Results tagged ‘ Red Sox ’

Yanks, Rays have safety net

Fans seem to like the wild-card system in baseball because if gives more teams a chance to reach the playoffs.  The powers that be in the game certainly approve it of it because the more teams involved in races the greater the interest there is in the sport in the final month of the season.

There is one downside of the system that was adopted in 1994 by which the second place team with the best record qualifies for post-season play as a wild card, and that is it can ruin an old-fashioned race for first place.

Take what is going on this year between the Yankees and the Rays, for example. These two teams entered play Tuesday night tied for first in the American League East for the eighth straight day. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that marks the most consecutive days that a pair of teams has been tied for first this late in a season. The previous record was seven straight days by the Dodgers and the Astros in the National League West Sept. 10-16, 1980.

That season featured one of the wildest finishes in major league history. The Dodgers swept the Astros in a three-game series at Los Angeles to force a one-game playoff that also took place at Dodger Stadium the day after the regular season ended. The Dodgers’ bubble was burst by Joe Niekro’s knuckleball as Houston won the playoff to qualify for the NL Championship Series against the Phillies.

Had there been a wild-card system, there would have been no need for a playoff because both teams would have made it.

Something similar happened in 1993, the last year there was no wild-card in the majors. In fact, the finish in the NL West that year was a major reason the wild-card supporters got what they wanted. The Giants won 103 games but finished one game behind the Braves (then in the NL West) and went home.

It was as wild a race as every existed. Atlanta trailed San Francisco by a season-high 10 games July 22 and by 9 as late as Aug. 7. A seven-game losing streak Sept. 7-15 brought the Giants back to earth as they fell 3 games behind the Braves, who were amid a 9-1 run. It came down to the final weekend. The Braves swept a three-game series from the Rockies, but the Giants lost to their arch-rival Dodgers on the final day of the season.

There was no fallback position for the Giants without the wild card. As tight as that race was, it does not compare really to what is going on between the Yankees and Tampa Bay. The Braves and Giants were tied on the same day only eight times total in 1993, only as often as the Yanks and Rays have been for a little more than the past week.

Over the past 30 days, the Yankees and the Rays have been tied for first place 12 times and have had the same share of the top spot 23 days during the season. But with the third-place Red Sox having fallen seven games behind them and the second-place teams in the other divisions nowhere near contention for the wild-card berth, the juice is missing from the Yanks-Rays race because whoever doesn’t win the division will make the playoffs anyway.

Sure, there is home-field advantage in the Division Series and Championship Series at stake, which is sort of a carrot but not as appetizing as eliminating a foe altogether.

Pettitte targeted for Rays, Sox?

The Yankees will be rooting for Andy Pettitte to have a good bullpen session Wednesday because it would set into motion a scenario that could benefit them greatly against their American League East challengers.

Pettitte, who has been disabled since July 18 because of a strained left groin, was encouraged by his sideline work Sunday in Chicago when he threw at about 75 percent without feeling any discomfort. He’ll try to get closer to 100 percent Wednesday.

If all goes well, Pettitte may be in line to be back on the mound against major-league competition in about two weeks after some injury-rehabilitation assignments or simulated games. That would allow Pettitte to make four starts, all against either the Rays or the Red Sox for the remainder of the season in a theory proposed by WFAN Radio’s Sweeney Murti, to which I subscribe.

If Pettitte can start Sept. 14 or 15 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., then he would be in line to start against the Rays Sept. 20 at Yankee Stadium, against the Red Sox Sept. 25, also at the Stadium, and Oct. 1 at Fenway Park. Yes, I am getting way ahead of myself here, but if Pettitte continues to progress there is reason to believe that schedule could become reality.

Alex Rodriguez, out with a left calf strain, is not eligible to come off the disabled list until Sept. 5, which is Sunday. That means there will be no return engagement with Athletics pitcher Dallas Braden, who will start Thursday’s finale of the four-game series at the Stadium. Remember the firestorm that was created back in April when Braden berated A-Rod for trotting on the mound at the Oakland Coliseum while returning to first base after a foul ball?

