September 2009

Royals vs. Yankees: 9/30/2009

yankees.jpgYANKEES (102-56)
Derek Jeter SS
Johnny Damon LF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Hideki Matsui DH
Jorge Posada C
Robinson Cano 2B
Nick Swisher RF
Melky Cabrera CF

Pitching: Joba Chamberlain (9-6, 4.72)

royals.jpgROYALS (64-94)
Mitch Maier LF
Tug Hulett 2B
Billy Butler 1B
Brayan Pena DH
Alberto Callaspo 3B
Mark Teahen RF
John Buck C
Yuniesky Betancourt SS
Josh Anderson CF

Pitching: Robinson Tejeda (4-2, 3.41)

Burnett sharpening mental edge

burnett_275_093009.jpgBy Jon Lane
Earlier this week I had a discussion with both a mentor and a friend, and also a big Yankees fan. While handicapping the Yankees’ postseason chances, the ultimate wild card came up in the conversation, A.J. Burnett.

The right-hander’s stuff is electric. He knows it. We know it. Everyone who plays with him, and those who pay big money to watch him, knows it. Yet during the season, and throughout his career, there’s been “The Good A.J.” and “The Bad A.J.” Some starts he’s won by guile over talent, but for the most part there’s been no middle ground. He’s either really, really good, or really, really bad.

My friend, let’s call him R.J., brought up a valid point. Burnett spent Monday in Arkansas to be his father, Bill, who underwent triple-bypass heart surgery. R.J. believed this had to be weighing heavily on his mind for a couple of months. All of us have spent the season breaking down Burnett’s inconsistencies. From May 27-July 27, he was 8-2 with a
2.08 ERA, allowing three runs or less in each of his 11 starts. His next seven starts (August 1-September 1), he went 0-4, 6.54. There were those who deduced the pressure of a pennant race, combined with New York’s ridiculous expectations, were getting to him.

He’s never pitched in the postseason, but Burnett’s delivered in big spots before (see his one-hitter against the Red Sox August 7). He’s never hid from the media, made excuses or blamed Jorge Posada – when everyone was bracing and salivating for a tasty feud – no matter how big of a stinker he produced. Lose or win, Burnett, even when he used the worn “One game at a time” cliche, was always analytical. What he said made sense. His words resonated that the philosophy was much more than a cliche. It was a belief system, or what Pat Riley wrote in his book, The Winner Within a Core Covenant.

Collectively, the Yankees obeyed the code and it won them the AL East and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. To play deep into October, Burnett will have to dig deeper, and so far, so good. He held the Royals to an earned run on three hits in 6 1/3 innings with three walks and eight strikeouts Tuesday night. A big reason was that old “one pitch at a time” attitude, but again, Burnett has a way of explaining it so that you’re not rolling your eyes at some boring team speak. 

“There’s times in the year where I made pitches, they’ve gotten hits and I’ve gotten really aggravated and let little things bother me,” Burnett said. “Now, I’m pushing it aside. Instead of, ‘Why did I do that?’ it’s ‘OK, now don’t do it again.’ There’s a lot of different thinking out there and it’s paid off.”

There’s an ongoing debate that will continue probably until the Twins and Tigers decide the AL Central: Who will start Game 2 of the Division Series? Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News breaks down the splits between Burnett and, the chic choice, Andy Pettitte. You can also vote on YESNetwork.com’s home page. As of this writing, Burnett has earned 55 percent of your votes.

Based on his track record alone, I’d go with Pettitte (14-9, 3.96 in 35 postseason starts) and Joe Torre’s go-to guy in Game 2. That has neither to do with performance –  Burnett has a 1.89 ERA over his last three outings, giving up four earned runs on 17 hits and nine walks over 19 innings, striking out 25 batters – nor fear of the unknown. Burnett won’t melt under the October lights; that August night under a postseason atmosphere he one-hit Boston over 7 2/3 innings and left with the game scoreless only because Josh Beckett was just as awesome. 

“A lot of times, people say, ‘He has no playoff experience,’ then guys go out that have no playoff experience and play extremely well,” said Joe Girardi. “We have expectations of him. There are a lot of games that you pitch that have playoff implications or playoff atmosphere that we play in during the course of the year, and some of those games, he’s pitched really well.

“Everyone is different. Until that person goes through it you really don’t know.”

Burnett knows why he was brought here. He knows what will be at stake – “The prize is next month,” Girardi told him – and what he has to do. It’ll be pass or fail for the right-hander, and not because he’ll fold mentally.

