May 2012

Yanks avoid getting swept by Angels

It was hard not to get that here-we-go-ahead feeling in the first inning Wednesday night when Curtis Granderson doubled with one out and was stranded at second as Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano struck out. Two more fruitless at-bats with a runner in scoring position was a poor early sign for the Yankees.

The Angels struggled just as much in that circumstance in the bottom half. They loaded the bases against Ivan Nova on a hit batter, a single and a walk with none out and made the least of it with merely one run on a sacrifice fly by Mark Trumbo, who would do much more damage later on.

The Yankees finally got a hit with a runner in scoring position in the third on Granderson’s 16th home run, a three-run shot to right off Ervin Santana. After Santana struck A-Rod with a pitch, Cano slammed a two-run homer to right. It was the fifth career homer for each off Santana, who seemed headed for an early exit but eventually made it through five innings.

Ivan Nova could not have been in a better situation, but for the second time in this series a Yankees starter could not hold an early lead. Phil Hughes squandered a 3-0 lead Monday night, and Nova spit out the 5-1 advantage in the fourth. A leadoff walk spelled trouble, particularly since it came in front of Trumbo, who turned around a 95-mph fastball for a two-run home run to right.

The Yankees had had their fill of Trumbo, who won Monday night’s game with a ninth-inning home run, also homered Tuesday night and had the Yankees nervous when he had a chance to win Wednesday night’s game in the ninth again. For the series, Trumbo had 8-for-15 (.533) with one double, one triple, three home runs and six RBI.

The Angels kept it up against Nova. A well-placed bunt by catcher Bobby Wilson in front of Rodriguez playing deep at third base gave the Angels runners at first and second with two out. Both scored on a double to right-center by Mike Trout, which gave him four RBI in the series, to make it 5-5.

Wilson might not have been able to score except that right fielder Nick Swisher missed both cutoff men. Swish made up for the rock two innings later by regaining the lead for the Yankees on a sacrifice fly that scored Raul Ibanez, who tripled off reliever Hisanori Takahashi. It was poetic justice for Swisher, who was robbed of a home run and another extra- base hit by Angels outfielders Tuesday night.

Nova didn’t cough up the lead this time and ended up extending his unbeaten streak on the road to 13 starts during which he is 10-0 with a 3.61 ERA. He lasted two outs into the seventh and got huge backup support from Cory Wade after Boone Logan allowed a pair of two-out singles upon Nova’s departure.

Wade, who gave up the game-winner to Trumbo Monday night, struck out Howie Kendrick to end the seventh and pitched a perfect eighth with two more punchouts. Rafael Soriano had to sweat for his sixth save as the Angels had runners on first and second with two out and Trumbo at the plate. No heroics this time as he flied out to left.

Despite losing two of the three games in Anaheim, the Yankees pulled to 1 ½ games of the first-place Orioles and Rays in the American League East. The Yanks also stayed a half-game ahead of the hard-charging Blue Jays, who swept a three-game set from Baltimore.

Take a chance to sit with GM

Fans who would like to spend a game in Brian Cashman’s suite may bid on that opportunity by going to http://www.charitybuzz.com and searching for item #306401.

Up for auction are six seats in the general manager’s suite for a 2012 game at Yankee Stadium (food included) and the chance to meet the GM. All proceeds from the auction will benefit Covenant House, which Cashman supports.

There’s always a first time

Much has been made of the awful start Albert Pujols got off to in the American League this year. The Yankees would have loved if his troubles had continued while they are on the west coast, but the three-time National League Most Valuable Player started heating up a couple of weeks and has kept it up against the Yankees.

Pujols even victimized Andy Pettitte Tuesday night, which was a career first. They are familiar with each other from their time together in the NL when Pujols was with the Cardinals and Andy pitched for three seasons with the Astros. They have also opposed each other in inter-league and post-season situations.

