June 2010

Blueprint comes alive

This is what Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik envisioned the past off-season when he acquired Cliff Lee from the Phillies in the three-team deal that also involved the Blue Jays and Roy Halladay. Lee would team with Felix Hernandez for a lefty-righty, 1-2 punch in the rotation that would thrust Seattle back into contention in the American League West.

It hasn’t exactly turned out that way, although the Mariners’ fall into last place has been due mostly to an anemic offense. Seattle bats have come alive the past two nights against Yankees pitching. The Mariners had 12 hits the previous night and followed that with a four-homer game in a 7-0 rout, the first complete-game shutout against the Yankees in the new Yankee Stadium.

Javier Vazquez gave up solo shots to Milton Bradley and Michael Saunders and yielded a run in the third after hitting Russ Branyan with a pitch with two out. Bradley beat out a hit to third base, and Jose Lopez singled to drive in Branyan.

Vazquez worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth with a strikeout of Ryan Langerhans, a late replacement for ailing center fielder Franklin Gutierrez, and had three perfect innings. It was a decent if unspectacular performance from Javy, what is known as a quality start (three runs, six innings), but not a start that could match Hernandez, who is merely 6-5 despite a 3.03 ERA because of lousy run support.

The Seattle righthander was so dominant that Yankees fans cheered when Ramiro Pena, a ninth-inning substitute for Derek Jeter, worked out a walk to become their first base runner after 12 consecutive outs. The Yankees had not lost back-to-back complete games to opposing pitchers in 10 years, by Toronto’s Chris Carpenter and Kelvim Escobar.

“That’s as good as we have seen from a pitcher all year,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “He was throwing his sinker 93 miles an hour with a great changeup and curve.”

The killer blows came after Vazquez left the game. Damaso Marte gave up a two-run home run to Branyan after Chone Figgins had singled in a nine-pitch at-bat with one out and stole second. Branyan was sitting on Marte’s slider. He let a 2-1 fastball go over the heart of the plate for strike two, but Marte came back with a slider on 2-2, and the ball ended up in the Yankees’ bullpen beyond the fence in right-center.

Saunders hit another homer in the eighth off Chad Gaudin, although second baseman Robinson Cano had a hand in extending the inning. On a foul pop down the right field line by Rob Johnson, Cano called off first baseman Mark Teixeira and reached for the ball, but it tipped off his glove. Official scorer Howie Karpin ruled no play rather than charging Cano with an error.

No play or not, Johnson remained at the plate and eventually walked and scored on Saunders’ blast to right. It was a terrific game all around for Saunders, who made an excellent, leaping catch on the dead run in left field in the first inning to rob Cano of a potential, run-scoring extra-base hit.

“That was about the end of our chances,” Girardi noted.

It was a tough defensive night for second basemen. Figgins lost two fly balls in the moon, I guess, one of which was one of the two hits the Yankees got off Hernandez, a double in the fifth by Colin Curtis. Francisco Cervelli followed with a fly to shallow right-center that Figgins didn’t see, either, but right fielder Ichiro Suzuki did and caught it.

A lot of balls hit by the Yankees are landing in fielders’ gloves. Teixeira has an 11-game hitting streak but with only 12 hits in 44 at-bats (.273). Cano is eight for his last 33 (.242). Francisco Cervelli is 0-for-13 and 1-for-17. Kevin Russo is 4-for-31 (.129). Jorge Posada is batting .195 in 24 games since coming off the disabled list. Alex Rodriguez is hitless in his past 18 at-bats at Yankee Stadium, dropping his season average at home from .351 to .295.

Who would have thought the Mariners would put the Yankees in a funk? Maybe only Jack Zduriencik.

Belly ache fells Yankee killer

The Yankees caught something of a break in the second inning Wednesday night when Mariners center fielder Franklin Gutierrez was lifted for a pinch hitter, Ryan Langerhans. It may not have seemed that way at first because Langerhans got a hit. In the long run, though, no Gutierrez in the lineup was good for the Yankees. He has been wearing out Yankees pitching since he came to the majors five years ago.

