June 2012

Yanks get big-time relief from a starter

What a relief to the Yankees to get a start such as the one Hiroki Kuroda provided Saturday in a 4-0 victory over the White Sox. After two dismal losses that taxed the bullpen, Kuroda pitched seven shutout innings and limiting Chicago to three singles and a walk while striking out 11 to match his career high.

One day after scoring 14 runs the White Sox managed to get only one runner past second base. David Robertson came back strong with a scoreless eighth two days after giving up a home run that cost the Yankees a game, and Rafael Soriano had an easy time of it recording his 18th save with a double-play ball.

It was the first time the Yankees allowed at least 14 runs in a game and then shut out an opponent the very next game since a split-stadium doubleheader June 27, 2008 against the Mets when the Yankees lost, 15-6, at Yankee Stadium in the afternoon and won, 9-0, at Shea Stadium at night.

“You never want your starter to worry about the bullpen,” manager Joe Girardi said. “You want him to think about giving you length every game. But yes, we needed a game like this.”

Kuroda, who has won five of his past six decisions while pitching to a 1.65 ERA, retired 15 consecutive batters from the first inning into the sixth, a stretch that ended when he hit Kevin Youkilis with a pitch the inning after Jake Peavy, a complete-game loser, had plunked Derek Jeter. Kuroda improved his record to 8-7 with a 3.17 ERA in pitching at least seven innings without allowing a run for the fourth time this season, the most for any Yankees starter.

Solo home runs by Curtis Granderson (No. 23), DeWayne Wise (No. 2) and Robinson Cano (No. 19) accounted for all but one of the Yankees’ runs. The other was by virtue of a double by Wise, who had quite a week for himself.

The reserve outfielder earned his way into the lineup over the past six games by going 7-for-11 (.636) with one double, one triple, two home runs and five RBI in raising his season batting average from .133 to .268. He also got two outs as a pitcher Friday night and another big out on a phantom catch Tuesday night with help from an umpire’s oversight.

“I just waited for the opportunity,” Wise said. “I’ve kept working hard in batting practice, trying to keep it simple and not over-stride. It has been a fun week.”

And it was mostly a fun month for the Yankees. They will not be anxious for the calendar to turn Sunday. The Yankees were 20-7 in June, the most victories for them in a calendar month since August 2009 when they were 21-7.

No Yankees player had a hotter June than Cano, who batted .340 with four doubles, one triple, 11 home runs and 21 RBI in 100 at-bats in the month. His home run total was the highest for any single month of his career. Cano has homered in eight of his past 13 games while batting .367 with 14 RBI during that stretch. Cano leads all second baseman in the majors with 19 home runs and a .582 slugging percentage. He has at least one RBI in 10 straight games against the White Sox, the longest such streak by a Yankee since 1931 by a guy named Babe Ruth.

Yankees fans say ‘yuck’ to ‘Youuuk’

Yankee fans have enjoyed getting on Kevin Youkilis’ case throughout the series against the White Sox, his new team after being traded to Chicago this week by the Red Sox. Youkilis has long been a target of Yankees fans, and changing the color of his hosiery made no difference. He was soundly booed every time he batted and taunted in the field at third base while he had trouble with the glaring sun.

Youkilis lost a foul pop by Raul Ibanez in the second inning that was ruled no play by official scorer Billy Altman. Ibanez hit another fly ball in Youkilis’ direction later in the at-bat, and once again the third baseman had difficulty seeing it. It took a nifty grab by shortstop Alexei Ramirez to get an out on the play.

I don’t know what brand sunglasses Youkilis was wearing, but I would not recommend them.

The only time Youkilis drew a positive response from the Yankee Stadium crowd was when he was hit by a pitch from Hiroki Kuroda in the sixth inning. The fans seemed to relish in his pain. The pitch may have been retaliation for White Sox pitcher Jake Peavy having struck Derek Jeter with a pitch the previous inning after DeWayne Wise had hit a home run.

It marked the first time in the series that Youkilis reached base. He was hitless in nine at-bats up to that point.

Wise brings back memories of ‘Stick’

The most effective pitcher for the Yankees Friday night was not really a pitcher. DeWayne Wise, outfielder by trade, faced two batters and retired them both in mop-up duty in a 14-7 loss to the White Sox. Manager Joe Girardi explained that he did not want to use Rafael Soriano or David Robertson or Cody Eppley in that situation and that Wise “was really my last guy.”