Braden, who pitched a perfect game May 9 against Texas at Oakland, was on the DL when the Yankees returned to the Coliseum in July. By then, the bitterness was defused somewhat as both player signed “Get Off My Mound” t-shirts for charity. Braden still thinks Yankees fans will let him have it Thursday.

“It wouldn’t New York if they didn’t,” Braden said. “They have had awhile to think of some good stuff, so I’m sure they won’t disappoint me.”

Tasteful tribute

I gave credit to the Red Sox for their tribute to George Steinbrenner and Bob Sheppard Thursday night at Fenway Park, and the Boston club deserves it. But no club quite handles moments such as these as the Yankees. Friday night was no different as the Yankees paid tribute to the deceased icons movingly and tastefully in a pre-game ceremony at Yankee Stadium.

A five-minute video of Steinbrenner’s lengthy and largely successful career as the franchise’s principal owner was shown on the Mitsubishi screen. After which, the crowd stood in preparation for the playing of taps as the West Point Color Guard walked onto the field.

Mariano Rivera then came forward with two long-stemmed roses and placed them on the plate. After the playing of taps by Staff Sergeant Mikki Skinner, a bugler with the West Point Band, a tape of Sheppard was heard directing attention to the microphone behind the plate and the appearance of Derek Jeter. The captain gave a brief, poignant address about the legacy of the two larger than life figures.

“We gather here tonight to honor two men who were both shining stars in the Yankee universe. Both men, Mr. George Steinbrenner and Mr. Bob Sheppard, cared deeply about their responsibilities to this organization and to our fans, and for that, will forever be remembered in baseball history and in our hearts. 
“Simply put, Mr. Steinbrenner and Mr. Sheppard both left this organization in a much better place than when they first arrived. They’ve set the example for all employees of the New York Yankees to strive to follow. 
“So now I ask everyone to join us in a moment of silence.”

Jeter’s role as team spokesman has been firmly established at times like these. Think of his eloquence the day of the last regular-season game at the old Stadium in September 2008. He has a sense of the moment that is fitting for such occasions.

After Jeter’s speech, United States Army Sergeant First Class Mary Kay Messenger delivered a rousing rendition of the Star Spangled Banner that the patriotic Boss would have applauded.

Paul Olden, Sheppard’s successor, read the starting lineups of the Rays and the Yankees, then told the crowd that in Sheppard’s honor there would be no more announcements during the game. A camera shot of the empty chair in the PA announcer’s booth was displayed on the screen.

The bleacher creatures got into the spirit of the evening and refrained from shouting out the roll call of the Yankees in the field that has become a first-inning ritual the past decade and a half or so. The lack of noise actually allowed fans the opportunity to speak among one another between pitches, which Sheppard surely would have enjoyed.

Another skip for Javy?

Might the Yankees skip Javier Vazquez in the rotation again? It is a possibility, but whether it is a probability is up to the powers that be, general manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi, and I am not here to question them, only to point to that possibility.

The Yankees avoided starting Vazquez, who has struggled in his return season to the Bronx, against the Red Sox last Friday night and could choose to do so again. As it stands now with Sergio Mitre making a spot start Sunday against the Twins, Vazquez is in turn to be on the Yankee Stadium mound Monday night against the Red Sox.

The last time Javy was in a Yankees uniform facing the Bosox at the (old) Stadium didn’t exactly work out too well. Ask Johnny Damon. Granted, that was 2004, but, well, you get the idea.

If the Yankees continue to be careful about Vazquez, which they have already displayed, they could skip him again and go with Phil Hughes Monday night and CC Sabathia Tuesday night against the Red Sox. The rainout Tuesday in Detroit pushed the starting pitchers back one day with Girardi only needing a spot guy this Sunday.

However, if Vazquez is to start against the Mets next weekend at Citi Field, he would have to start Tuesday night, which would be against the Red Sox. That would allow him to start Sunday night against the Mets on ESPN. Hmm, maybe that’s not a good idea.