Gutierrez had 2-for-3 with a home run in Seattle’s victory Tuesday night and had hit safely in 11 of his last 12 games against the Yankees with a .429 average. In 80 career at-bats against the Yankees, Gutierrez has hit .363 with four doubles, three home runs and eight RBI.

There were plenty of quizzical faces in the press box when Langerhans came to the plate. Gutierrez had been in center field in the first inning when the Yankees batted. Mariners publicist Tim Hevly checked downstairs with the Seattle dugout and found out that Gutierrez left the game because of an upset stomach. Swallowing tobacco causes that, but I don’t know if Gutierrez is a tobacco chewer.

It was to the Yankees’ advantage in the third inning that Langerhans batted and not Gutierrez with runners on first and third and two out. Langerhans struck out. Seattle already had scored twice in that inning on a home run by Michael Saunders, who replaced Gutierrez in center field by moving over from left, and a two-out, RBI single by Jose Lopez off a Javier Vazquez changeup.

The Yankees were also minus a productive player. Brett Gardner, who was hit by a pitch Sunday in Los Angeles and suffered a bruised right forearm, was out of the lineup for the second straight game. Wednesday was the last day in June, and Gardner was the Yankees’ best hitter that month, batting .383 with two doubles, one triples, one home run, seven RBI, 13 runs scored and a .472 on-base percentage in 60 at-bats.

Gardner was available to the Yankees as a pinch runner and defensive replacement, but manager Joe Girardi said he would not use him as a pinch hitter. Gardner took batting practice and remained day-to-day.

 

Bench press

Jorge Posada was the Yankees’ designated hitter Wednesday night for the second consecutive game. Do not be alarmed. There is nothing wrong physically with Posada, who was disabled for three weeks last month due to a hairline fracture in his right foot.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi assures us that Posada is healthy. The fact is the state of the Yankees’ bench is such that Posada is the best option at DH. Think about it; if Girardi didn’t use Posada, who would be his best alternate? Right. Francisco Cervelli. So it makes sense to have Cervelli catch and Posada DH.

Girardi likes the idea of a floating DH. It allows him to give at-bats to players when they need time off the field. It’s a good “day off” for aging players such as Posada, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter (don’t tell them I wrote that). At this point, the Yankees’ bench is populated with young players getting their first real taste of the big leagues in Chad Huffman, Colin Curtis and Kevin Russo as well as second-year utilityman Ramiro Pena. Combined, they are batting .161 with no home runs and 18 RBI in 137 at-bats.

As enticing as Mariners pitcher Cliff Lee is as a trade target, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman will likely be looking more for bench help as the July 31 trade deadline looms. Marcus Thames was scheduled to be in the lineup for Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Wednesday, and the Yankees are hopeful to have him back soon.

Speaking of Lee, his route-going performance Tuesday night marked the first time in a regular-season game at the new Yankee Stadium that an opposing pitcher recorded a complete-game victory. The only other time it happened at the new Stadium was in Game 1 of the 2009 World Series, also by Lee, then pitching for the Phillies. Tuesday night, Lee became the first lefthander to pitch a complete-game victory in the Bronx since the Red Sox’ Jon Lester July 3, 2008.

Lee also became the first major league pitcher to go the distance in three consecutive starts since former Indians teammate and fellow Cy Young Award winner CC Sabathia did it for the Brewers July 13-23, 2008. Lee and CC had dinner together Monday night. Lee is a free agent at season’s end the way Sabathia was after the ’08 season. Could these teammates of the past become teammates of the future?

 

Universe member ticket discount

The Yankees are offering ticket savings to Yankees Universe members. Yankee Stadium seating areas include Main Level seats, Field Level Seats between the bases, Batter’s Eye ticketed seats, Audi Yankees Club ticketed seats and Mohegan Sun Sports Bar ticketed seats.

Audi Yankees Club ticketed tiered seating includes a complimentary dining experience (with sprits, beer and wine available for purchase). For a limited time, members may purchase Batter’s Eye seats, Field Level Café seats or Field Seats between the bases and receive access to the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar. The offer is valid for select, non-premium home games.