Wise had not stepped on a mound since his high school days in the mid-1990s back in Chapin, S.C. He said he threw only fastballs. The radar gun had him between 82 and 86 miles per hour, which is pretty fair velocity for a non-pitcher.

Wise became the Yankees’ first position player to pitch in a game since fellow outfielder Nick Swisher threw a scoreless inning April 13, 2009 in a 15-5 loss to the Rays at St. Petersburg, Fla.

It was 44 seasons ago that a Yankees position player last pitched in a home game. Gene Michael, then a shortstop and currently the club’s senior vice president and special adviser, pitched three innings in a 10-2 loss to the Angels in the second game of a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium. “Stick” gave up five runs and five with no walks, a hit batter and three strikeouts. None of the runs against him was earned because of an error by shortstop Ruben Amaro, father of the current general manager of the Phillies. Michael also drove in one of the Yankees’ runs that game with a single in his only at-bat. He did not play in the first game.

The Yankees are playing musical chairs with their pitching staff these days. Adam Warren, who gave up six earned runs and eight hits, including two home runs, in 2 1/3 innings Friday night in his major-league debut, was optioned back to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre as the Yankees recalled pitcher D.J. Mitchell from the Triple A affiliate. Mitchell, a righthander, was 5-4 with a 5.36 ERA in 14 starts but will be used out of the bullpen. David Phelps, who took over for Warren Friday night and ended up with the losing decision, will start Wednesday night at St. Pete.

Yankees fans got a pre-game treat Saturday as Tom Coughlin, head coach of the Super Bowl champion Giants, accompanied by his four grandchildren, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

With temperatures in the mid- to high-90s this weekend, the Yankees implemented hydration stations inside the Stadium at the following locations: 100 Level-Gate 4, Gate 6 and Gate 2; 200 Level-Sect. 210 and Sect 234; 300 Level-Sect 309 and Sect 330; Bleachers-Sect 237. Additionally, cooling stations will be located at Sect. 128, Sect. 221 and Sect. 320.

Who’s hot? Everybody but Yankees

As the temperatures in New York keep rising during this heat wave, the Yankees have cooled off. The American League Central-leading White Sox under rookie manager Robin Ventura beat the Yankees for the second straight game Friday night in a game the Bombers were hoping to steal with a pitcher making his major-league debut.

No ninth-inning heroics were required this time from the White Sox, who overcame a 4-0 deficit against rookie righthander Adam Warren and went on the beat the Yankees at their own game. Chicago used four home runs to the Yanks’ one (by Curtis Granderson) on the way to a 14-7 victory.

Warren was not stuck with the losing decision because the Yankees, who had 11 hits, came back from 6-4 to tie the score in the fourth inning on the second of two doubles by Andruw Jones. But relievers David Phelps and Cory Wade couldn’t keep the ball in the yard any more than Warren had. A.J. Pierzynski swatted two home runs and Paul Konerko and Alexei Ramirez one apiece as part of a 19-hit attack that also included five doubles.

The underbelly of the Yankees’ bullpen has been exposed somewhat the past two nights. Wade especially has been on a downhill cycle. He was roughed up for six earned runs and seven hits in 2 1/3 innings and has allowed 10 earned runs in his past two outings totaling three innings. That is an ERA of 30.00. Over his past six appearances, Wade has pitched to a 28.69 ERA and given up 13 earned runs and 17 hits, including three home runs, in 5 1/3 innings. His season ERA over that stretch has gone from 2.63 to 5.79.

“He relies on location,” Girardi said of Wade. “He was up in the zone, and he can’t live there.”

The situation reached the perilous point that Yankees manager Joe Girardi resorted to using outfielder DeWayne Wise to get the final two outs, which was one of the few highlights for Yankees pitching in the game.

“You can see guys pitching in and out and changing speeds and plains and can’t get anybody out and then someone comes in and simply throws BP [batting practice] and gets both hitters out,” Girardi said. “It’s a strange game.”

Warren Report: Rough rookie outing

The Yankees did their best Friday night to put Adam Warren, who made his major-league debut, in a comfort zone. They jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning off White Sox lefthander Jose Quintana, who entered the game with a 16-inning scoreless streak and a 1.25 ERA.

Derek Jeter started the ball rolling with a double into the left field corner for his 3,185th career hit that pushed him past Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. for sole possession of 13th place on the all-time list.