Ideally, the Yankees wanted Vazquez to pitch Friday night in Flushing against a National League team in a National League park. Vazquez has a career of success in the National League, which the Yankees well know. But for him to be able to start Friday night, Vazquez would have to be skipped entirely in the prior series against the Red Sox and Rays. The Yankees could go with A.J. Burnett Wednesday night and Andy Pettitte Thursday night against Tampa Bay on regular rest and tee it up for Vazquez Friday at Citi.

Also, by keeping Vazquez on this schedule, it would allow him to make four more starts against NL clubs next month when the Yankees have inter-league series against the Astros, Phillies, Mets, Diamondbacks and Dodgers.

This is all speculation, of course, but food for thought. Vazquez did himself some good Wednesday night against the Tigers (two earned runs, five hits, two walks, seven strikeouts in seven innings), but he was still the losing pitcher. He may have come away with an “atta-boy” but little else, so it is not out of the question that the Yankees just may spare Vazquez another pairing with the Red Sox or Rays and steer him toward a heavily National League schedule.

No Bosox or Rays for Javy

Yankees manager Joe Girardi pushed back Javier Vazquez another day in the rotation, thereby guaranteeing that the struggling righthander will not have to face the Red Sox or the Rays over the next two weeks. Vazquez (1-3, 9.78 ERA) was originally slated to start Friday night at Fenway Park but was pushed back to Monday night at Detroit, which would have allowed Andy Pettitte, Tuesday night’s starter, an extra day’s rest.

But with Pettitte now being held back one turn in the rotation due to left elbow inflammation, Girardi decided to start Sergio Mitre Monday night at Comerica Park, the Tigers’ first home game since the death of legendary radio voice Ernie Harwell, and go with Vazquez Tuesday night.

What that does essentially is to keep Vazquez away from the Red Sox and the Rays when both come  into Yankee Stadium for two-game series May 17-20. Following his start Tuesday night, Vazquez would next start May 16 at the Stadium against the Twins and after that would open the inter-league series against the Mets May 21 at Citi Field, a National League opponent for a pitcher whose success in that circuit has been noted.

Pettitte, by the way, was not pleased with being passed over in the rotation. Remember what Girardi said this week about managing his veterans’ competitive natures? Well, Pettitte showed it off in Boston. The lefthander said he felt better and would have preferred working on the side to show he was ready to start in Detroit. General manager Brian Cashman made it clear after Pettitte’s MRI revealed inflammation that the Yankees would precede with caution with a 38-year-old.

Catcher Jorge Posada (right calf strain) remained out of the lineup. The Red Sox also sat down regular catcher Victor Martinez in favor of Jason Varitek, who has regularly worked with Boston starter Josh Beckett.

Javy pushed back

As expected, Yankees pitcher Javier Vazquez will be skipped over in the rotation during the upcoming weekend series at Boston. Instead of throwing the struggling Vazquez (1-3, 9.78 ERA) to the ornery crowd at Fenway Park, Yankees manager Joe Girardi decided to keep him out of the rotation until Monday when the Yankees begin a four-game series at Detroit.

Vazquez’s next turn in the rotation was to have been Friday night. Thursday’s open date afforded Girardi the option of holding Vazquez back from the Red Sox. That, the manager said, was more the reason for skipping Vazquez than the opponent.

Nevertheless, the move is an acknowledgment that the Yankees believe a great part of Vazquez’s problem is mental rather than physical. Clearly, the Yankees are concerned about Vazquez’s fragile psyche at this point.

“I believe he’s healthy,” Girardi said in response to queries about Vazquez’s arm condition, not his mental state. Remember, Vazquez hid a shoulder injury from the Yankees in the second half of the 2004 season.

Obviously, Girardi knows more about his personnel than I do. I have always deferred to the coaching staff of every team I have covered because they are the pros who have spent a lifetime in their jobs with experience in all aspects of the game.

That said, I take slight issue with this move. Since the starters other than Vazquez are pitching very well (12-1, 2.34 ERA combined), why not keep pitching him regularly to work out the kinks? Frankly, the other starters have been so effective that the Yankees can afford to bring Vazquez along slowly.

