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Archive for May, 2006

May 31, 2006; Walking Wounded

May 31, 2006 By: ctan Category: Yankee Fan Memories

If you haven’t been paying much attention lately, you can be forgiven for looking at the standings this morning and finding the New York Yankees tied for first place with the Boston Red Sox. After all, the Yankees are the walking wounded, aren’t they? And they are playing the best-record-in-baseball Detroit Tigers, no? While the Red Sox are coming off a series with Tampa Bay and now facing Toronto.

Yes, the Yankees are hurting. The disabled list includes Hideki Matsui (broken wrist, 3 months), the guy who would have replaced Matsui in left, Bubba Crosby (hamstring, 2 weeks), Tanyon Sturtze (surgery, out indefinitely), and starter Shawn Chacon (got whacked with a comebacker, unknown). Don’t forget Johnny Damon who is playing with a broken foot, Gary Sheffield who is playing with a broken bone in his hand, Derek Jeter who won’t admit his hand may bother him after a slide into the bag the other night in Detroit, Jorge Posada who is having a leg/knee tendon issue, and no one has said anything about an injury yet but am I the only one who has noticed that in the past 3 weeks Jason Giambi’s bat seems to have slowed considerably? After his hot April, May has brought an unusual number of pop ups to left field. Last night he got a fastball down Broadway on a 3-1 pitch and missed it. Fortunately, in the 11th inning, he got a curve ball, guessed right, and jacked it into the seats for the game-winning RBI. It was reminiscent of a day in Oakland when he did the very same thing off Mike Stanton’s curve ball, though that one was a walk-off since Giambi then played for the home team.

So, how are the Yankees doing it? The outfield that was supposed to be Matsui, Damon, and Sheffield has been replaced by Melky Cabrera, Bernie Williams and Terrence Long. They had to call Long out of retirement, for goodness’ sake. Well, after looking a bit rusty in his debut at Fenway, Long has been fine as a fill-in guy, had two hits last night and will continue to be a fine stop-gap. Bernie Williams has stepped up big over the past ten days, hitting .389 (14 for 36) in that span. Melky Cabrera had four hits last night and is batting .333 over the past ten days with 9 RBI. He’s 13 for 39 with six walks.

And Damon, bum foot or no, has still been hitting at close to .300 and playing fine defense. Sheffield sat last night but will be back in the lineup most of this week.

How about the infield? Alex Rodriguez hit .375 over the past ten days, with 12 RBI and 11 runs scored. Jeter has been his usual self–let’s knock wood that the hand injury doesn’t cool him off more than a day or two. Giambi’s bat-speed woes we already discussed, and we’ll keep an eye on him. Robinson Cano continues to be a plain great hitter, hitting .299 this season. Posada’s injury will hopefully not derail what otherwise looks to be one of his best years at the plate so far. And even backup Kelly Stinnett looks like he is coming out of his slump–perhaps the increased playing time he received is the silver lining on Posada’s injury.

Of course, the real question is the pitching. Randy Johnson, who has been the cause of so much hair-tearing over the past month, took a no-hitter into the sixth in Detroit. Aaron Small, who seemed spectacularly ineffective out of the bullpen, has had two strong outings now where his only problem seemed to be he tires after four innings, as you might expect from a guy who just spent a month in the bullpen. With Chacon out and Pavano still not due back for quite a while, Small can once again save the Yankees’ bacon as he did last season. Mussina has once again been simply great, having added a new change-up to his mix this year. As usual Moose’s weakness is the long ball, as with many pitchers who throw a lot of strikes, but this is no more of a concern this season than in any other. Chien Ming-Wang has been consistent with his ground-ball inducing sinker, and Jaret Wright seems to have regained his effectiveness.

The bullpen has had some hiccups, but overall they have been good. Scott Proctor, who was lights out in April, had a rough stretch likely brought on by over-use, but hopefully he is over that now. Kyle Farnsworth has alternated between excellent and awful, sometimes from one pitch to the next, but he appears to be finding himself. Ron Villone has been steady, and Mariano Rivera pitched three innings of effortless relief last night to earn the win–the first time he pitched three innings since the fateful 2003 Aaron-Goes-Boone ALCS game seven.

So how are the Yankees doing it? By mixing and matching and working hard. They don’t have all the parts working together, but they have enough that they have won seven of their last 10 games.

The dogfight with Boston resumes next week with a four-game set at the Stadium. Hang on to your hats as the ride is likely to stay bumpy.

May 27 2006: Now I Remember

May 27, 2006 By: ctan Category: On Playing the Game

Just in time for Memorial Day, summer is here with a vengeance. We had huge thunderstorms yesterday, the humidity went through the roof, and today it hit eighty degrees.

Just in time for my first baseball practice. I had forgotten what it was like to stand in the outfield, with not a hint of a breeze, the noon sun beating down, sweat sticking my hair to the back of my neck. Don’t get me wrong; I liked it. But I have a New Rule: do not drink Belle de Brillet brandy and Cointreau the night before baseball.

Dehydration sucks.

The upshot of today’s practice is threefold. One, yes, I can bunt, and our coaches’ decision that this year, when we’ve got a runner on third and a pitcher on the mound who throws strikes, we may just put down the suicide squeeze. My hands are itching in anticipation. Two, sitting around all winter without a single trip to the batting cage is not good for my swing. But it won’t take long to get it back. Three, I still cannot throw for beans.

