July 2011

Spare parts have their uses

One of the elements of doubleheaders, either the regular kind or the separate-admission variety such as the Yankees and Orioles played Saturday at Yankee Stadium, is that lineups can look quite unusual. For a manager, the task is to split up the duty so as not to tax players, especially the regulars who play every day and in particular those well on the north side of 30.

When I was a kid and doubleheaders were a regular part of the major league schedule, I used to like reading the boxscores of second games of doubleheaders and see the sometime bizarre batting orders that featured fifth infielders, fourth outfielders and third-string catchers getting rare starts.

I thought of that Saturday when I saw Joe Girardi’s lineup for the afternoon game. It had no Curtis Granderson or Derek Jeter. It had Eduardo Nunez in the 2-hole, reserve infielder Eric Chavez at third base and down at the bottom were spare outfielder Chris Dickerson and backup catcher Francisco Cervelli.

The reasons were simple. Granderson has been a workhorse all year, so Joe thought it best to let him sit out a game. Jeter is 37, which is reason enough to take a game off. Mark Texeira got to stay out of the sun at first base and switched roles with designated hitter Jorge Posada. Catchers usually split doubleheader duty, so Russell Martin was slated for the night game.

I do recall as a youngster watching a Yankees-Senators doubleheader on TV from Washington, D.C., on a steamy mid-August Sunday when Yogi Berra and Elston Howard were both nursing leg injuries. That forced manager Casey Stengel to use third-string catcher Johnny Blanchard for both games, and the second one went 14 innings! Players didn’t change jerseys during games in those days, so by the time extra innings began in the second game Blanchard’s shirt was so wet and dirty that a viewer could not detect his number, which was 38.

But if anyone thought the odd lineup Saturday was incapable of putting together a winning effort, they were sadly mistaken. While regular right fielder Nick Swisher had a big game with a two-run home run, a double and a single, much of the damage in the Yankees’ 8-3 victory was done by the spare parts.

Dickerson, who has been back and forth from Triple A three times and made only his fifth start in 41 games, had two hits, scored a run, drove in a run and stole a base. Cervelli had a double, a single, a run and an RBI and did a fine job behind the plate handling winning pitcher Bartolo Colon, who threw 105 pitches in five innings. Chavez singled twice, scored two runs and made a dazzling catch in foul ground in the seventh inning.

Posada also flashed some nice leather on a foul ball. The one blip on the screen was Nunez, who was 0-for-5 with three strikeouts and committed a throwing error.

Corey Wade and Boone Logan pitched efficiently in relief, which allowed Girardi to have David Robertson, Rafael Soriano and Mariano Rivera available for the night game.

With the starting time of Friday night’s game having been pushed back one hour and 49 minutes due to a rain delay, it meant that the Yankees would play four games in a 41-hour time frame. That is a tough row to hoe for any club. Saturday’s first game was a good example of how each member of the roster must step up for a team to be successful.

“The bottom of the order did a lot of damage,” Girardi noted. “Those contributions are important because it can’t always come from the guys in the middle.”

Rewarding off day for A.J.

Had Friday night’s game been rained out, it would have cost Ivan Nova a start. The Yankees have penciled in Nova to start the night portion of Saturday’s split-session doubleheader after Bartolo Colon starts the afternoon game.

Nova is technically on the roster of Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but he is expected to be recalled to make the start. Thunderstorms pushed back the starting time of Friday night’s game against the Orioles to 8:50 p.m. Had the game not been played, A.J. Burnett would have been held back to Saturday with Colon, and Nova would have headed back to Pennsylvania. I have a feeling Nova is going to be an important pitcher over the final two months for the Yankees, so I am glad to see him back and starting a game for the big club.

Let me share a story about Burnett that is worth telling. Thursday was an open date on the schedule for the Yankees, a rare off day that players truly covet. This is HOPE Week (Helping Others Persevere and Excel), the week-long community program involving each player on the roster.

