Results tagged ‘ Nolan Ryan ’

No chance for closer in this opener

None of us expected the Yankees to go 162-0 this year, but the 6-2 loss in Tuesday night’s season opener to the lowly Astros started things off with a thud. The Yanks were six runs in the hole after the first two innings and while Houston was shut out the rest of the way the Yankees could not climb out of it.

A surprisingly effective Scott Feldman took a one-hit shutout into the seventh for the Astros, who won only 51 games last year. A sellout crowd of 42,117 at Minute Maid Park that included Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson and Nolan Ryan and former President George H.W. Bush witnessed another dismal Opening Day effort by CC Sabathia.

The trimmed-down lefthander admitted afterward that his motor was running a bit too much early on as the Astros jumped him for six runs and six hits, including home runs by those household names Jesus Guzman and L.J. Hoes, in the first two frames. Sabathia eventually settled down and allowed only two singles over the next five innings long after the barn door was closed.

Opening Day has seldom gone smoothly for Sabathia, whose career mark in lid-lifters is 1-3 with a 6.17 ERA. With the Yankees, CC has been even worse in Opening Day starts — 0-3 with a 7.17 ERA.

The Yankees escaped first-inning scares when Derek Jeter and Brian McCann sustained hand injuries that turned out minor. Jeter had one of the Yankees’ six hits. So did McCann, who drove in his first run with his team team with a single in the seventh. Mark Teixeira followed with an RBI single to left crossing up an over-shift, which was a good sign.

Jeter and Teixeira were hurt at this time a year ago and with all the newcomers Brett Gardner was the only player other than Sabathia from the 2013 opener in the starting lineup. New right fielder Carlos Beltran had the Yankees’ first hit, a single in the fourth. New center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury reached base once in five plate appearances with a walk.

There certainly was not much to write home about. Dellin Betances may have been the highlight for the Yankees with a scoreless inning of two-strikeout relief. With David Robertson succeeding the retired Mariano Rivera in the closer role, there is the need for a setup reliever to emerge. Betances worked the seventh inning in the opener but continued impressive work could move him into the setup picture.

There would be no save opportunity for D-Rob in this one, however.

Yanks owe Astros a ‘Thank you’ for Jeter

Snowflakes falling early Monday seemed a sign that winter simply would not go away. However, Tuesday’s weather turned out perfect for an Opening Day game. Alas, the Yankees were to begin the 2014 season on the road. That is a good thing for fans.

Look at this way, although the Yankees have to play the first six games of their season on the road, the guarantee for fans is that all the games will be played. Yankees fans do not worry about postponements due to weather conditions, an annual concern in the spring, because both ballparks — Houston’s Minute Maid Park and Toronto’s Rogers Centre — have retractable roofs. Not having to deal with early-season rainouts will keep the Yankees for having to lose precious off-days later in the season to makeup dates.

The Yankees begin this year where they ended up last season — in Houston where the Astros are amid another rebuilding mode. Perhaps the presence of Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan will help matters, although even better would be if ‘ol Zeke could toe the rubber once more.

The Yankees will show off some new faces, but it is a familiar once that will draw much of the attention not only Tuesday night but also the rest of the season. This will be the swan song of Derek Jeter, who will call it a career at season’s end and conclude one of the greatest runs an individual player has ever had for the Yanks, which is high praise indeed.

Derek Jeter

Derek Jeter

How ironic that DJ will begin this final journey in Houston because that is where his major-league career might have been centered all this time. The Astros had the No. 1 pick of baseball’s amateur draft in 1992 when Jeter, then a freshman at the University of Michigan, was eligible.

While Jeter was opening eyes at Kalamazoo High, no one was more impressed than Hal Newhouser, a former two-time American League Most Valuable Player (1944 and ’45) who would eventually be elected to the Hall of Fame. Newhouser was a long-time executive at Pontiac Community Bank after his playing career ended and kept his hand in baseball as a scout and was working for the Astros at the time.