All told, Pettitte had faced Pujols 32 times, including a first-inning at-bat Tuesday night at Angel Stadium of Anaheim, without hitting a home run. Pettitte had held Pujols to a .207 average with three walks. All that ended in the third inning when Pujols, facing Pettitte in a game for the first time in five years, drove a 1-0 cut fastball deep to left field for his eighth home run of the season.

That homer meant that Pettitte’s former teammate, Roger Clemens, remains the pitcher against whom Pujols has the most career at-bats (35) without taking him deep.

Pujols’ first homer off Pettitte was a two-run blow in a three-run inning that also included an RBI triple by Mike Trout, who is having a terrific series. Trout homered and scored two runs in the Halos’ 9-8 victory Monday night and continued pestering the Yankees both offensively and defensively in the middle game of the series, a 5-1 Angels victory, their eighth straight as they went over .500 (26-25) for the first time since they won the season opener.

Trout, all of 20, made a sensational, leaping catch in left field to rob Nick Swisher of a home run in the second inning. It was that kind of night for Swish, who was robbed of another extra-base hit leading off the seventh on a wall-crashing grab by center fielder Peter Bourjos. Swisher did drive in the Yankees’ run in the fourth when he singled home Raul Ibanez, who had doubled.

Pettitte pitched into the eighth inning for his third straight start. He came out of the game that inning after Pujols reached him for a leadoff single. Mark Trumbo, who won Monday night’s game with a walk-off home run, also homered off Pettitte in the sixth and was the batter after Pujols, so manager Joe Girardi made the move to the bullpen.

Pujols eventually scored on a one-out single by Howie Kendrick off Cody Eppley. As late as May 14, Pujols was still batting under .200 at .197, but in 60 at-bats since then Phat Albert has batted .333 with two doubles, seven home runs and 16 RBI to raise his average 41 points to .238.

It was a gritty outing by Pettitte, but he was bested by Dan Haren, who also pitched one batter into the eighth. His best moment came in the third when he struck out Robinson Cano looking with the bases loaded.

Cano got a second chance in the ninth when the Yankees again had the bags full with two out against hard-throwing Ernesto Frieri, who walked two batters and hit one. Cano struck out once more, this time swinging.

The Yankees problems in those situations are well documented. They are hitless in their past 15 at-bats with the bases loaded and have merely one hit in their past 34 plate appearances with the bags juiced.

HOPE Week extends to minor-league affiliates

The Yankees’ five minor-league affiliates will present their own community events throughout the season as an extension of the franchise’s HOPE Week in 2012. HOPE (Helping Others Persevere & Excel) Week is in its fourth season and will take place on the major-league level June 25-29.

In following the model established in 2009, the Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, the Double A Trenton Thunder and the Class A Tampa Yankees, Charleston RiverDogs and Staten Island Yankees will reach out to individuals, families and organizations worthy of recognition and support, recognizing honorees with a day celebrating their accomplishments. With outreach often taking place away from the ballpark, Yankees minor league players, coaches and staff will be able to connect personally with participants.

“As an organization, we have seen firsthand the positive impact HOPE Week has made in our community,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. “We have found that giving back is contagious. One of the goals of the initiative has been to inspire others to follow in our footsteps, and I’m proud that our affiliates are expanding this tradition by joining our efforts.”

The Tampa Yankees will be the first club to host HOPE Week in 2012, as they will highlight their five stories from June 4-8. Events are scheduled for Trenton June 19-22 and June 25 and for Charleston June 25-29. Dates for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Staten Island are to be determined.

Yanks sign former Mets reliever

Always on the prowl for pitching, the Yankees acquired Ryota Igarashi off waivers Tuesday from the Blue Jays. Igarashi, who turned 33 Monday, spent spring training with the Pirates before being acquired by Toronto March 30.

The righthander began the season with Triple A Las Vegas where he was 1-1 with four saves and 1.29 ERA in 21 innings while holding opposing hitters to a .139 batting average in 72 at-bats. The Blue Jays purchased his contract May 25. Igarashi had a rough go of it with Toronto. He allowed four earned runs in one inning (36.00) over two relief appearances and was designated for assignment May 27.

