September 2010

Hughes to be skipped again

The first change of pitching plans as the Yankees begin to focus on the post-season came Friday night. Manager Joe Girardi said that he will not start Phil Hughes until Wednesday night at Toronto. That will be Hughes’ last regular-season start.

Hughes had been scheduled to start Sunday’s home season finale against the Red Sox and Daisuke Matsuzaka, an assignment that will go instead to Dustin Moseley. The Yankees have kept close watch on Hughes’ workload this year so as not to tax his arm. Although they never revealed an innings limit on Hughes, it was believed between 170 and 180. Hughes is at 169 1/3.

This marks the third time this season that Hughes will be skipped in the rotation. The righthander had handled the protective measures professionally.

“The toughest part is dealing with the situation mentally,” Yankees pitching coach Dave Eiland said. “Pitchers are creatures of habit, and you’re breaking up the routine and have to deal with change. He has figured out a way to handle it.”

As the Yankees get closer to clinching a post-season berth, further changes will be forthcoming. Girardi wants to get first baseman Mark Teixeira some rest. Tex has been playing regularly despite a bone bruise in his right thumb and a fractured small toe on his right foot.

Uncovered gem brings back sad memories

To a certain generation, perhaps the most distasteful single game witnessed by a Yankees fan was Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, which also was one of the most exciting Series games ever played. Here’s one slice of trivia: that was the only World Series game in which no batter struck out. The game ended on Bill Mazeroski’s home run leading off the bottom of the ninth inning for a 10-9 Pirates victory at old Forbes Field.

That explains why Yankees fans hate the game so much. Yankees players recall seeing Mickey Mantle crying in the clubhouse after that game. That’s how deep a wound it had on the Yankees 50 years ago.

In fact, Yankees fans hate that whole World Series. The Yankees had ended the 1960 season with 15 straight victories. They might have been the hottest team that ever went into a World Series. They seemed superior to Pittsburgh in nearly every facet of the game and pretty much proved it by outscoring the Pirates, 55-27. Much of the lopsidedness came in the Yankees’ three victories on scores of 10-0, 12-0 and 16-3.

Unfortunately, the Pirates won the other four games. This was Casey Stengel’s last World Series. His decision not to start Whitey Ford in Game 1, which would have allowed the future Hall of Famer to make three starts in the Series, was the key factor in costing Stengel his job. On the day he was fired after a 12-year run in which the Yankees won 10 pennants and seven World Series, Casey said, “I’ll never make the mistake of being 70 again.”

Why all this ruminating on the 1960 World Series? There was an interesting story in Friday’s edition of the New York Times. It seems that a pristine tape of Game 7 was discovered in the wine cellar of Bing Crosby’s home in San Francisco. Crosby, the legendary entertainer who died in 1977, was a huge baseball fan and a partial owner of the Pirates.

According to his widow, Kathy, Crosby thought he would jinx the Pirates by watching the Series on television and took her on a trip to Paris. There, he listened to the games over Armed Forces Radio. Yet before he left, Bing had someone in his television production company tape Game 7, so he could have a copy if the Pirates somehow won the Series.

The tape was discovered in a wine cellar among other Crosby memorabilia. Many of his television specials are being transferred from old kinescopes and video tapes into DVDs. A tin was found with a sign on it reading “1960 World Series,” and it contained Game 7 from first pitch to last. There is no other known copy of the complete game. Most of the clips from that game are from tapes that are no more than four or five innings in length.

Actually, it is not all that surprising that such a treasure was found in Crosby’s home. Many people may not be aware that the old crooner had a life-long interest in tape, initially audio tape and later video tape. Crosby even had the copyright on a certain brand of audio tape that was developed in the 1940s when he was the host of the “Kraft Music Hall” radio program.

Crosby was also starring in movies for Paramount Pictures and making personal appearances. He had one of the busiest schedules in Hollywood, and he also tried to find time to enjoy his hobbies of golf and fishing. Crosby was interested in tape because he wanted to be able to tape his radio program before a live audience and have it played on the air instead of having to do it live. That would give him extra time to pursue other endeavors. When television came along, Crosby was an early investor in the ABC network. His production company pioneered the use of video tape in the mid 1950s.