The former Tigers lefthander submitted one glowing report after the other on Jeter and told club execs that the tall, lanky shortstop was the best young player he had ever scouted. The Astros may have suspected a home-state bias on Newhouser’s part. For whatever reason, they passed on Jeter and used their top pick to select infielder Phil Nevin instead. Nevin went on to have a decent career, but his best years were after he left Houston and came nowhere near the heights reached by Jeter.

Newhouser was so upset at Houston’s decision that he quit his position with the team.

Astonishingly, Jeter was still around when the Yankees made the sixth overall pick of that draft and chose the player who would eventually be the center piece of a remarkable stretch of success that resulted in his becoming the franchise’s all-time leader in games played and hits and captain of clubs that won 13 division titles, seven pennants and five World Series.

While the Yankees are in Houston this week, they may want to thank the Astros.

A game worth playing hooky for

Relatives, friends and other admirers of Hiroki Kuroda and Yu Darvish in Japan probably all showed up late for work Wednesday to watch the popular pitchers oppose each other in a major-league game Tuesday night at Rangers Ballpark In Arlington. The game started there just after 7 p.m. Central time, which was at 8 a.m. in their home country.

Only the seventh pairing of Japanese-born pitchers in a major-league game was a major event in the country of their birth as well as a top attraction between two of the top contending teams in the American League. Darvish proved the better of the two for this one night as Texas ended the Yankees’ four-game winning streak with a 2-0 victory.

The Rangers drew first blood when Ian Kinsler led off the bottom of the first by driving a 1-1 slider to left for his fifth home run. After two hitless innings, Darvish ran into big trouble in the third when the Yankees loaded the bases with none out on a single by Eric Chavez, a walk to Russell Martin and a beauty of a bunt single by Derek Jeter, who extended his hitting streak to 14 games and is hitting .416.

Darvin showed why the Rangers were willing to shell out more than $100 million to sign the righthander as he struck out Curtis Granderson looking at a 2-2 curve and got Alex Rodriguez to ground into an around-the-horn double play.

Kuroda kept the Yankees in the game, but they could not break through against Darvish. Kuroda hurt himself in the third with a two-out walk of Elvis Andrus and a wild pitch that put him into scoring position at second base from where Josh Hamilton got him home with a single to center. Kuroda held the Rangers to two hits after that before departing with two out in the seventh and down by only two runs.

As Yankees manager Joe Girardi had noted, Darvish has more different types of pitches than a catcher has fingers, and he showed off all of them – fastballs of various speeds, curves, sliders, cutters, splits, changes of pace – the whole toolbox.

Watching from his box seat near the Texas dugout, Rangers president Nolan Ryan, the Hall of Fame pitcher and one of the great workhorses, had to love Darvish’s performance, which he applauded when the latest Japanese import came off the field after giving up a one-out single to Nick Swisher in the ninth. Closer Joe Nathan needed only one pitch to end the game as Chavez bounced into a double play.

This one had to remind Ryan of his matchups against Jim Palmer or Catfish Hunter 30-odd years ago when pitching into the ninth was expected of starters. Darvish scattered seven hits and two walks with 10 strikeouts in improving his record to 3-0 with a 2.42 ERA. It was a tough luck loss for Kuroda in a marquee matchup that for a change lived up to its billing.

No relief for Hughes, except from bullpen

Maybe what the Yankees should have done Thursday night was to fool around with the readings from the radar gun that are flashed on the video board after each pitch. Instead of a reading of, say, 89 mph, flash 93. Instead of 90, 94. Instead of 87, 91. Then, Phil Hughes might have felt a lot stronger than he actually showed.

Hughes’ velocity – or lack thereof – has been a Yankees topic since spring training. I happen to agree with manager Joe Girardi that it is overblown, not Hughes’ fastball but all the talk about it. I am with Joe that location and pitch selection mean more than miles per hour. Fact is, Hughes has been little better than a .500 pitcher for quite some time.