“Congratulations to Derek on passing me on the all-time hits list,” Ripken said. “Derek has been such a special player for such a long time, and I am happy to see him continue to play at a high level. He represents the game and the Yankees wonderfully, and I hope that he continues to give all of us baseball fans great memories.”

Curtis Granderson ended Quintana’s zeroes streak with a drive to right-center field for his 22nd home run off a 1-0 fastball. Another streak by Quintana came one out later when he walked Alex Rodriguez, the pitcher’s first base on balls in a stretch covering 100 batters.

After Robinson Cano flied out, Nick Swisher kept the rally alive with a flare single behind first base that was positioned so well that A-Rod got to third. Andruw Jones got both runners home with a booming double off the wall in left-center.

The comfort zone didn’t last long for Warren, who gave all of the lead back the very next inning on A.J. Pierzynski’s 13th home run, singles by Dayan Viciedo and Alexei Ramirez, a two-run double by Gordon Beckham and a run-scoring infield out by Kevin Youkilis. The rookie learned that in the big leagues nothing can be taken for granted as Paul Konerko led off the third with his 14th home run to put the Chisox ahead.

Chicago added another run before Warren came out of the game after 2 1/3 innings with his ERA an unsightly 23.14. The Yankee Stadium crowd recognized the circumstances and disappointing as fans may have been to see a 4-0 lead vanish gave the rookie righthander polite applause. To have done otherwise would have been unkind.

HOPE Week: Children’s Alopecia Project

The Yankees concluded HOPE Week 2012 Friday by celebrating the Children’s Alopecia Project (CAP) and the group’s founders, the Woytovich family. The Yankees’ contingent that surprised the CAP kids at a picnic at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx featured manager Joe Girardi; pitchers Freddy Garcia, Ivan Nova, Rafael Soriano and Cory Wade; outfielders Andruw Jones and DeWayne Wise; third baseman Alex Rodriguez; bullpen coach Mike Harkey; former Yankees players Darryl Strawberry and David Wells; former Rutgers football player and HOPE Week ambassador Eric LeGrand and Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson.

Events included face- and head-painting, a scavenger hunt, lunch and games. After the picnic, CAP kids and their families were invited to the Stadium for the game against the White Sox. The Woytovich family and the children of CAP watched batting practice from the field and were part of pregame on-field ceremonies. Madison and Jeff threw out the ceremonial first pitches.

In October 2003, while Betsy Woytovich was undoing the braids of her 5-year-old daughter Madison, hair began coming out in clumps. A doctor confirmed that Madison had alopecia, an auto-immune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks hair follicles, leading to hair loss on the scalp and elsewhere in varying degrees, a condition that affects approximately four million Americans.

Madison’s father, Jeff, searched for a support network, but learned that there was no organization that focused on children with alopecia. Betsy and Jeff wanted to make sure that Madison and children like her maintained their confidence and self-esteem heading into their teenage years. So in August 2004, they created the Children’s Alopecia Project which focuses on three goals: to build self-esteem, provide support and raise awareness.

There are now 15 CAP Kids Support Groups around the country working with families from 30 states. Additionally, there are associated groups in Hong Kong, Canada, South America and Russia. More than 1,000 families are registered members of CAP, while at least 10,000 families have received information or been counseled by members of CAP.

Tough to blame manager for poor execution

Yankees manager Joe Girardi took a lot of heat in the media for the way he managed the ninth inning Thursday night against the White Sox, who pulled out a 4-3 victory on Dayan Viciedo’s three-run home run off David Robertson. I do not think all the criticism is warranted.

One area in which Girardi has showed real expertise as a manager is handling the bullpen, which is a far easier job we all know when Mariano Rivera is around. Mo has been out of the picture since early May and yet the Yankees have thrived largely because of their relief work. Rafael Soriano, an experienced closer, has done a good job spelling Rivera and the other relievers have responded well to Girardi’s mix-and-match system.

Boone Logan and Cody Eppley did great work getting out of an eighth-inning jam Thursday night to bail out Ivan Nova. Had Soriano been available, he surely would have worked the ninth with the Yanks ahead, 3-1, and been in line for a save. The righthander had pitched four of the previous five days and was not sharp in his last outing, so Girardi decided to let Eppley start the ninth against a right-handed batter, Alex Rios, who singled, and bring in lefthander Clay Rapada to face the left-handed batting A.J. Pierzynski.

