and timely hitting, will have the opportunity to defeat big bro’ Japan for the third consecutive time in the space of a fortnight. Similarly, Cuba has reaffirmed its international dominance and should put to rest any rumors that the isolated island can’t hang with the best that MLB has to offer.

Contrary to popular belief, Team USA’s defeat is good for the tournament and good for baseball, as the competition was designed to spread the gospel internationally. Also, the loss should provide some motivation for marquis players who stayed back at camp to participate the next time around.

We can’t really beat up Buck Martinez and his crew for the early exit, as Spring Training is hit-or-miss anyway. The lineup was pitiful with runners-in-scoring-position and the starting pitching was predictably unpredictable. Hopefully those who participated will have photos and stories to share with their teammates back in spring training that will have them eager to answer the call in 2009.

Posted by Blind Swipe | 3/17/2006 04:53:00 PM |

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Down Goes Damon

The Yanks’ prized winter acquisition will be taking a seat on the bench for tonight’s WBC win-or-go-home game against Mexico. The centerfielder has been diagnosed with a case of tendonitis in his throwing shoulder.

Anyone who’s had any form of this ailment, the most common being tennis elbow, knows that the only cure is inactivity. Damon will likely be limited to pinch running duties for the remainder of the tournament, if he isn’t replaced on the roster in the next round, presuming the US makes it that far.

It would seem as though the injury would give critics like Steinbrenner the green light to say ‘I told you so.’ But so far The Boss has been mum, although Brian Cashman walked up to the edge of the pool, but didn’t dive in.

The hesitancy to criticize might have something to do with the fact that the WBC has been wildly successful so far. If one is a fan of baseball, the passion and intensity of games like these are irresistible. It’s been like watching back-to-back All Star Games where the players actually care. It makes the Mid-Season Classic prize of home field advantage in the World Series look like the chump change that it is.

These revelations over the past week should really make MLB take a second look at how its exhibition season is structured. Will a WBC every four years satisfy the fans’ appetites for international competition? Every year would be overkill, but once every other year or every third year could work. Should the All Star game be phased out for the WBC? Will the tourney make post-season MLB All Star tours of the Far East obsolete? One thing's for sure: the WBC has opened up a whole new landscape for MLB, far exceeding even the most optimistic projections about the competition here in the US. And it comes along just in time to take the wind out of the sails of the latest steroids controversy - at least for now.

I can honestly say that at no time in my baseball life have I been this pumped about March baseball. And it only gets better, beginning tonight when The Rocket will attempt to hurl Team USA into the semis.

Posted by Blind Swipe | 3/16/2006 12:54:00 PM |

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