The problem with all this yakking about velocity is that it is in Hughes’ head. It is only natural for him to wonder why he can’t hit 94 anymore. Forget about the fact that before 2010 Hughes was known to be a slow starter whose readings on jugs guns early in the year were always tepid. After an 18-victory season that was considered breakthrough, the expectations are that Hughes has suddenly turned into Nolan Ryan.

In actuality, this is a continuance of a rather lengthy stretch of mediocrity for Hughes, who was 11-2 with a 3.65 ERA in the first half last year and earned a spot on the American League All-Star staff. Hughes ended up being the losing pitcher in that game at Anaheim and then had a very ordinary second half, posting a 7-6 record with a 4.90 ERA.

After working a seven shutout innings of four-hit ball against the Twins in the Division Series, Hughes was pounded for 11 earned runs and 14 hits in 8 2/3 innings (11.42 ERA) in losing both his starts against the Rangers in the AL Championship Series.

Now this. The Orioles, who despite their positive start this season have not exactly torn the cover off the ball, shoved Hughes around for five earned runs and seven hits in 4 1/3 innings Thursday night, which marked the third consecutive start that the righthander did not pitch long enough to qualify for a victory even if the Yankees had somehow managed to get a lead.

One consolation was that Hughes’ ERA actually dropped, from 16.50 to 13.94. The other is that the Yankees eventually tied the score in the ninth, so he got a no-decision.

Even some of Baltimore’s outs were smoked. Center fielder Curtis Granderson and right fielder Nick Swisher climbed walls to catch potential extra-base hits. Of Hughes’ 70 pitches, 51 were strikes, which may sound impressive until you realize that all hits are considered strikes.

Greenberg ‘chucked’

Good riddance to Chuck Greenberg is the way Yankees fans should look at his departure from a brief run (seven months) as chief executive officer of the Rangers. As if getting to the World Series last year for the first time in the franchise’s 50-season history wasn’t enough, Greenberg felt compelled to insult Yankees fans with his remarks about the behavior of some boisterous individuals who took verbal aim at some wives of Texas personnel during the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium.

You may recall Greenberg’s comments: “I thought Yankee fans, frankly, were awful. They were either violent or apathetic, neither of which is good. So I thought Yankee fans were by far the worst of any I’ve seen in the postseason. I thought they were an embarrassment.”

I love that “I’ve ever seen in the post-season,” as if the Rangers have made a habit of getting to the dance. All the whining did was to get Greenberg a rebuke from commissioner Bud Selig, who ordered him to apologize.

Even worse, though, was the boast that by extending the contract talks with free agent pitcher Cliff Lee, Greenberg opened the door for the Phillies to come along and snatch the lefthander away from the outstretched arms of the Yankees. Greenberg’s chest was swelling over the Rangers having outmaneuvered the Yankees in obtaining Lee in a trade from the Mariners last summer. That deal cost Texas its top prospect, first baseman Justin Smoak, as Yankees general manager hung on to infield prospect Eduardo Nunez.

Lee’s return to Philadelphia left the Rangers with nothing to show for giving up Smoak, but Greenberg chose to pat himself on the back with the consolation that at least the pitcher did not go to the Yankees. Some in the media felt Yankees president Randy Levine lowered himself by responding to Greenberg’s characterization, but I for one was amused and bolstered by the retort.

“He has been in the game for a few minutes and yet he thinks he knows what everyone is thinking,” Levine said. “He could really impress us when he keeps the Rangers off of welfare and keeps them from receiving revenue sharing the next three years.”

Greenberg deserved to hear that, but Randy could have held his breath because the loud-mouthed newcomer had no chance to survive in the Texas organization if he got on the wrong side of Nolan Ryan, which Greenberg apparently did. The Hall of Fame pitcher can do no wrong in the Lone Star State and could probably get elected governor there without having to spend one minute on a campaign trail.

In point of fact, it was Greenberg’s third visit to Lee in Arkansas – without Ryan, this time – that hurt the Rangers’ chances of re-signing him. As for swaying him from the Yankees, Lee made it clear that the Phillies were always his priority based on the good feeling he had pitching for them in their pennant-winning 2009 season. That he rejected a seven-year contract offer from the Yankees for a five-year deal from the Phillies was a pretty good indication where Lee’s heart lay, and it had nothing to do with Greenberg, whose 15 minutes are now up.