The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry has a life of its own, of course, and Friday night would have been a less than ideal setting for a besieged pitcher. But look at it is this way. If Vazquez pitched poorly, it would have been just another lousy outing. If he pitched well, it would have been a great boon to his damaged confidence. I think it would be worse for him to have a bad game in Detroit Monday than in Boston Friday.

Let’s just hope that Girardi’s way is right, that the two extended bullpen sessions does a world of good for Vazquez. His being pushed back to Monday allows Girardi to use Phil Hughes, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett on normal rest and give Andy Pettitte, 38, an extra day before he starts Tuesday night at Comerica Park.

One more item about Vazquez: John Harper in the New York Daily News Monday suggested it would be a good idea if the Yankees traded him to the Mets so he could return to the National League where he has had much more success. Harp is an old friend and a terrific writer, but this would never happen. There is simply no way the Yankees would send Vazquez across the East River and give the Mets a chance to say they straightened out a pitcher that the Yankees could not. Girardi and Yankees general manager Brian Cashman want Vazquez to be a hit in the Bronx and are not ready to give up.

Yankees haters, where are you?

How about this, Yankees fans, your favorite team is not the most hated franchise in baseball. Yankees fans get worn out listening to people elsewhere, including certain parts of New York, complain about the Bombers and their free-spending ways that have built the most successful club in baseball’s history. Yankees haters are so far and wide that is absolutely stunning to find out that a recent survey found that the Yankees are not No. 1 on the can’t-stand list.

According to a report by the Nielsen Company, the folks who have done the television ratings for years, the most despised baseball franchise in North America is – drum roll please – the Cleveland Indians. The Indians? That club in that wonderful ballpark along the banks of Lake Erie? Who answered this survey? All those politically-correct types who want Chief Wahoo removed from the Tribe’s caps and uniforms?

The Nielson “formula,” as it was called, was based on determining whether consumers have positive, negative or neutral reactions to brands in their online messages. And, get this, the Yankees weren’t even runners-up. That distinction went to their rival Boston Red Sox. In fact, the Yankees were no higher than fifth on the hate list behind third-place Cincinnati and fourth-place Houston. The survey was tough on Buckeyes as both Ohio clubs were in the top four of despised franchises.

Just for the record, the two most popular clubs in the survey were the San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics. Break up the Bay Area?

Red Sox Nation Stagnating

Yankees fans should be forgiven if they feel like gloating over the early struggles by the Red Sox. After all, didn’t everyone in Red Sox Nation bask in the euphoria of the Yankees’ rugged starts the previous two years?

Yankees fans surely remember those days. In 2008, the only year since 1995 that they failed to reach post-season play, the Yankees didn’t get to the .500 level until June 11. They then went on a seven-game winning streak to stay above par the rest of the season, but their 89-73 record at season’s end failed to qualify them for the Big Dance.

Last year, the Yankees opened the season with Alex Rodriguez on the disabled list recovering from hip surgery and were 13-15 when he returned May 8 with a first-pitch home run in Baltimore. The Yankees won 11 of their first 13 games with A-Rod in the lineup and never looked back.

Say this for Red Sox players. They did not go overboard about that 8-0 run against the Yankees in the early going a year ago. More than a few pointed out the Yankees were not complete without A-Rod, and those Red Sox players were proved correct when the Yankees won nine of the teams’ last 10 games against each other.

Red Sox Nation, however, did not want to hear any of that stuff early on. Their organization was on the rise and, in their minds, the Yankees were getting old and staid. But one of the major differences in the intense rivalry between the two teams is that Red Sox Nation is much more concerned about the Yankees than Yankees Universe is concerned about the Red Sox. For example, it is not uncommon during a lull in a Celtics or Bruins game for some Boston throat to shout out of nowhere, “Yankees Suck!” Yet have you ever heard anyone yell “Red Sox Suck!” at Madison Square Garden.

Yankees fans care about what is going on with the Yankees, period. That the Red Sox are in a funk and needed minor-league callup Darnell McDonald to save their bacon Tuesday night is something for Red Sox Nation to stew over, not Yankees Universe. Still, Yankees fans can’t help enjoying not seeing the Red Sox on the radar for a change.