So the players assigned to the block party Thursday on Staten Island for Megan Ajello, 17, who has cerebral palsy and scoliosis yet is a committed social activist, were giving up their off day to make this a special day for her and her neighbors.

Burnett was among the group that went to Staten Island, along with fellow pitchers Boone Logan and David Robertson, infielders Robinson Cano and Eduardo Nunez, outfielder Andruw Jones, coaches Mick Kelleher and Rob Thompson, video coordinator Charlie Wosnowicz and general manager Brian Cashman.

It was quite a scene. The players and coaches mingled with the fans, had pictures taken with them and made generous donations to Megan’s lemonade stand, which was constructed by Yankee Stadium carpenters and presented to her by them and Cashman. The GM was also a good sport in being the first volunteer for the dunking tank. Jones, Logan and Robertson also did time in the water.

As the hours went by, there was no Burnett, however. Players came separately in transportation donated by a local car service. Unfortunately, the driver taking Burnett and his sons to Staten Island from his residence in Scarsdale got lost. A drive that normally might take an hour and a quarter took close to three hours.

Burnett would have had every reason to ask for another car to take him right back home. The event was winding down at that point anyway, although there still was a large crowd. A.J. got right into the swing of things by signing autographs and having his picture taken with fans.

One woman told me she was happy to meet him because she had arrived late and the other players, who were on site for more than two hours, had already gone. She said that A.J. had graciously agreed to sign several items for her grandchildren.

It was an impressive showing by a player who certainly understood the spirit of HOPE Week.

HOPE Week: Orphans reunite on ‘Today’

HOPE Week brought the Yankees to the NBC television studios of The Today Show Friday where John Lahutsky, 21, and Andrei Sullivan, 19, two survivors of Russia’s harsh orphanage system, were reunited backstage after 14 years. Yankees manager Joe Girardi and director of communications and media relations Jason Zillo were also featured in a segment detailing the events of the third annual HOPE Week.

Following their reunion, John and Andrei and their families took an hour-long NBC studio tour before joining Yankees players Mark Teixeira and Brett Gardner and coaches Kevin Long and Larry Rothschild in touring the Central Park Zoo and enjoying an outdoor lunch on the grounds. John and Andrei were also guests of the team for its game Friday night against the Orioles at Yankee Stadium.

This reunion would not have been possible without the support of Delta Air Lines, which provided complimentary air transportation for the entire Sullivan family, including Andrei, his parents, Tom and Roslyn, his brother and sister, John and Sarah, and two teenage Russian orphans, Mikhail and Alexander, whom the family is hosting in their Michigan home this summer.

John Lahutsky was born prematurely at six months and weighing two pounds. At 18 months, he was placed by his birth mother in the Russian orphanage system, which considered him an “incurable” due to cerebral palsy. John’s “Baby House” offered him no education or physical therapy. Until he was five years old, John was never taken outside the walls of the building.

Despite the horrendous treatment he received, John always looked after his best friend in the unit, Andrei. John even taught Andrei how to talk after picking up Russian from the few nurses that treated him decently.

Andrei was adopted in 1997, but John had to wait until 1999 before being adopted by a woman from Bethlehem Township, Pa., named Paula Lahutsky, who read about him in a church newsletter. John recently wrote a book, The Boy from Baby House 10, which details his experiences in the Russian orphanage system. His hope is that by telling his story, he can prevent the abuses he suffered from happening to others.

‘Latino Living Legends’ at Yankees Museum

A special exhibit displaying artifacts from the six living Hispanic players in the National Baseball Hall of Fame was unveiled Thursday night at the New York Yankees Museum Presented by Bank of America inside Yankee Stadium.

Former National League Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player Orlando Cepeda, one of the “Latino Living Legends,” as the exhibit is titled, was a special guest at the opening ceremony, along with Gabriel “Tito” Avila, the founder and president of the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum Hall of Fame.

“I say thank you to the Yankees,” Cepeda said. “I am proud to be a part of this exhibit with these great players.”