Girardi looked pretty smart when Pierzynski hit a dribbling roller back to the mound that had “double play” written all over it. Then Rapada threw the ball wide left of Derek Jeter covering second base and into center field, and suddenly Girardi got a whole lot dumber. That forced him to bring in Robertson, who gave up the Viciedo bomb on a 1-0 fastball.

Why didn’t Girardi simply let Robertson start the ninth inning? That is what a lot of reporters wanted to know after the game. Truth be told, so did Robertson, at least judging from his body language in the clubhouse after the game. Girardi explained that Robertson missed considerable time this year because of injury and he is being cautious with him.

To me, that is a reasonable explanation. Besides, if Rapada doesn’t throw away two outs, there is probably no need to have a conversation about all this. Managerial moves are judged positively or negatively based on execution. Rapada’s lack of it is what cost the Yankees in that inning, not the bullpen manipulation by the manager.

The home run allowed to Viciedo was the first go-ahead jack allowed by a Yankees pitcher in the ninth inning working with a lead since the Mariners’ Ichiro Suzuki hit a walk-off, two-run homer off Rivera Sept. 9, 2009 at Seattle with the Yanks leading 2-1. It was the first such homer with the Yanks leading by at least two runs since Marco Scutaro’s three-run walk-off homer off Rivera April 15, 2007 at Oakland with the Yankees up, 4-2. The previous time an opponent hit a go-ahead homer when down by at least two runs in the ninth or later at Yankee Stadium was the Red Sox’ Bob Montgomery July 28, 1972 off Sparky Lyle in the first game of a doubleheader with the Yankees ahead, 5-3.

Babe’s earliest Yanks jersey on display at Hall of Fame

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum placed on display Friday the earliest-known uniform top worn by Babe Ruth, a circa-1920 Yankees road jersey that was recently purchased via auction this past May. The Hall received the shirt on loan from its purchaser, a passionate baseball fan whose wished to remain anonymous.

The road gray jersey features “NEW YORK” across the chest in blue lettering, with Ruth’s name and initials written inside the collar in faded pink script – Ruth, G.H. – for George Herman Ruth. Though Ruth last played in the major leagues in 1935, interest in his career remains larger than life, and this loan provides yet another reason for fans to visit Cooperstown.

“We are thrilled to have this valuable piece of baseball history on display in Cooperstown, so fans everywhere can enjoy another relic from The Bambino’s career,” Hall president Jeff Idelson said. “The jersey’s new owner wants to share this piece of history with fans and historians alike. We’re equally excited to provide a home to display this vintage item for fans around the globe.”

The Ruth jersey went on display Friday in Ruth’s locker in the BabeRuthGallery. The jersey is expected to remain on display through Hall of Fame Weekend 2013 but will be off display from July 24 through Aug. 9 this year.

Ruth was sold by the Red Sox to the Yankees during the winter before the 1920 season. In his first year with the Yankees, Ruth hit 54 home runs, more than every team in the major leagues except the Phillies. Ruth was elected to the Hall of Fame as part of its inaugural class in 1936 with Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson.

A “Bustin’ Babes” jersey that Ruth wore in 1927 and ‘28 when barnstorming against teammate Lou Gehrig’s “Larrupin’ Lous” is the earliest Ruth jersey in the Hall’s collection. There are numerous artifacts on exhibit in Cooperstown related to Ruth’s storied career, including a silver crown presented to him after his 59-home run season of 1921, the bat from his record-setting 60th home run in 1927 and the ball from his final career home run (May 25, 1935).

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is open seven days a week year round, with the exception of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Days. The Museum observes summer hours of 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. from Memorial Day Weekend until the day before Labor Day. From Labor Day until Memorial Day Weekend, the Museum observes daily regular hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Ticket prices are $19.50 for adults (13 and older), $12 for seniors (65 and older) and for those holding current memberships in the VFW, Disabled American Veterans, American Legion and AMVets organizations, and $7 for juniors (ages 7-12).

Nova’s good start foiled by bullpen failure

When a team loses two of its top pitchers to injury as the Yankees have with CC Sabathia (strained left groin) and Andy Pettitte (fractured left fibula), there is a danger that the other pitchers might put too much pressure on themselves in an attempt to fill the void. There is one thing to stepping up and another thing to going overboard and falling out of your own rhythm.