Igarashi pitched in 10 seasons for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows of the Japanese Central League. He signed with the Mets as a free agent Dec. 17, 2009 and was 5-2 with a 5.74 ERA in 79 relief outings totaling 69 innings over the 2010 and ’11 seasons. He was expected to report to Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Tuesday night. To clear space on the 40-man roster for Igarashi, the Yankees transferred right-handed pitcher Brad Meyers, who has a right labrum strain, to the 60-day disabled list.

Angels’ walk-off victory ends Yanks’ winning streak

The only thing Mark Trumbo had to worry about Monday night after hitting a game-winning home run leading off the ninth inning against Cory Wade was to avoid the injury teammate Kendrys Morales two years ago. The Angels have toned down their walk-off celebrations since then but still greeted Trumbo jubilantly as he crossed the plate.

Technically, that was the moment the Yankees lost, 9-8, ending their five-game winning streak while the Angels continued their stretch of success to seven games and got to the .500 level (25-25) for the first time since April 9 when they were 2-2. In reality, the Yankees began losing this game in the first inning when they took a 3-0 lead and Angels starter Jered Weaver, their ace, had to come out of the game due to a lower back injury.

The Angels could have sulked their way through this one, but they jumped all over Phil Hughes for four runs and five hits to begin the see-saw battle that went on all night. Give the Yankees credit for coming back from an 8-5 deficit to tie the score with a three-run seventh, but they lost a chance to go ahead again in the ninth by stranding the bases loaded.

Russell Martin, who had doubled in the tying runs in the seventh, nearly put the Yanks ahead in the ninth with a single up the middle, but shortstop Erick Aybar made a sterling stop to keep the ball from going into the outfield that would have allowed Mark Teixeira to score rather than have to stop at second. Aybar had made a costly error in the first inning but got a game saver there. Derek Jeter ended the threat by hitting into a fielder’s choice with Aybar making another good play by gloving first baseman Albert Pujols’ high throw and tagging the bag at second just ahead of Martin.

Trumbo, who absolutely clobbered a 1-1 changeup from Wade, had a big night. He also doubled and tripled, which meant that he was a single away from the cycle, usually the easiest of the four hits to get. Trumbo’s triple was the result of Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher colliding while chasing the ball in right field. Fortunately, neither was hurt.

Granderson slugged his 15th home run, his first this year someplace other than Yankee Stadium or Camden Yards. Mark Teixeira also continued his torrid hitting with a perfect night – his ninth home run, a single and three walks. Over his past four games, Tex has 10-for-16 (.625) with three doubles, four home runs and nine RBI to take over the team lead with 30. His slugging percentage over that stretch is an ungodly 1.563. His batting average has gone from .226 to .263. That slow start of his is definitely over.

Twilight start no help to pitchers

Normally when games have a twilight start on the west coast such as Monday night’s match-up between the Yankees and Angels at Anaheim (6 p.m., PDT) there is a tremendous advantage for the pitchers because the ball is difficult for hitters to pick up. Not this time. The Yankees batted around in the top of the first inning and Los Angeles came within one batter of doing the same in the bottom half.

The Yankees’ three-run first was aided a great deal by two Angels errors and the loss of starter Jered Weaver. The LA ace was forced from the game with a lower back ailment sustained after an awkward follow through on a pitch to Robinson Cano four batters in. The Yanks already had a run on the board thanks to a bobble by shortstop Erick Aybar on what might have been the start of a double play.

Righthander Bobby Cassevah came out of the bullpen for his first appearance of the season to replace Weaver, who pitched a no-hitter earlier this year and entered the game with a 6-1 mark. A sacrifice fly by Raul Ibanez got a second run home. Just when the Angels thought they would get out of the inning when Nick Swisher hit a dribbler to the left of the mound, Cassevah threw the ball wildly to first base for an error allowing another runner to cross the plate.