Bob Feller, American legend

There is a great void in baseball now that Bob Feller has left us. He was a Hall of Famer more than half of his life, a distinction for which he took great pride. Somehow, Induction Weekend in Cooperstown will never be the same.

Feller, fallen by leukemia at the age of 92, represented the epitome of the American Dream, the Iowa farm boy who made it to the big leagues before he graduated from high school and became one of the icons of an era depicted so memorably in Tom Brokaw’s book, “The Greatest Generation.”

Of all his accomplishments – and there were many – Feller was most proud of the four years he served in the United States Navy as a gunner on the U.S. Alabama during World War II. It cost him four precious seasons at the height of his pitching career, but he never regretted a single day he devoted to his country.

I remember his appearance at the 1986 New York Baseball Writers Dinner when he did me a huge favor. That year, Yankees first baseman Don Mattingly and Mets pitcher Dwight Gooden were co-winners of our Sid Mercer Award for the player of the year. The original plan was to have Stan Musial present the award to Mattingly and Feller to Gooden.

The day of the dinner, Musial’s plane was re-routed to Albany due to fog in New York that forced the three metro airports to close for several hours. I offered Stan a private car to come down to Manhattan, but he declined. “I don’t know how old you are, Jack, but I’m 65, and three hours in a car is not something I’m comfortable with anymore,” The Man said.

I thanked him and told him he should just go back home. Less than an hour later, I found out that Gooden couldn’t come, either. Just a couple of hours before the dinner, I had lost two marquee attractions. Mattingly and Feller had come to New York the night before, so I knew we still had them. The idea now was to ask “Rapid Robert” to present the award to “Donnie Baseball.”

Prompt as usual, Feller was the first to arrive in the dais room an hour before the dinner. I explained my dilemma and asked him if he would give the award to Mattingly.

“I’d be honored to,” he said. “Just do me two favors. One, write down some of Donnie’s statistics; I know he had a helluva year, but I don’t know the exact numbers. Two, make sure in your introduction of me that you mention my four years’ service in the Navy in World War II. Nothing I have done in my life is more important than that.”

My father and uncle were at a table up front with Anne, Feller’s wife, and got pretty friendly during the dinner. The last award presentation was Mattingly’s, and I introduced Bob with emphasis on his war record. At that point, Anne leaned over to my father and uncle and said, “He made that poor boy say that.”

Several years later, I did a piece in the Hartford Courant on Feller in connection with the Hall of Fame honoring World War II veterans. He had just come home from a tour of Okinawa where he had served in the war. I figured he was suffering from jet lag and suggested we do the interview when he was more rested.

“Come on, O’Connell, let’s do it now; I’ll have plenty of time to rest when my eyes close for good,” he said and spent the next 90 minutes detailing every step of his tour of duty in the Pacific.

Feller was proudest of the fact that he was the first major league player to enter the armed services after Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese fleet. Another Hall of Famer, Hank Greenberg, also lay claim to being the first, but Feller said, “I checked it out; I beat Hank by about half an hour.”

Here’s the rub. At the time of Bob’s enlistment, his father had terminal cancer. As the sole support of his family, Bob Feller could have been excused from serving in the war, but he felt it was his duty. Think for a minute what his career statistics would have looked like had Feller not joined the Navy and played in those four seasons from 1942 through ’45.

Considering the shape of many of the war-depleted lineups in the early 1940s, Feller might have had seasons of 30-plus victories. Heck, he might have even challenged Jack Chesbro’s 1904 record of 41 victories. Since Feller had pitched in 44 games in 1941, it is conceivable that a 41-win season might not be out of the question. I have a feeling, however, that Feller would have never been able to live with the asterisk that might have been attached to all those victories against hollow lineups.

He had a tremendous career anyway with three no-hitters, including the only Opening Day no-no in 1940, and 12 one-hitters and a ring from the 1948 World Series, still the most recent championship by the Indians. He remains the greatest player in the history of that franchise, which was a charter member of the American League in 1901.