Yogi Berra was at Yankee Stadium Friday night. He hit a three-run home run in the sixth inning of that game, but the Pirates fought back and went ahead with a five-run eighth. The Yankees tied the score with two runs in the ninth on an RBI single by Mickey Mantle and an infield out by Berra. An alert base running maneuver by Mantle, eluding a tag at first base, allowed Gil McDougald to score from third base.

It is Yogi’s back that is one of the last images from that game. He was playing left field and watched Mazeroski’s drive off Ralph Terry go over the wall. Yogi is seen positioning himself to play the carom if the ball had hit the wall instead of going over it.

So it was not surprising to hear Yogi’s reaction to the discovery of the Game 7 tape.

“Oh, who’d want to watch that game?” he said.

Rays take season series from Yanks

The rematch of American League Cy Young Award candidates CC Sabathia and David Price Thursday night at Yankee Stadium did not duplicate their pairing of Sept. 13 at Tropicana Field when both lefthanders pitched eight shutout innings in a game the Rays won, 1-0, in the 11th.

Neither was involved in the decision 10 days ago, but they were this time. Sabathia blew a 3-1 lead in the sixth as Tampa Bay scored seven times and went on to coast to a 10-3 victory that improved Price’s record to 18-6. CC fell to 20-7 for a performance in which he allowed the most runs, seven, in any of his starts this year.

The Yankees stung Price early and had a chance to do more damage, but they let him off the ropes by stranding the bases loaded in both the fifth and sixth innings. Price was particularly impressive in the fifth by getting Robinson Cano on an infield pop and striking out Marcus Thames, who had homered off him earlier. If Price stays on turn, he would make two more starts and have a shot to win 20

Sabathia appeared to lose confidence in his fastball in the sixth and inexplicably walked the 8- and 9-hole hitters to force in the go-ahead run. Joba Chamberlain then gave up a two-run double to B.J. Upton and a two-run single to Carl Crawford to make the score 8-3.

Earlier in the day at Toronto, Mariners righthander Felix Hernandez lost again to fall to 12-12, but he gave up only one run – on Jose Bautista’s 50th home run – in his sixth complete game and had his ERA drop to 2.31. Despite his .500 won-lost record, King Felix remains a Cy Young candidate because of his gaudy statistics other than victories. He is also victimized by one of the worst offensive teams since the designated hitter came to the AL in 1973. Seattle has scored two or fewer runs in 15 of Hernandez’s 33 starts. He is 2-10 despite a 2.84 ERA in those starts.

The Yankees have more things to worry about than whether Sabathia will win the Cy Young Award. A split of the four-game set with the Rays prevented the Yankees from putting some space between them and Tampa Bay in the AL East standings. It would have helped since the Rays have the lighter schedule the rest of the way with two three-game home series against the Marines and Orioles and a four-game trip to Kansas City while the Yankees finish up at home this weekend with the Red Sox and then travel to Toronto and Boston. Another break for the Rays is that they won’t have to face Hernandez in the Seattle series.

Also, by winning Thursday night, the Rays took the season series, 10-8, which means that if the teams remained tied (which they are in the loss column), then Tampa Bay would win the division based on head-to-head matchups.

For the Yankees, this was a disappointing game and a bit of a bizarre one. In the seventh inning, Javier Vazquez hit three batters in a row with pitches, tying a major-league record (eighth time), most recently done by the Dodgers’ Jeff Weaver in 2004. As any Yankees fan knows, doing something Jeff Weaver did is not a good thing.

Javy rallied to pitch a scoreless eighth and ninth. Let’s face it; he is pitching for a spot on the post-season roster that is anything but a lock for him.

Girardi does his homework

Yankees manager Joe Girardi has been careful not to go into great detail about his post-season pitching plans until the team clinches a playoff spot, which is smart. The playoff berth may be a foregone conclusion, but nobody wants to look presumptuous. Notice that Twins manager Ron Gardenhire didn’t announce his post-season rotation until the day after Minnesota clinched the American League Central title.

All that Girardi has conceded thus far is that the Yankees will have a four-man rotation in the playoffs. In 2009, the post-season schedule had more open dates than it will this year, and that allowed Girardi to go through the whole post-season by starting only three pitchers – CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte. In 2010, Girardi will need a fourth starter, and the likely addition will be Phil Hughes.