This is a limited time offer, and tickets are subject to availability. Other restrictions may apply. The offer expires July 4, which is Sunday.

Hughes rules lose

Were the Yankees the victims of the “Hughes Rules” Tuesday night? Maybe. The Yankees’ idea of skipping Phil Hughes a turn in the rotation was designed to conserve innings and not overtax his arm, following a theory that a young pitcher should not throw more than 30 innings than his previous high workload per year.

To have Hughes able to pitch in significant games in September, the Yankees will need to hold him out of the rotation on occasion or limit his innings in starts because they want to avoid his pitching more than 175 to 180 innings. Rest does not hurt a pitcher, but it can interrupt his rhythm. Hughes appeared rusty Tuesday night and lost to a Seattle club with the worst offense in the league.

It didn’t help that it came against Mariners lefthander Cliff Lee, who showed that he hasn’t forgotten how to handle the Yankees. The 2008 Cy Young Award winner won both of the Phillies’ victories over the Yankees in the World Series last year and was every bit as effective this time with his fifth complete game in 12 starts.

Lee held the Yankees to two runs on Nick Swisher home runs until the ninth when the Yankees tried to stage  their second straight last-inning rally. They pushed across two runs, but 7-4 was as close as the Yankees could get.

A bevy of scouts were on hand at Yankee Stadium to watch Lee, who could be trade bait next month. He recorded his third consecutive complete game in 2 hours, 30 minutes, which must have delighted plate umpire Joe West. Lee was slightly off his game. He actually walked a batter. The free pass to Jorge Posada in the second was only the fifth walk yielded this year by Lee and ended a stretch of 38 innings and 144 batters without a base on balls.

Hughes’ velocity was noticeably low, his fastball topping off at 91 mph as he failed to show off that occasionally 95-mph heat. He gave back the 1-0, first-inning lead provided by the first of Swisher’s bombs in the second as .206-hitting 9-hole batter Michael Saunders doubled and scored on a single by Ichiro Suzuki.

The Mariners took the lead in the fourth on Franklin Gutierrez’s seventh home run. Seattle scored in five straight innings against Hughes, who lost for the first time in six starts and the first time in eight starts at Yankee Stadium. He had season highs in runs allowed (7), earned runs allowed (6) and hits (10) and watched his ERA swell to 3.58. Hughes’ ERA at the Stadium is 4.38; he is 4-1 with a 2.56 ERA on the road.

Seattle entered the game with a .239 team batting average and was averaging 3.4 runs per game (conversely, the Yankees were averaging 5.5 runs per game), but banged out 12 hits with every member of the lineup contributing. Catcher Rob Johnson, a .208 hitter, had two doubles and two RBI.

Except for Swisher, the Yankees did nothing against Lee until the ninth. The threat ended with a runner on second as Curtis Granderson, who had two earlier hits off Lee, and Chad Huffman both popped out. The Yankees are unlikely to get involved in the Lee sweepstakes but will surely pay close attention. His destination could have consequences for them come post-season time, particularly if he should end up in Minnesota.
 

Michael R. Teevan
12.00

Bronx groundbreaking

A groundbreaking ceremony for Heritage Field, a new 10.78-acre park to be built on the footprint of the original Yankee Stadium, was held Tuesday. Participating in the event on behalf of the Yankees were team president Randy Levine, chief operating officer Lonn Trost, general manager Brian Cashman, senior vice president for community relations Brian Smith and relief pitcher Joba Chamberlain.

Also attending were New York City Economic Development Corp. President Seth W. Pinsky, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, Buildings Commissioner Robert D. Limandri, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and local community groups.

Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter received the USA Weekend Magazine “2010 Most Caring Athlete” Award in a pre-game ceremony.

Another pre-game treat was the 6-foot-9 tennis player John Isner throwing out the ceremonial first pitch. Isner’s first-round victory at Wimbledon over Nicolas Mahut was by a score of 6-4, 3-6, 6-7(7), 7-6(3), 70-68 played out over three days in a record-setting 183 games in 11 hours, 5 minutes. Ironically, Tuesday night’s plate umpire was Joe West, who earlier this year complained about the length of Yankees-Red Sox games.