When he and Jackie Robinson were elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962, they were the first to do so in their first year on the ballot since the original class of 1936: Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson.

No one wore his Hall of Fame stature more gallantly. Here are some thoughts on Feller from his Hall teammates:

Bobby Doerr: “Bob was just a regular, solid person. He was the same guy, all the time. He gave his opinions and he said what he thought. He didn’t hedge around anything. He was one of the top pitchers I saw in my time. He was timed at 100 miles per hour, and he had a real good curve ball. You had to always be alert with him. He was a real competitor.”

Gaylord Perry: “I really enjoyed Bob’s company, and hearing his stories about history – from baseball to war and everything else, from out of the cornfields to the major leagues. He did so much for baseball and had so many great stories, particularly about barnstorming and his memories of players like Cool Papa Bell and Satchel Paige. I was very fond of Bob. I traveled to his Museum in Van Meter to support his Museum. I consider Bob a great American.”

Cal Ripken Jr.: “The passing of Bob Feller is a great loss for the game of baseball. Clearly Bob was one of the greatest pitchers in history, and anyone who knew him understood that he was one of the game’s great personalities as well. That said, baseball didn’t define Bob. His service to our country is something that he was very proud of and something we are all grateful for. Bob lived an incredible life, and he will be missed.”

Nolan Ryan: “I am deeply sorry to hear of the passing of Bob Feller. He was baseball’s top power pitcher of the 1940s and 1950s and was a source of inspiration for all Americans for his service during World War II. He was a true Hall of Famer.”

Dennis Eckersley: “Bob was truly a great American and a great ambassador for the game of baseball.”

Hall of Fame board chairman Jane Forbes Clark: “We are all saddened to hear of the passing of Bob Feller. He represented the National Baseball Hall of Fame longer than any individual in history, as 2011 would have been his 50th year as a Hall of Fame member. No one loved coming back to Cooperstown more than Bob, which he and Anne did often. Bob was a wonderful ambassador for the Hall of Fame, always willing to help the Museum. Watching him pitch just shy of his 91st birthday at the Hall of Fame Classic in Cooperstown will be a memory that we will always treasure. He will always be missed.”

Hall president Jeff Idelson: “The Baseball Hall of Fame has lost an American original – there will never be anyone quite like Bob Feller ever again. He was truly larger than life – baseball’s John Wayne – coming out of the Iowa cornfields to the major leagues at age 17 and then dominating for two decades. Bob loved being a member of Baseball’s Hall of Fame, but he was most proud of his service as a highly decorated soldier in the Navy in the Pacific during World War II. He reached the pinnacle of individual achievement in 1962, earning enshrinement in Cooperstown, spending more than half his life as a Hall of Fame member.&nbs
p; He probably flew more miles, signed more autographs, met more people and visited more places than anyone, a testament to his ceaseless zest for life, baseball and country. Cooperstown will never be the same without Rapid Robert.”

That’s for sure.

Rangers exposed in World Series

I know what you’re thinking, Yankees fans. Couldn’t the Bombers have given the Giants a better game to this point in the World Series?

There is a tendency to think that way until you consider that the Yankees batted only .201 in the American League Championship Series against a Texas pitching staff that has allowed 20 runs and 22 hits to the Giants in two games. It didn’t appear that the Rangers could look worse than in losing, 11-7, in Game 1, but they were even more horrible in the 9-0 debacle in Game 2.

This was actually a pitcher’s duel for seven innings, although the Giants’ Matt Cain had a decided edge over the Rangers’ C.J. Wilson, who was forced out of the game because of a blistered finger one batter into the seventh. There was nothing in the San Francisco eighth that could be called a duel, however. The first two Giants batters struck out, then after a soft single to center by Buster Posey, Halloween came early for Texas.