There has been speculation in some media outlets that the Yankees might use Hughes out of the bullpen as they did a year ago and perhaps insert rookie Ivan Nova as the fourth starter (if the Yankees get to the World Series, maybe they would consider Javier Vazquez because of his success against National League competition).

While it is true that the Yankees have kept a close watch on Hughes’ workload, Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman have pointed out that everything goes back to zero with the righthander once post-season play begins. And remember that Hughes pitched out of the bullpen for the majority of the 2009 regular season whereas this year he has been primarily a starter.

The second-half improvement of Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson and the addition of Kerry Wood have the Yankees in good shape with regard to right-handed relief. Hughes will continue to be monitored closely for the rest of the regular season and deserves the chance to start in the playoffs.

Girardi did not dismiss Nova completely, saying, “I’m going to make a decision now. But he has the least amount of experience, and I’ll leave it at that.”

Some Yankees followers have also suggested Nova would be better in the rotation than Burnett, who is winless in his past four starts since Sept. 1 and has lost 12 of his past 16 decisions. Burnett’s 10-14 record and 5.05 ERA belies the fact that he pitches for a team that is tied for the best record in the majors. Despite that, it is hard to imagine that the Yankees would consider dropping Burnett from the rotation entirely.

Girardi still has time to sort all this out. The rest of us just have to be patient.

Rain leaves a Ring

As Yankees manager Joe Girardi continues to gauge how best to configure his pitching staff for post-season play, the assessment of A.J. Burnett was thwarted by a 2-hour, 11-minute rain delay Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium.

Burnett had a nondescript three innings in which he allowed one run, two hits and two walks with two strikeouts in a 51-pitch outing. He gave up the run in the first inning on a sacrifice fly by Evan Longoria and actually had his ERA drop to 5.05.

If not for the rainstorm that featured quite a light show in the sky for a time, Yankees fans might not have known that Royce Ring was on the team. Once a promising reliever, Ring pitched in his first major-league game since 2008 when he was with the Braves.

The Yankees signed the lefthander as a free agent in January. Ring pitched for Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre where he did not allow an earned run in 45 of his 52 relief appearances and held opposing hitters to a .222 average.

Ring was a former first-round draft pick of the White Sox, who traded him to the Mets in July 2003 in the Roberto Alomar deal. Ring was traded again in 2006 to the Padres and in 2007 to the Padres. He pitched in the Cardinals’ minor-league system in 2009. He took a major-league mark of 3-3 with a 4.93 ERA into his Yankees debut.

The hearties in the crowd who stayed through the delay gave Ring a nice round of applause when he departed after 1 2/3 hitless innings. He was stung for an earned run, however, as reliever Dustin Moseley came into the game and promptly gave up singles to Ben Zobrist and Carl Crawford, the second scoring John Jaso, whom Ring had walked. It isn’t often that a righthander relieves a lefthander with two left-handed hitters coming up, but lengthy rain delays can louse up a manager’s pitching plans.

Tampa Bay starter Wade Davis was denied shooting for a no-hitter by the rain. He retired the first seven Yankees batters in order before walking Francisco Cervelli in the third inning prior to the stoppage in play. Upon resumption, righthander Jeremy Hellickson took the mound for the Rays.

Artifacts on the way to Cooperstown

Alex Rodriguez’s relationship with the National Baseball Hall of Fame began Wednesday night. A-Rod met with Brad Horn, the vice president for communications and education for the Museum, before the game.

Horn drove down from Cooperstown, N.Y., to be part of the pre-game ceremony in which Rodriguez presented to the Hall the cleats he wore at Yankee Stadium the night of Aug. 4 against the Blue Jays when he hit his 600th career home run. A-Rod also received gifts from his teammates to commemorate the occasion presented by manager Joe Girardi: a Hublot Swiss-made watch in recognition of hitting his
600th home run, a Steuben Glass custom engraved piece in recognition of
hitting his 600th home run and a Steuben Glass custom engraved piece in recognition of his
reaching 600 career home runs and 300 stolen bases.

You can be sure this won’t be the last time the Hall will receive a souvenir of one of Alex’s record achievements.