The throwing thing is a pain because it’s simply embarrassing. I am not the worst thrower in the league. But the fact that I can throw less far than I could five years ago really irks me, and then there is the fact that my accuracy is for crap, too. I suppose by now I should just start accepting the fact that the torn tendon in my elbow is going to keep me like this. All winter it was great, no pain, good strength, no problems. Then, about a month ago, I tweaked it somehow (possibly pulling something out of the car) and kaboom, it swelled up and it is back to square one.

And of course throwing is one of those things that you have to do all the time. Chase a ball down in the outfield, hit the cutoff. Field a grounder, throw to first. Pick up balls in BP, throw them back to the pitcher. At this point, I can’t tell if my bad throws are because of my elbow or because of a mental block about whether the throw will be bad or not. Sometimes, I don’t think about it, and it’s fine. Sometimes, I don’t think about it, and I uncork these strange ones. Sometimes I think about it, and it’s fine. Sometimes, I think about it, and it makes no difference.

My fielding isn’t great but I want to convince the coaches that I can play second base at least as well as some of the other choices we have for the position, and I at least don’t have to be told when to cover the bag. Right field is nice but… well, no it isn’t. If we really have someone crack at second, I’ll be happy in the outfield because I want the team to win. But I don’t contribute much in the outfield. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m a worse right fielder than I am second baseman. It’s just less obvious.

Sigh. I should just shut up now. Among other good news, we have Nikki, the lefty who was on my old team 4 years ago and who throws harder than anyone in the league, on our team again, which means that we have a good chance to beat our arch rivals, Carter & Carter.

And right field has the advantage that at least during BP I get to enjoy the local wildlife. Today I saw two pretty birds. No idea what kind, but they were mostly black with yellow and orange on their wings. There was a pair of them, and they flew off to the woodsy area beyond third base. There was also a large hawk of some kind, being harried by six small birds. The little birds just dive-bombed it over and over as it went around and around in a circle over me. Eventually it flew off and they left it alone.

Oh yeah, haven’t done any sprinting during the winter either. Before you start getting ideas that me and Sidney Ponson spent the winter on the beach (or in jail) in Aruba, I am actually in better shape for this season than I have been for any baseball season yet. Why? In September I started regular tae kwon do workouts again, and kept it up until last month when I tweaked the elbow. I weigh less, my pants fit soooo much better, and a lot of me is stronger. I hope it pays off in more hits and better speed.

And I once again wonder if I should try a larger bat than my 29″ (22 ounce) Little League stick. Maybe.

On the way home from practice I stopped at the grocery store to grab some lunch-makings. A Hispanic checkout boy saw my pants, socks, and jock flip-flops and asked “You just come from playing baseball? That’s what I’m going to do when I get out of here!” When I’d gone into the store it looked like it was threatening to pour, but by the time I got home the sky was blue and the afternoon looked fine. I hope he got his swings in.

May 17 2006: Tall Cold One

May 17, 2006 By: ctan Category: Interviews

Randy Johnson has struggled of late, so I thought it would be worth revisiting a conversation that he and I had at the end of spring training. Given Johnson’s toughness as a competitor, the problem is more likely mechanical than mental.

Cecilia Tan: Has your perspective changed on your career now versus when you were younger?

Randy Johnson: My career is almost over. I’m not in the middle, I’m not in the beginning, I’m more towards the end. So, you know, I don’t really know how to answer that question other than to state the obvious, yeah.

CT: Was the decision to come to New York part of that knowing you are coming to the end?

RJ: I think it was more the decision to continue to be challenged toward the end of my career. The challenges were obviously there when I was young early in my career, the middle of my career, and I don’t think there is any bigger challenge toward the end to come here and have your reputation as a pitcher that can go out and do the things I do and still do them at the age I am doing them at. So that’s obviously the greatest challenge. If you are not into challenges, this obviously wouldn’t be the place to come late in your career.

CT: In fact, I’d say there are some guys who late in their careers left here to get away from those challenges.

RJ: Yeah, you’re right. I’ve always wanted to be challenged in my career and there is no greater place to be challenged than here. They expect to win, and that is what I’ve been expected to do everywhere I have gone.

CT: How does it feel to be part of that?

RJ: Good. It’s a good fit.

CT: The fans seem to respond to you, also.

RJ: They respond to anybody that wins, and fans are very appreciative of your effort when it’s there and obviously when you pitch poorly they will do whatever they do accordingly. That’s to be expected. That’s the way it is everywhere. If you get a bad steak or go to a bad movie, you send it back to get it cooked right or you walk out of the movie halfway. So, that comes with the territory.

CT: Are you looking forward to this year? Will it be different?

RJ: I think it will be. I think it’s a new year and I’m looking forward to doing this again.

CT: I think the AL East is going to be tough.

RJ: I think it’s the toughest division in all of baseball. There’s another challenge in hand. And if we want to continue talking about challenges, not only coming to the Yankees late in my career, but being in the toughest division, and then also playing in the American League, which is slightly tougher than the National League because you’re not facing the pitcher. There’s several challenge there. But I’m up for challenging all of them.

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