Derek Holland, who had pitched so brilliantly against the Yankees in the ALCS, came out of the bullpen and threw 11 straight pitches out of the strike zone on the way to loading the bases and forcing in a run. Mark Lowe walked in another run before the Giants swung the bats and got a two-run single from Edgar Renteria and RBI hits from Aaron Rowand (triple) and Andres Torres (double). Seven two-out runs made it 13 of the 20 in the Series for the Giants.

It turned out to be another lopsided game in a World Series to decide a season that was characterized by outstanding pitching. Cain aside, we have seen little of that in the Series. The Giants righthander ran his string of post-season innings without allowing an earned run to 21 1/3 in which he has allowed 13 hits and five walks with 13 strikeouts.

Despite being routed in Game 1, the Rangers walked only one batter (by Cliff Lee yet), but they gave up four free passes in the eighth, which must have given team president Nolan Ryan a feeling of dj vu. The all-time strikeout leader is also the career leader in bases on balls by a pitcher.

A Texas offense that hit .306 against the Yankees in the ALCS and had 11 hits in Game 1 of the World Series had three singles and a double in getting shut out Thursday night. The closest the Rangers came to scoring was in the fifth when Ian Kinsler led off with a drive to deep center, but the ball struck the top of the fence like an old Spalding off a New York neighborhood stoop and fell back to the field. Kinsler had to settle for a double and never advanced beyond second base.

Rangers center fielder Josh Hamilton, the AL Most Valuable Player favorite, looks like a different player against the Giants than he was against the Yankees. Hamilton was the MVP of the ALCS, batting .350 with four home runs, seven RBI and eight walks, half of them intentional. He worried the Yankees so much that manager Joe Girardi chose to walk Hamilton on purpose three times in one game. The Giants have challenged Hamilton, who is 1-for-8 with one walk (not intentional) in the World Series.

The offensive stars of the Series are the aging left side of the San Francisco infield – Renteria, 34, at shortstop and third baseman Jose Uribe, 30. When the score was only 2-0, they had driven in the runs, Renteria with a home run in the fifth and Uribe with a single in the seventh. Each has homered and combined to bat .357 with eight RBI and six runs scored.

Imagine what Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez make of that?

Not so quiet at Stadium

It was not as quiet at Yankee Stadium Monday as you might think. Sure, the stands were empty, which is something the Yankees do not like at this time of year. Noise could be heard from several machines on the field as sod was being replaced and the infield configuration changed to accommodate off-season events such as concerts and a pair of college football games.

There were also the sounds emanating from the interview room where general manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi began to address the challenges facing the Yankees in the off-season. The first order of business is that of Girardi himself. Cashman said he would meet with Girardi’s agent Tuesday to begin negotiations toward a new contract.

In discussing the team, Girardi said, “I don’t want to get into specifics when I don’t have a contract. Halloween is when my contract is up, so we’ll see if I’m a pumpkin.”

That was a joke. Rest assured that Girardi will be back. He wants to stay, and Cashman said the Yankees want him to stay, too.

That was the not the case with pitching coach Dave Eiland, who became the first off-season casualty. Cashman opened his session by announcing his decision not to retain Eiland.

“It has nothing to do with how we pitched in the playoffs,” Cashman said. “He is not being blamed. He is a good pitching coach who should have no problem getting another job.”

Cashman added that the reason was “private” and did not elaborate. The GM declined to say whether Eiland’s leave of absence in June for personal reasons was a factor.

The other piece of news to come out of the day was that Andy Pettitte had groin and back tightness in his American League Division Series start in Game 2 against the Twins. That was the main reason Girardi decided not to start him in Game 2 of the AL Championship Series in Texas and went with Phil Hughes instead. Girardi said that Pettitte’s condition was such that he wasn’t sure the lefthander could have been in position to start Game 5 of the ALDS had that series been pushed to the limit.

That decision proved fatal for the Yankees because it set up Hughes for Games 2 and 6 in the ALCS at Rangers Ballpark In Arlington, both of which he lost. I supported Girardi’s decision at the time because of the reasoning that he had put forth of having Pettitte go up against the Rangers’ Cliff Lee in Game 3 and, if necessary, Game 7, but in hindsight it hurt the Yankees.