All-Star voting ends this week

We are down to the last three days of All-Star voting, so Yankees fans are going to have to pile on the votes if they want to get first baseman Mark Teixeira and right fielder Nick Swisher on the American League squad for the July 13 game at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, Calif.

Teixeira is locked in a tight, three-player race at first base. He trails the Twins’ Justin Morneau by 255,000 votes and has a 30,000-vote lead over third-place Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers. Swisher ranks fifth among outfielders behind fourth-place Nelson Cruz of the Rangers and is 436,000 votes behind the Rays’ Carl Crawford for third place needed to break into the starting outfield. The top two outfielders are the Mariners’ Ichiro Suzuki and the Rangers’ Josh Hamilton.

The Yankees will have at least two starters since shortstop Derek Jeter and second baseman Robinson Cano have huge leads at their positions. Jeter is running second in the overall voting only to Twins catcher Joe Mauer, who has a 2.6-million vote margin over the Yankees’ Jorge Posada. Mauer’s total is 3,968,039 votes to Jeter’s 3,350,155. Cano is just under 3 million at 2,948,269.

Going over the 3-million mark this past week was Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, whose lead over the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez is now more than 1.1 million and is probably uncatchable. With Nick Johnson on the 60-day disabled lists after having right wrist surgery, the Yankees had no chance in the designated hitter voting that has been a runaway for the Rangers’ Vlad Guerrero.

Voting continues through 11:59 p.m. Thursday. The results will be announced at 12 noon Sunday, July 4, on TBS’ MLB All-Star Selection Show Presented by Taco Bell. Former Yankees pitcher David Wells will be an analyst with Hall of Famers Cal Ripken Jr. and Dennis Eckesley and emcee Matt Winer. American League manager Joe Girardi of the Yankees and National League manager Charlie Manuel of the Phillies will be interviewed on the program.

Celebrity softball event July 19

General admission tickets priced at $10 apiece for the “Bombers Boomer Broadway Softball Classic” July 19 at Yankee Stadium went on sale Tuesday. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Boomer Esiason Foundation Fighting Cystic Fibrosis and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. In addition, the Yankees will donate 2,500 tickets to Bronx-area camps and youth league teams.

Fans may purchase tickets online at http://www.yankees.com or via Ticketmaster phone at 877-469-9849 or Ticketmaster TTY at 800-943-4327. Subject to availability, tickets will also be sold at the Yankee Stadium box office only on the day of the event.
 
The inaugural doubleheader will include two seven-inning games with current Broadway stars facing off in the first game and WFAN Radio All-Stars and VIP guests playing Yankees alumni in the second game. 
 
Scheduled to attend the “Bombers Boomer Broadway Softball Classic” are Broadway stars Corbin Bleu and Matthew Broderick; former Yankees Oscar Gamble, Charlie Hayes, Pat Kelly and Joe Pepitone; WFAN’s No. 1-rated morning show personalities Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton; Brandon Jacobs of the football Giants and “Good Day New York” hosts Greg Kelly and Rosanna Scotto. WFAN’s Boomer & Carton show will broadcast live from the Stadium beginning at 6 a.m. that day. The four-hour program can be heard on-air at 660AM or online at http://www.wfan.com.
 
Constantine Maroulis, the Tony-nominated star of “Rock of Ages,” will perform the national anthem before taking the field with the Broadway stars. Members of various Broadway shows will form two teams in the event’s first game, scheduled to begin at 11:40 a.m. Following the first game, “Rockers on Broadway in the Bronx” – with cast members from the Tony Award-winning Best Musical “Memphis” as well as “Billy Elliott,” “Jersey Boys” and “Rock of Ages” – will perform on the warning track behind the plate.

Between games, Katie Rose Clarke from the Broadway show “Wicked” will perform the national anthem. The second game, between the WFAN All-Stars and Yankees alumni, will start at approximately 1:45 p.m.