That was not all Brad brought back with him from Cooperstown. When he heard a Hall of Fame executive was at the Stadium, Nick Swisher came up to Horn and donated the bat he used the night of July 16 against the Rays when the Yankees had a pre-game memorial in honor of the late owner George Steinbrenner. With that bat, Swisher hit a game-tying home run in the eighth inning and a game-winning single in the ninth of the Yankees’ 5-4 victory.

 

Chinese champions honored by Yankees

Players from the China Youth Baseball League (CYBL) who won the 28th Boys Nankyu World Championship Tournament in Tokyo in July were honored Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium as the people of China celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, the second-most significant holiday in China after the Chinese New Year holiday.
 
The visit is the latest effort by the Yankees to show their continued support for the growth of baseball in China. All arrangements for the visit have been made within the guidelines of the cooperation agreement between the Chinese Baseball Association (CBA) and the Yankees.
 
The championship-winning players are all members of the Beijing Xinxing Longren Baseball Club, which has given athletic and academic opportunities to children from severely disadvantaged rural and migrant-poor backgrounds, including many orphans. All the children attend nearby Dacheng School and receive room, board and training equipment.
 
“The date of the visit to Yankee Stadium is very significant as it is the holiday that tradition calls for the Chinese people to be with their parents,” said Kenneth Huang, Founder and Chairman of QSL Youth Sports Development Foundation, which is sponsoring the group’s visit. “These children, who do not have the opportunity to be with their parents, are able to live another dream – the dream of coming to the cathedral of baseball, Yankee Stadium, to see the team and the sport they love.”
 
The 2010 Nankyu Tournament, which featured 16 teams from 12 countries, was a milestone achievement for Chinese baseball, marking the first time in 11 years that a team from the CYBL had won an international championship. The rules of Nankyu are the same as the rules of baseball with one difference: the ball is made from rubberized material.
 
Beijing Xinxing Longren program director and coach Wei Li was joined by players Zichao Jiang (age 11), Zhenbei Bao (11), Kaiming Yin (11), Xiao Han (14), Renzeng Qiangba (9), and Jin Yang (11). Secretary General Wei Shen represented the CBA.

The group watched batting practice from the field, followed by tours of Monument Park and the New York Yankees Museum presented by Bank of America.

 

Important for Yanks to maintain edge

Halfway through this four-game showdown between the American League East contenders at Yankee Stadium, the series has played out far differently from last week at Tropicana Field where the Yankees and Rays had three one-run games, two of which went into extra innings.

The Yankees have won the first two games handily to open a 2 ½-game lead and are guaranteed to be in first place at the end of this series regardless of how the final two games play out. This is important because once these clubs are finished playing each other in the regular season, the remaining schedule benefits the Rays, whose final three series are all against last-place teams.

The Rays return home to play three-game sets against the Mariners and Orioles and then finish up with a four-game series against the Royals in Kansas City. The Yankees close out their home schedule this coming weekend against the Red Sox, then travel to Toronto and Boston for three games apiece.

“We still have a lot of games left, and we need to play good baseball throughout,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.

Given an early, five-run lead Tuesday night, Phil Hughes struggled and had some dicey moments in the third and fourth innings when the Rays threaten to get back in the game, but he came away relatively unscathed by allowing only one run in those innings. That took a toll on his pitch count, but Hughes finished strong with 1-2-3 work in the fifth and sixth.

Girardi allowed Hughes to start the seventh, stretching the righthander to 112 pitches before calling on Javier Vazquez with one out and a runner on first base. That runner eventually scored, but Hughes was still in position for his 17th victory as the Yankees prevailed, 8-3, and have outscored Tampa Bay in the series, 16-9.

Hughes is not right up against 170 innings, so it just may be that Tuesday night’s start was his last. If the Yankees want to keep him fresh for the post-season, they could back him off and use him in short relief stints. Then again, Hughes may be needed to start if the battle for first place is still tight. Time will tell about that.

“He didn’t have command of his curve and got into some long counts,” Girardi said of Hughes. “He used his changeup more, and that has become a pretty good weapon.”

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman pointed out before the game that post-season assignments will be based on merit, not contract status, so the starters know they have to show effectiveness from here on out to earn spots in the rotation.