That alone did not seal the Yankees’ faith. As poorly as they pitched (6.58 ERA), they hit even worse (.201) and were victimized by a hot team on the come, a franchise in a rejuvenation mood under the watchful eye of Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, the team president.

“They dominated us at every level of the game,” Cashman said. “We led the league in scoring and run differential, but you’d never know that if you watched us in that series. Texas was a locomotive that we couldn’t withstand. Our starting pitching that had been a strength became a weakness. We didn’t see the real Yankees, but the Rangers had a lot to do with that.”

So now the Yankees have to re-fuel. Beyond Girardi, contract negotiations will center on three quarters of the “Core Four” – Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter. For the second straight year, Pettitte is contemplating retirement. Rivera is 40 and showed some cracks during the season but remains head and shoulders over closers in the game. As for Jeter, there is the specter of a .270 regular season and .231 post-season that may be indications of advancing age.

Jeter will turn 37 during the 2011 season, and the question was raised about how long he will remain a shortstop.

“It is not something to get into now,” Girardi said. “I’m not assuming he is going to change positions. I still think he can play at a very high level.”

Girardi acknowledged, however, that Jeter as well as his long-time teammate Jorge Posada will have to be spelled on occasion more often.

“We played Derek more than we wanted,” Girardi said. “He has always played a lot of games, but we had stretches this year where he played 17, 18 days in a row and in one period 27 out of 28 days. We needed to play him every day when Alex [Rodriguez] was out. We found out with Jorgie that three games in a row [as a catcher] might be his limit. It will be important for Jeet and A-Rod to have DH days.”

“You look old when you don’t play well,” Cashman said. “We didn’t look old against Minnesota the week before. Texas made us look old.”

Both men pointed out that the Yankees have strived to get younger over the past year and are not old in the outfield with Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner or on the right side of the infield with first baseman Mark Teixeira and second baseman Robinson Cano. Cashman said that catching prospect Jesus Montero will get a shot at making the club in spring training. Eduardo Nunez will also likely blend himself into the infield picture.

Cashman tried to trade for Lee in July and almost had a deal. The lefthander can be a free agent at the end of the World Series. The Yankees are hoping his friendship with CC Sabathia will be an asset in their pursuit. Until then, Lee has unfinished business beginning with his start Wednesday night in Game 1 of the World Series. How Texas fares in the franchise’s first trip to the big dance in its 50th season may have a lot to with which way Lee leans in an off-season that has yet to begin for him but already has for the Yankees.

Yanks bail out CC

Well, CC Sabathia got his no-decision. The Yankees got their ace off the hook with a stunning attack against an aghast Texas bullpen that spit up the lead for starter C.J. Wilson, who ran out of gas at the start of the eighth inning.

The Rangers would have been better off brining in Nolan Ryan, the team president who displayed old-fashioned heat in throwing out the ceremonial first pitch.

Wilson handled the Yankees for seven innings. Robinson Cano’s leadoff homer in the seventh was all they could get while the Rangers had put up a five-spot on Sabathia, who was toast after the fourth. Brett Gardner beat out an infield hit to lead off the eighth, and that was the opening of a door the Rangers could not jam.

One Yankees batter after another followed and got on base, forcing Texas manager Ron Washington to make a series of processions to the mound searching for a pitcher to get an out. None of the first three he called on could.

Derek Jeter finished off Wilson with a double that scored Gardner. Darren Oliver, the lefthander who had been with the Rangers when they first played the Yankees in the post-season 14 years ago, came in to turn switch hitters Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira around to the right side. Both walked on full counts, loading the bases.

Washington tried righthander Darren O’Day, who threw one pitch that resulted in a two-run single by Alex Rodriguez. Next was lefthander Clay Rapada, who also threw one pitch. Cano lined it into center to drive in the tying run. In came lefty Derek Holland, who at least threw more than one pitch but not before the Yankees went ahead on a broken-bat single to left by Marcus Thames.