Also featured in the exhibit that was designed by curator Brian Richards and will be on display for the remainder of the season are Cepeda’s fellow Puerto Rican, Roberto Alomar, who was inducted into the Hall Sunday; his former Giants teammate, Juan Marichal (Dominican Republic); Luis Aparicio (Venezuela); Rod Carew (Panama) and Tony Perez (Cuba).

Cepeda, who was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1999, donated a signed San Francisco Giants jersey and helmet and a replica of his 1967 MVP Award. There are also signature jerseys and caps by the other five players.

“It is a true honor to have the ‘Latino Living Legends’ exhibit at Yankee Stadium and for it to be associated with such a prestigious organization”, said Avila, a Bronx native who now lives in San Francisco. “We would like to thank the New York Yankees and Eventus for their efforts in helping us pay tribute to these great players in bringing this exhibit to the fans. This is another step forward towards our goal of having a permanent home for the museum to commemorate Hispanic baseball history.”

Eventus is recognized throughout the industry for developing successful consumer-brand relationships and experiences.

“The New York Yankees are honored to host this exhibit in our iconic Yankee Stadium,” said Manuel Garcia, the Yankees Director of Latino Affairs. “Taking pride in the history of our national pastime is important to us, and being able to highlight the contributions of these Latino Hall of Famers in our Museum is very exciting. The Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum Hall of Fame and Eventus have done a fantastic job with this important exhibit, and we know our fans will truly enjoy it.”

One of the coolest aspects of the exhibit is a time line of Hispanics’ contribution to baseball over the years featuring Martin Dihigo, Minnie Minoso, Roberto Clemente and Ted Williams, among others. Ted Williams? How many fans know that his mother was of Mexican descent?

HOPE Week: Lemonade not all that was wet

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman was all we wet Thursday. So were pitchers David Robertson and Boone Logan and outfielder Andruw Jones.

Literally.

They all volunteered to take time in a dunk tank set up on a Staten Island lawn as part of Thursday’s HOPE Week celebration of Megan Ajello, 17, who despite the handicap of cerebral palsy and scoliosis that has resulted in six surgeries, including a spinal fusion, is a committed community activist.

Cashman, along with Yankee Stadium carpenters, surprised Megan at her home with a custom-built lemonade stand for her sixth annual street-side sale that raises money to support the Special Olympics. Megan was further surprised by the appearance of Scooter, the mascot of the Yankees’ Class A Staten Island affiliate.

“She’s familiar with Scooter,” Daniel Ajello, Megan’s father, said. “We go to a lot of Staten Island Yankees games.”

But these were big-league Yankees who showed up at the neighborhood block party. Second baseman Robinson Cano, infielder Eduardo Nunez, pitcher A.J. Burnett, baseline coaches Mick Kelleher and Rob Thompson and advance scout-video coordinator Charlie Wonsowicz were also on hand.

For Charlie Wonz, who now lives in New Jersey, the trip was a homecoming because he grew up in the same Princess Bay neighborhood. Charlie’s mother, Arlene, was also on site. Later, Charlie planned to treat Kelleher and Thompson to dinner at W’s, a popular dining spot in Tottenville owned and operated by his parents.

Since 2006, Megan has hosted a charity lemonade stand outside her home, which has grown from a gathering of neighbors raising a few hundred dollars to a must-attend event for people from as far away as upstate New York, which raised $4,000 last summer. Thursday’s event took in a record $11,000 with the Yankees Foundation adding another $5,000 to the fund for the Special Olympics and $5,000 more to Megan’s school, the Seton Foundation.

Megan has also been active in fighting for handicapped accessibility for a nearby playground and by donating her Sweet 16 Party gifts to the Marine Toys for Tots program.

Cashman was the first to sit in the tank and was a real sport in getting dunked about a dozen times as youngsters in the block party lined up to take their shots. Fortunately, the GM did not have his cell phone in his pocket. With the trade deadline coming up July 31, Cash has to man the phones on an hourly basis.