So despite going 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position (there is that dreaded statistic again), the Yankees had a 3-0 lead. They wished they had cashed in on some of those clutch chances when the Angels came back hard against Phil Hughes in the bottom of the inning to pull ahead, 4-3.

The Angels lashed five hits off Hughes, whose parents were in the stands. Hughes grew up in southern California and pitched at Angel Stadium in the 2010 All-Star Game. He did not look much like an All-Star Monday night. After Curtis Granderson tied the score in the second with his 15th home run, Hughes allowed the Angels to regain the lead in the third.

Granderson collided with Swisher as the pair pursued a drive to right-center by Mark Trumbo that fell between them for a triple. Howie Kendrick, who drove in two runs with a single in the first inning, scored Trumbo with a fly to right. Mike Trout’s leadoff home run in the fourth made it 10 consecutive starts from the beginning of the season that Hughes has been taken deep.

Unlike the way the Angels’ bullpen kept the team in the game after Weaver was knocked out, Hughes was not picked up by his pen. After he left the game with one out and a runner on second in the sixth, Hughes watched the Angels load the bases off Cody Eppley and get two runs on a double by Kendrys Morales off David Phelps.

It was the Yankees’ offense that came to Hughes’ rescue by taking him off the hook with three runs in the seventh to tie the score. The big hit was a bases-loaded double by Russell Martin, who has struggled at the plate all season.

Yanks in the military

Memorial Day is a time to remember those who sacrificed their time and in many cases their lives in defense of the United States. The Yankees had 41 players who lost service time in order to serve their country in the military. Below is the list of those players. Hall of Famers are in boldface.

Rich Beck 1967
Norm Branch 1943-45
Bobby Brown 1952-54
Tommy Byrne 1944-45
Tommy Carroll 1958
Spud Chandler 1944-45
Jerry Coleman 1952-53
Bill Dickey 1944-45
Joe DiMaggio 1943-45

Frank Fernandez 1967
Whitey Ford 1951-52
Joe Gordon 1944-45

Rudy Gumpert 1943-45
Buddy Hassett 1943-45
Mike Hegan 1967
Rollie Hemsley 1945
Tommy Henrich 1943-45
Billy Johnson 1944-46
Jerry Kenney 1968
Tony Kubek 1962
Al Lyons 1945
Hank Majeski 1943-45
Billy Martin 1954-55
Tom Morgan 1952-53
Ross Moschitto 1966
Bobby Murcer 1967-68
Steve Peck 1942-45
Mel Queen 1945-46
Phil Rizzuto 1943-45
Aaron Robinson 1944
Red Ruffing 1943-44
Marius Russo 1944-45
Ken Sears 1944-45
George Selkirk 1943-45
Ken Silvestri 1942-45
Charley Stanceu 1943-44
Johnny Sturm 1942-45
Jake Wade 1945
Roy Weatherly 1944-45
Bob Wiesler 1951-52
Butch Wensloff 1945-46

Yanks keep up the heat heading for Anaheim

With the way the Yankees and the Angels are playing lately, this could be quite a series coming up between them beginning Monday night. The Yankees will arrive in Anaheim on the wings of a five-game winning streak. The Angels, who were mired in last place in the American League West for most of April and May, have won six in a row and moved into second place, albeit 6 ½ games behind the Rangers.

The Yankees have moved up the AL East standings as well (to third place, 2 ½ games behind first-place Baltimore and Tampa Bay) with this hot stretch that has come at the expense of two of the league’s weakest clubs, Kansas City and Oakland. Hey, the Royals and the Athletics are on the schedule, right? You can’t play the Red Sox and Rays every week. Think of how fans would howl if the Yankees had not handled their struggling opponents? In fact, that 6-0 loss last Monday night to KC at Yankee Stadium had a lot of fans howling for improvement.