Some pitchers fall victim to muscling up and overthrowing. The point has been well made by Yankees manager Joe Girardi that the team’s other starters need not try to play the hero role to offset the losses of Sabathia and Pettitte. Just be yourself, Girardi cautioned. Take care of your day to start, he said, and he will figure out what to do on the days CC and Andy were supposed to go.

It looked as if Ivan Nova followed that advice to the letter Thursday night. A strong start was needed by the Yankees after the dark news of Wednesday. Nova provided it. He pitched his game and no one else’s. The result should have been what it normally is when Nova takes the mound – a victory.

Instead, a rare bullpen breakdown resulted in a 4-3 loss to the White Sox. Eighth-inning relief work by Boone Logan and Cody Eppley was followed by dismal efforts from Clay Rapada and David Robertson.

Alex Rodriguez, who has drawn some concern about how few doubles he has this season, lined two of them, which was as many as he had combined over his previous 31 games. The second one was a big, two-out hit in the fifth inning that scored Curtis Granderson, who had singled, and negated the home run in the top half by Alejandro De Aza, who gave Nova a hard time of it all game with four hits.

Robinson Cano followed A-Rod’s double with a two-bagger of his own that gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead. As well as Nova was pitching, he was in a close game because the Yankees were being tamed to a degree by White Sox starter Dylan Alexrod, their fifth starter. The Yankees wasted a leadoff double by Rodriguez in the fourth and were hitless in five at-bats with runners in scoring position before Cano’s double in the fifth.

Nova departed the game in the eighth to a standing ovation from the Yankee Stadium crowd of 44,041 after he caught Kevin Youkilis looking at a called third strike with De Aza on second. Youkilis, who was recently traded to Chicago from Boston, heard the usual onslaught of boos that used to ring his ears during his Red Sox days.

Logan came in to face left-handed swinging Adam Dunn and retired him on a fly to deep center that allowed De Aza to cross to third with two out. Girardi called on Eppley to face right-handed slugger Paul Konerko, who was frozen on a 1-2 slider. Mark Teixeira’s home run off lefthander Hector Santiago supplied an insurance run, but it guaranteed no dividend.

After Alex Rios led off the ninth with a single, Girardi went to the left-handed Rapada to pitch to left-handed batting A.J. Pierzynski. The White Sox catcher hit a dribbler right back to Rapada. It might have been a double play except Rapada threw wide to the left of second base and behind shortstop Derek Jeter covering. Instead of two outs and a runner on third base, the White Sox had none out and runners on first and third.

Not for long, though. Dayan Viciedo greeted Robertson with a three-run home run to left off a 1-0 fastball, which sunned the crowd not to mention the Yankees’ dugout.

Jeter singled in the seventh to catch another Hall of Famer on the all-time hits list. This time it was one of his idols, Cal Ripken Jr., for a 13th place tie at 3,184. Jeter’s next at-bat was in the ninth with two out and the potential tying run at first base. Passing Ripken was not on his mind as much as getting that runner home or at least keeping the rally going. Jeter’s inside-out swing produced a line drive that teasingly had the crowd on its feet only to watch Rios catch the ball in front of the wall.

Garcia returns to rotation as Andy goes on 60-day DL

Don’t expect to see Andy Pettitte back until sometime around Labor Day. The Yankees placed Pettitte on the 60-day disabled list Thursday to create roster space for the contract purchase of pitcher Adam Warren, the righthander from Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre who will start Friday night against the White Sox. The Yankees also recalled pitcher Ryota Igarashi from Triple A.

Pettitte sustained a fractured left fibula in Wednesday’s 5-4 Yankees victory over the Indians that will keep him sidelined for at least six weeks. Considering his age, 40, a prognosis of a two-month recovery seems logical. The Yankees are also without CC Sabathia, who is on the 15-day DL due to a strained left groin.

As for a spot in the rotation, manager Joe Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman strongly suggested that they consider Freddy Garcia their best option. Garcia got off to a horrible start in the rotation at the beginning of the year but pitched himself back into the Yankees’ good graces with quality work out of the bullpen (2-0, 1.56 ERA in 17 1/3 innings). Garcia will start Monday night at St. Petersburg, Fla., and essentially take Pettitte’s turn in the rotation.

“Freddy has done it for us before,” Girardi said. “Freddy is an experienced guy and is not going to get caught up in the moment. He did a great job for us last year. It looks like his stuff is back.”

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