“It’s so easy to get caught up in the monotony and the urgency that we feel, but in reality, what’s more important than this?” Cashman said. “People have real needs that are daily challenges, not necessarily whether we get a trade done or whether we get our next hit or how we match up against an opposing team. This is real-life stuff.”

Megan was also presented with a special cake with a figure of her in a wheelchair at her lemonade stand by TV’s “Cake Boss,” Buddy Valastro, as well as three Sports Illustrated swimsuit models and the New Jersey Nets dancers. The Ajello family will be the Yankees’ guests at Saturday’s day portion of the split-admission doubleheader at Yankee Stadium with Megan driving the ceremonial first pitch to the plate.

Said Linda Ayello, Megan’s mom, “It’s a tragedy that Megan, who has done so much for so many, has to experience so much physical pain. When she fights for something, she goes after it no matter the obstacle, and there’s very little we can do to stop her. But then again, why would we want to? All she ever does is to bring out the best in people.”

King Felix a clone of Yanks’ Garcia

Observing Felix Hernandez over the course of a game and one can tell that Freddy Garcia is his idol. King Felix has a similar delivery except that he turns his back more to the plate than Garcia, who is having a solid season for the Yankees. The way Hernandez comports himself on the mound is the spitting image of Garcia.

Hernandez’s regard for Garcia is no surprise. Growing up in Venezuela, Hernandez had Garcia and Johann Santana to emulate, and since Garcia is right-handed the same as Hernandez the choice was simple. Garcia, who built his reputation in Seattle, also befriended Hernandez early on, and the two remain in close contact.

Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik has made it clear that Seattle has no intention to trade Hernandez, the 2011 American League Cy Young Award winner who is only 25 years old. The trading deadline will come and go in four days, and King Felix will still be in Seattle.

Obviously, Hernandez would be a wonderful fit for the Yankees. Seeing him pitch in tandem with CC Sabathia is salivating to Yankees fans. And like Sabathia, Hernandez is indeed King Felix at Yankee Stadium, which he showed again Wednesday in pitching the Mariners out of their 17-game losing streak with a 9-2 victory.

This was the second time the Yankees played a game against a team on a 17-game losing streak, and they lost each time. The other occurrence was 85 years ago when the Red Sox broke out of a similar slump with a 5-2 victory Sept. 8, 1926 at the original Stadium.

Hernandez remained unbeaten in the current Stadium with Wednesday’s victory. He was not as dominant as in 2010 when he pitched 17 shutout innings in two starts, but Felix was nonetheless effective and for a change got some strong offensive support. The Mariners banged out a week’s worth of hits with 17, including four apiece by Ichiro Suzuki and Mike Carp.

Hernandez was 1-1 with a 4.97 ERA in two career starts in the previous Stadium, but in three starts in the current facility he is 3-0 with an ERA of 0.38. A seven-run seventh fueled in part by an error by second baseman Robinson Cano and center fielder Curtis Granderson’s wayward tracking of a fly ball that fell for a three-run triple for Carp gave Hernandez breathing room.

It was a 2-1 game before that, so the Yankees still had their chances. But they did not capitalize when those chances presented themselves. Hernandez walked four batters but none scored. The Yankees repeatedly let Hernandez off the hook by going 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position off him and 0-for-2 against the Seattle bullpen. Both Yankees runs scored on outs, a sacrifice fly by Derek Jeter in the fifth and a grounder by Cano in the eighth.

Phil Hughes, who may or may not be pitching for his spot in the rotation, was serviceable for six innings, the longest stretch of his injury-truncated season, in which he allowed nine hits (a lot by the weakest offense in the majors), although he pitched effectively in some jams.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi announced three-quarters of the rotation for the upcoming four-game series at home against the Orioles. A.J. Burnett will start Friday night, Bartolo Colon Saturday afternoon and Garcia Sunday afternoon. Still undecided is the starter for the night portion of Saturday’s split-session doubleheader, but in all likelihood it will be Ivan Nova up from Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Sabathia is being given an extra day of rest before his next start Monday night in Chicago at the start of a trip that continues to Boston. The rotation may have been set up to keep Burnett from pitching at Fenway Park where he has been dreadful the past two years.