Well, they have gotten it. Sunday’s nifty, 2-0 victory was marked more by quality pitching than overwhelming hitting, which was a bit different from the previous four victories. The Yankees suffered a setback with runners in scoring position (1-for-11), but the way Hiroki Kuroda was mowing down Oakland hitters inning after inning Andruw Jones’ second-inning home run off lefthander Tommy Milone, the A’s best pitcher, was going to hold up.

The second of two doubles by red-hot Mark Teixeira gave Kuroda another run in the seventh, but he didn’t need it. The righthander fashioned eight shutout innings for the second time this season (the other was the home opener April 13 against the Angels) by keeping the ball down and using an impressive curve. The A’s managed only five hits, all singles, off Kuroda, who walked one and struck out three in lowering his ERA from 4.56 to 3.96.

Kuroda gave a lot of credit to his catcher, Chris Stewart, who caught him for the first time. Stew put on the gear because regular backstop Russell Martin could not play because of a stiff neck. CC Sabathia is 6-0 with Stewart as his catcher, so some of that rubbed off on Kuroda Sunday. The Yanks are 8-4 with a 2.80 ERA when Stewart is behind the plate.

Milone was the ninth starter this season facing the Yankees for the first time in his career, and Sunday’s victory pushed the Bombers’ record in those games to 5-4. Milone was impressive, however, but since a team cannot win a game by the score of zero to minus one he didn’t have a chance.

Not that the Yankees tore the cover off the ball. They are still straining in the clutch, which has been a season-long problem. Even in the winning streak, the Yankees are batting .200 in 40 at-bats with runners in scoring position. They stranded six base runners in the first three innings Sunday. The Yankees are batting .220 with runners in scoring position for the season and .125 in 112 at-bats in those spots since May 13.

Also disturbing is their record with the bases loaded. They had a chance to get on the board in the first inning by filling the bags with one out but did not score. They are a collective 8-for-48 (.167) with the bases loaded this year, which ranks 26th of the 30 big-league clubs, pretty odd for the team that led the majors in hitting with the bags juiced each of the past two seasons.

Fortunately, Sunday’s game was one that did not require slugging. That could change Monday when they run into a club equally sizzling.

Brett reflective in congratulating Jeter

Derek Jeter continues to pass Hall of Famers as he climbs up the all-time hits list. The Captain’s leadoff single Sunday at Oakland was career hit No. 3,155 as he jumped past George Brett to take over 14th place.

Brett issued a statement, which was not only congratulatory and appreciate of Jeter’s standing but also somewhat somberly reflective of his own.

“I’m always kind of bummed out when guys pass you because you had your own place in the records book for a while, and I had that one there for a while,” he said. “But a guy like Derek comes around and passes you, really, I think it all depends on the type of person that did it. I have the upmost respect for him.

“I’ve only met him one time, very briefly, but for a guy to play as long as he has in New York, and I’ve never heard one bad thing said about the guy, he’s definitely a team player, he’s a clutch player. He has been the backbone of this organization for a long, long time and when a guy like that passes you, I’d like to shake his hand and look him in the eye and say congratulations.”

That is a major compliment from Brett, whose heyday with the Royals was back in the 1970s and ‘80s when they were as fierce a rival of the Yankees as the Red Sox in any era. They faced each other in four of five American League Championship Series from 1976-80 with the Yanks taking the pennant three times.

I have come to know George very well from our time together at the annual induction weekend at Cooperstown, and I know his feelings about Jeter and his close pal, Jorge Posada, are genuine. At the same time, there was a sense from Brett that falling down that list is tough to take. I think we can all understand that.

I remember when I covered mostly National League ball in the 1980s, and it seemed that Pete Rose was breaking one of Stan Musial’s records every year. Musial was always gracious in his comments about Rose, yet there was a tinge of remorse when Rose replaced “The Man” as the player with the most hits in NL history.

Stan took his time giving his thoughts that night and said to writers, “I know records are meant to be broken, guys, but I must admit that I really liked this one.”

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