Fans holding tickets for the “Bombers Boomer Broadway Softball Classic” can only enter the Stadium through the Great Hall between Gate 4 and Gate 6 beginning at 9:30 a.m. Select Broadway stars, former Yankees players and WFAN personalities and VIP guests will greet fans and sign autographs in the Great Hall from 9:45 to 10:45 a.m.

 

An All-Star among us

Peter Brady of Brookfield, Conn., will represent the Yankees along with 29 other “All-Stars Among Us,” one representing each major league club, in a pre-game ceremony at the All-Star Game July 13 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, Calif.

The campaign started in 2009 to recognize individuals serving their communities in extraordinary ways. Brady was chosen in an announcement by the Yankees, Major League Baseball and People Magazine in a vote of fans for his community service through the Handy Dandy Handy Man Ministry.

Fans across the nation cast 1.7 million votes – more than double the amount of votes from the previous year – at PeopleAllStars.com to select the 30 “All-Stars Among Us” winners out of the pool of 90 finalists serving as leaders within their communities.

In 1998, Brady started volunteering as a part-time handyman for seniors in his church’s parish community.  He raked leaves, changed light bulbs and fixed leaky faucets. Today, the Handy Dandy Handy Man Ministry is an official nonprofit with more than 1,000 volunteers helping 400 seniors in seven greater Danbury towns. His ministry also includes performing extreme home makeovers for the less fortunate.

Congratulations, Peter.

Familiar scenario

One of the characteristics of the Yankees since Mariano Rivera took over as the team’s closer in 1997 is that they often rough up other team’s closers while Mo is seldom victimized.

The latest example was Sunday night’s 8-6, 10-inning victory at Dodger Stadium. The Yankees seemed dead as early as the fifth inning as they fell behind 5-0 due to some shaky infield play and two costly throwing errors by Andy Pettitte, who had a rare poor outing.

Alex Rodriguez’s 11th home run of the season and 594th of his career was all the offense the Yankees could muster as they entered the ninth inning down 6-2 with 6-foot-4, 295-pound Jonathan Broxton coming out of the bullpen.

When Mark Teixeira was called out on strikes for the first out, things looked gloomy, but by the time Broxton got the second out of the inning the Yankees had tied the score. It could not be considered a blown save since it was not a save situation, but Broxton blew a four-run lead in a 48-pitch horror chamber as one by one the Yankees showed the Dodgers how to wear down a pitcher regardless of his size.

Rodriguez started the comeback by turning back a 95-mph fastball for a single to left. Robinson Cano whacked a 94-mph fastball down the right field line for a double, scoring A-Rod. Jorge Posada won a 10-pitch duel with a single off 95-mph gas. Cano was held at third. Curtis Granderson worked a walk in an eight-pitch at-bat to load the bases.

The Yankees were at the bottom of the order now with peach-fuzzed bench players Chad Huffman and Colin Curtis facing the heat Broxton could bring. They handled themselves quite well. Huffman punched a single to right to score two runs and get Granderson to third. Curtis made contact and hit a bouncer to first baseman James Loney, who tagged the bag but would have been better off just throwing home to get Granderson rather than be late with his throw and watch the tying run cross. For Curtis, it was his fourth RBI in six career at-bats, all this week.

And the pitcher in place to win was Rivera, who retired the side in order in the ninth. Of course, Mo needed some runs, which Cano took care of with a two-run home run off George Sherrill in the 10th. With a runner on first base and none out, Dodgers manager Joe Torre called for Sherrill to pitch to Cano, who had been hitless in 11 career at-bats against the lefthander. Sherill was just another lefty this year for Cano, who is hitting .301 with 21 RBI against lefties this year and has nine of his 15 home runs off them.

Rivera yielded a leadoff single to Loney in the bottom of the 10th but coolly dispatched of Russell Martin and Reed Johnson with strikeouts and got Jamey Carroll on a fielder’s choice for the victory and lowered his ERA to 0.92. Yes, that is zero point nine two.

It was a scenario with which the Yankees are very familiar.

If it matters to anyone, A-Rod shook hands with Torre before the game, ending a silly media molehill story. What was more important to Yankees fans was what Rodriguez did in the series, going 5-for-13 (.385) with a double, two home runs, four RBI and five runs scored.

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