Speaking of pitchers, reliever David Robertson will be filling them up with beers and creating other drinks as a guest bartender at Foley’s New York Pub and Restaurant beginning at 7 p.m. Thursday as a fund raiser for his and wife Erin’s foundation – High Socks for Hope – to aid tornado victims in his hometown of Tuscaloosa, Ala. Foley’s is located at 18 West 33rd Street across from the Empire State Building. Have Dave serve you up a cold frosty. It is for a good cause.

Thanks for the memories, Chris

Between innings in the sixth Wednesday at Yankee Stadium, a video was played on the center field screen showing Chris Chambliss’ pennant-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Royals in the clinching game of the 1976 American League Championship Series at the old Stadium the year it had re-opened.

It remains one of the most amusing pieces of video in Yankees history because of the way Chambliss had to run the bases like a football fullback to get through an onrushing crowd of fans that stormed the field as he tried to make sure he touched all the bases so that the homer would count.

Chambliss told me years ago that the incident was the most satisfying and terrifying of his career in equal doses.

The crowd reacted with its usual combination of celebration and awe of his achievement. The next view on the screen was of Chambliss himself as he waved to the fans from the Seattle bench in the visitors’ dugout. Chris is the Mariners’ batting coach and has not had much to smile about during their 17-game losing streak. He was pleased to see Yankees fans remember him fondly.

HOPE Week: Game & city tour for Haitian refugees

The Yankees continued HOPE Week Wednesday by treating a group of Haitian refugees aged 7 to 13 to the game against the Mariners at Yankee Stadium followed by a special tour of the city.

Pitchers CC Sabathia, Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon; catcher Jorge Posada; bench coach Tony Pena and bullpen coach Mike Harkey will join the Haitian children from a Queens school for a tour of Manhattan on a Gray Line double-decker bus leaving directly from the Stadium.

Stops will include the United Nations, where representatives of the body will greet the children, followed by the Empire State Building, where the children will participate in a ceremonial lighting of the building followed by a photo opportunity with the Yankees from the observation deck.

The children and Yankees will then re-board the bus to visit Times Square. The final stop will be at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where Archbishop Timothy Dolan will give a tour of the building and have dessert with the children in his private residence.

For 15 child refugees who endured the devastating earthquake in Haiti Jan. 12, 2010 were taken in by Sts. Joachim and Anne’s School in Queens Village. The children arrived in New York with nothing, having lost loved ones and been witness to unspeakable horrors.

All have taken to their new home and cherish their opportunity at an education. One child walks 45 minutes each way to school. Another, who lost both of his parents, dreams of becoming president of his homeland so he can rebuild his nation.

Even the school’s parochial vicar, Rev. Jean-Moise Delva, 34, was not spared tragedy as his Haitian elementary school collapsed, killing the parish priest who was his mentor.

2 rain delays stall CC’s shot at perfection

Watching the way the Mariners went out one at-bat after another so placidly Monday night, the thought of what CC Sabathia might do to that lineup Tuesday night was downright scary. Seattle has been a mysterious team in the second half. It was a .500 club until 17 games ago, all losses.

The latest came at the hand of Sabathia, who flirted with perfection into the seventh inning. Not even a half-hour rain delay could throw the lefthander off stride. CC continued to polish off his Cy Young Award credentials with seven masterful innings

The buzz in the crowd of 46,132 at Yankee Stadium began early as Sabathia set down the M’s with ease. With four strikeouts the first time through the order, CC only got better as he struck out the side in both the fourth and fifth innings.

The Yankees supplied Sabathia support with Curtis Granderson’s 28th home run, in the fourth, and added two more runs in the fifth on singles by Nick Swisher, Jorge Posada, Eric Chavez just off the disabled list and Brett Gardner and a run-producing infield out by Derek Jeter.