The scene was reminiscent of a game at Rangers Ballpark In Arlington back in August when the Yankees wiped out a 6-1, sixth-inning deficit and went on to a 7-6 victory. Mariano Rivera pitched the ninth and gave up a leadoff triple but kept the runner at third to notch the save.

One rival gone, another in sight

The Yankees are finally rid of the Rays. It took all year and the help of another team, but Tampa Bay, which shadowed the Yankees all year in one of the tightest division raves races ever, is on the sideline while its American League East competitor will start the AL Championship Series against the Rangers Friday night in Arlington.

The Yankees and the Rays were never more than 2 games removed from each other from July 27 on and were tied 14 times from then until the last day of the season when the Bombers lost in Boston and Tampa Bay won in Kansas City to clinch the division and home field advantage in the playoffs with the best record in the league.

Small good it did the Rays as they lost all three games to Texas at Tropicana Field. Meanwhile, the Yankees swept the Twins with the first two victories coming at Target Field. So the ALCS features two clubs that have yet to lose a post-season game on the road this year.

Perhaps the wild card will turn into a big, fat ace for the Yankees, who have already gotten over the hump with their Division Series triumph, the first time they won a post-season series as a wild-card entry. They had failed to advance to the ALCS in three previous cases, losing to the Mariners in 1995 and to the Indians in 1997 and 2007.

Another break for the Yankees was the Rangers-Rays series going the full five games, forcing Texas and Tampa Bay to use their No. 1 starters, Cliff Lee and David Price, respectively, for the clinching game and thereby making each unavailable in the ALCS until at least Game 3. That’s where it stands now with Lee, who pitched the Rangers to the first post-season series victory in franchise history.

The Yankees know all about Lee, who beat them twice last year in the World Series with the Phillies and who might have worn pinstripes this year if a proposed trade had not fallen through in early July. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman was prepared to deal catching prospect Jesus Montero and a couple of other prospects for Lee but not if infielder Eduardo Nunez was one of them.

I can’t say I blame him. Nunez looks like a player with big-league potential, including as a base runner with speed, a quality in short supply in the Bronx. On top of that, Lee is eligible for free agency in the off-season, so the Yankees just may be able to persuade him to sign with them and not have to give up any players in return.

Whatever advantage the Yankees may appear to have in the ALCS would go out the window if they do not win at least one of the games in Texas and preferably two. CC Sabathia was always the choice to start Game 1, of course, and manager Joe Girardi made a good decision in lining up Phil Hughes for Game 2 and Andy Pettitte for Game 3, which is the opposite from the ALDS rotation.

The reasons were clear: Hughes’ career mark at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington (2-0 with 15 1/3 scoreless innings) and Pettitte’s post-season experience. Game 3 at Yankee Stadium looms large since that is when Lee will start for the Rangers. That would put him in line to start a possible Game 7 in Texas for all the marbles opposite Pettitte and every other pitcher on the staff. It would, after all, be the last game of the year, so everyone with any life left in his arm is eligible.

Gaining a split in Texas is essential for the Yankees, who after Game 3 would then have to rely on A.J. Burnett in Game 4 before coming back with Sabathia in Game 5. That could change, naturally, depending on where the series stands at that point. Burnett could atone for his sub-par regular season with a decent effort in Game 4, but there was very little evidence in the second half of the season that the righthander can deliver on such a promise.

The Yankees’ last trip to Arlington Sept. 10-12 was a disaster, a three-game sweep that included two walk-offs – including a blown save by Mariano Rivera – and a two-hit, eight-inning gem by Lee. The Yankees simply cannot afford anything close to a repeat of that performance.

The Yankees have a 9-1 post-season record against Texas in Division Series play of 1996, ’98 and ’99 and are riding a nine-game winning streak (the Rangers won Game 1 in 1996 at the Stadium). The Yankees’ Core Four may still be intact from those years, but Darren Oliver is the lone Ranger remaining from that time. This is mostly a new bunch of cowboys in Nolan Ryan’s corral.

Just ask the team that dogged the Yankees all year.


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