The Yankees treated Rays starter James Shields in the first inning like they used to. His nickname is “Big Game,” but before this year that rarely applied to his outings against the Yankees. The Yankees ran into a different Shields in earlier starts in 2010. He was 2-0 against them before Tuesday night after having gone 1-7 against them prior to this season.

Nick Swisher got things started with his 27th home run. The Yankees were most impressive with three consecutive, two-outs hits – a single by Jorge Posada, a two-run double by Lance Berkman and a single by Curtis Granderson – to finish off a five-spot inning.

For a while there, it looked as if the Yankees were finished scoring. Shields settled down, and the Yankees did not get on the board again until the seventh against the Tampa Bay bullpen. A bloop double to left by Robinson Cano off lefthander Randy Choate scored two more two-out runs.

That gave the Yankees some breathing room, which they needed in the eighth when the Rays loaded the bases with one out. Joba Chamberlain was to the task, however, getting a big strikeout of pinch hitter Brad Hawpe on a 3-2 slider and retiring John Jaso on a fly ball to center.

The Yankees had one more two-out run up their sleeve on doubles by Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter in the eighth. Don’t look now, but the recently-maligned captain has a 10-game hitting streak in which he is batting .311 with four doubles and five RBI in 45 at-bats. It must be getting close to October.

Yanks celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month

Emilio Estefan, Grammy Award-winning producer and songwriter, threw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the start of the Yankees’ game against the Rays Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium as part of the team’s annual Hispanic Heritage Month celebration.
 
Instrumental in the development and success of various well-known Latin music artists, such as Shakira, Jennifer Lopez and Ricky Martin, Estefan has been nominated for more than 30 Grammy Awards and won 19 times.

The CEO and founder of Estefan Enterprises, an entertainment empire dedicated to various business ventures including music publishing, artist management, and film production, Estefan has been awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He has also been recognized and honored by various U.S. presidents and has produced many historical musical events at the White House.  
 
“Emilio Estefan is a wonderful American success story, and we are proud to have him in our home for Hispanic Heritage Month,” said Manuel García, Yankees Director of Latino Affairs. “As the premier figure in the world of Latin music and entertainment, his extraordinary accomplishments both in business and in the community clearly mirror those of the New York Yankees.”
 
In addition to the ceremonial first pitch, the Yankees are proud to once again provide a multi-platform initiative during the month of September to commemorate Hispanic Heritage Month.

The September issue of Yankees Magazine, the team’s official game program, contains a feature article on the organization’s Venezuelan catching prospect, Jesus Montero.

On Friday, NYY Steak will feature a Salsa night.

The Yankees will join corporate partners AT&T at a Hispanic Heritage Month celebration Sunday at the South Street Seaport in lower Manhattan and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, in a Taxi Health Fair Saturday, Sept. 25, in the Washington Heights neighborhood in upper Manhattan.
 
Earlier this month, the Yankees kicked off the festivities with various events, including on-field ceremonies such as the team’s annual Hispanic Heritage Month Community Achievement Awards, which recognizes those who serve Bronx residents.
 
Fans that follow the Yankees on their Spanish-language Web site, http://www.yankeesbeisbol.com, can check out these events in the special Hispanic Heritage Month section and participate in an online sweepstakes for the opportunity to win tickets to the final regular season home game at the Stadium Sunday, Sept. 26, against the Red Sox.

 

Steinbrenner family grateful

The family of George Steinbrenner was extremely pleased about the pre-game ceremony to honor the late Yankees owner Monday night at Yankee Stadium when a monument to his career was placed in Monument Park and issued a statement of gratitude.

“We are grateful to have been able to share this night with so many special people who brought fulfillment to our father’s life,” the statement read. “To see all of the distinguished Yankees alumni, friends and family gathered with us was a meaningful tribute to him.
 
“Our father always believed that this organization was an extension of his family, and he felt our fans were the heartbeat and soul of this baseball team. His unrelenting vision and passion for success was unmatched, and we are humbled that his likeness will forever greet the people he cared so deeply for in Monument Park. 
 
“We would like to thank everyone who came out to support our father and the Yankees tonight.  He was a proud owner, but he was also a great husband, father and grandfather to us.”

 

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