Challenging Sabathia for excitement, however, was a light show going on in the northwestern skies beyond left field, a strong indication that rain was on the way. It arrived after Sabathia struck out the first batter in the sixth and had the crowd moaning because who knew how long it would last and whether it might force CC out of the game?

It reminded me of David Cone’s perfect game in 1999 at the Stadium against the old Montreal Expos. That game was also halted by a rain delay, but Cone continued. In fact, he said later that he actually pitched better after the break in action because he was forced to re-focus.

Fortunately, the storm did not last long enough to force Yankees manager Joe Girardi to consider replacing Sabathia, which would not have been a popular move to say the least. The crowd let out a howl when CC returned to the mound after the 30-minute delay. He retired the two batters he faced to stay perfect through six innings.

Could he complete a Mount Rushmore of Yankees perfect game pitchers by joining Cone, Don Larsen and David Wells?

A leadoff strikeout of Ichiro Suzuki in the seventh was an encouraging sign even if the Ichiro of 2011 does not match the player we had watched the previous decade. Sabathia then fell behind 2-0 to Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan. CC’s next pitch was 984-mph fastball towards the outside of the plate, but Ryan made solid contact and pulled it into left field for a clean single.

Sabathia was no longer perfect, but he was still commanding. He struck out the next two batters to end the inning and run his K total to a career-high 14.

A second rain delay before the Yankees batted in the seventh stopped play for 14 minutes. This time it appeared Sabathia was affected. After not walking a batter for seven innings, CC walked the bases full in the eighth.

David Robertson was brought in to do his magic trick and nearly succeeded with two strikeouts, but a bobbled grounder by Chavez at third lost any chance for a double play as a run scored on a fielder’s choice.

Still, that single by Ryan would be the only hit as Mariano Rivera completed matters with a perfect ninth that included two more strikeouts that brought the total to 18. That tied the club record for strikeouts in a nine-inning game. The other time was June 17, 1978 by one pitcher, Ron Guidry, against the Angels.

The run was a mere blemish on the performance by Sabathia, who improved his record to 15-5 with a 2.56 ERA. He has allowed only five runs in his past seven starts totaling 54 2/3 innings and is 6-1 with a 0.82 ERA. Remember, CC didn’t have a victory in his first four starts (0-1, 3 no-decisions), so he is 15-4 in 19 starts since April 23.

And to think that we are going to look back at this season and say somehow CC Sabathia did not make the All-Star team. I mean, didn’t the American League want to win?

HOPE Week honors Tuesday’s Children

Mariano Rivera, Curtis Granderson, Phil Hughes, Cory Wade and Steve Garrison along with former Yankees manager Joe Torre honored Tuesday’s Children by surprising them Tuesday at the Beekman Beach Club at the South Street Seaport for lunch, games and a ride on the Delta Baseball Water Taxi.

The boat ride took them past the Statue of Liberty and on to Yankee Stadium where the recipients were the team’s special guests for the game against the Mariners. The event was a continuation of HOPE Week.

Tuesday’s Children was founded in the year after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 to promote healing and recovery. The organization established a unique mentoring program. Serving greater New York’s tri-state region, its mentorship program supports relationships between affected children and adult role models who themselves have lost family through tragic circumstances. More than 175 children have participated in the program, including 50 who are currently part of active mentoring relationships.

The relationships support the emotional and social growth as mentors share coping skills and act as a shoulder to lean on. The pairs meet at least twice a month. The get-togethers are informal, involving anything from going to the movies, playing at a park or just hanging out in the house.

During Tuesday’s beach party, Keith Pryde of Middletown, N.Y., was honored as Tuesday’s Children’s “Mentor of the Year.” He was matched with Robert 10, in February 2008. One year earlier, Keith lost his sister in the April 2007 Virginia Tech campus shootings. His mentee, Robert, was born a month before his father, a foreign exchange broker at Cantor Fitzgerald, was killed Sept. 11. Keith and his fiancée, Rebecca, are engaged to be married in September 2012, with Robert set to serve as their ring bearer.

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