“As long as I’m clear upstairs I’m ready,” said Burnett. “The past couple of weeks have been a real important stretch for me.”

The next few will be, next to precious time spent with his father, the most important of his life. No explanations will be necessary.

Royals vs. Yankees: 9/29/2009

yankees.jpgYANKEES (101-56)
Derek Jeter SS
Johnny Damon LF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Hideki Matsui DH
Nick Swisher RF
Brett Gardner CF
Jose Molina C
Ramiro Pena 2B

Pitching: A.J. Burnett (12-9, 4.19)

royals.jpgROYALS (64-93)
Mitch Maier LF
Yuniesky Betancourt SS
Billy Butler 1B
Mike Jacobs DH
Alberto Callaspo 2B
Mark Teahen RF
John Buck C
Alex Gordon 3B
Josh Anderson CF

Pitching: Anthony Lerew (0-1, 3.86)

Royals vs. Yankees: 9/28/2009

yankees.jpgYANKEES (100-56)
Brett Gardner CF
Melky Cabrera LF
Robinson Cano 2B
Jorge Posada DH
Eric Hinske 3B
Shelley Duncan RF
Juan Miranda 1B
Francisco Cervelli C
Ramiro Pena SS

Pitching: Chad Gaudin (1-0, 3.71)

royals.jpgROYALS (64-92)
Mitch Maier LF
Yuniesky Betancourt SS
Billy Butler 1B
Mike Jacobs DH
Alberto Callaspo 2B
Mark Teahen RF
Joe Olivo C
Alex Gordon 3B
Josh Anderson CF

Pitching: Luke Hochevar (7-11, 5.98)

Thanks to Joe Auriemma for calling in the lineup. As you can see, the Yankees are being very meticulous with giving their veteran players a rest, most especially Alex Rodriguez and his hip. Figure tomorrow you’ll see Shelley Duncan and Freddy Guzman receive some PT.
– Jon Lane

Now for an opponent

By Jon Lane
What to watch for this week:

? Yankees games meaningless only to the standings. The AL East may be wrapped up, but Joe Girardi will be resting regular players (read: Alex Rodriguez) while evaluating who may grab the last couple of ALDS roster spots (read: Brian Bruney, Freddy Guzman). Peter Abraham had a funny line looking ahead to who may comprise tonight’s batting order: The Hangover Special.

? Whether Mark Teixeira can become AL home run champion. Teixeira’s 38 home runs are one behind leader Carlos Pena, out for the season with a broken hand.

? One last chance for Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Joe Mauer to convince voters they deserve to be AL MVP.

? CC Sabathia’s first and only shot at his first 20-win season (he’s a two-time 19-game winner) Friday night against the Rays in St. Petersburg. Sabathia is a top contender for the Cy Young, though Royals ace Zack Greinke may have sealed it after holding the Twins to a run over seven innings on Sunday. In five September starts (Twins, Red Sox, Tigers, Indians and Angels), Greinke has allowed three runs (two earned) in 33 innings.

(Before I get to the Twins, allow me to digress. From this person’s point of view, Mariano Rivera belongs in the Cy Young conversation and deserves a place in the top three. His 44 saves are his most since 2004 [53]. He has two blown saves and allowed only two runs since June. There’s Jeter, Teixeira and Sabathia, but where are the Yankees without Rivera? Would there have ever been that last dynasty if not for Rivera?)

? Twins vs. Tigers in a four-game set that will likely decide the AL Central champion and the Yankees’ ALDS opponent. Three weeks ago, the Tigers had a seven-game lead. That’s down to two with Detroit on an 8-11 skid and Minnesota on its typical late-season surge (11-2). The Twins are also winners of nine out of 14 against the Tigers this season.

Let’s rewind to 2006: The Tigers led the Central by 10 1/2 games on August 7. The Twins won the title on the final day of the season while the Tigers settled for the Wild Card. Minnesota was swept by Oakland in the ALDS. Detroit dropped Game 1 of the DS to the Yankees before winning their next seven to capture the AL pennant. Go figure.

Nick Blackburn opposes Rick Porcello tonight at Comerica Park. It’s Brian Duensing against Justin Verlander Tuesday, Carl Pavano (yes, him) against Eddie Bonine Wednesday, and Scott Baker and Nate Robertson conclude the set on Thursday. Something tells me it’ll be Twins vs. Yankees next week. What do you think?

Starting lineups: 9/27/09

RED SOX

Ellsbury CF
Pedroia 2B
Bay LF
Youkilis 1B
Ortiz DH
Lowell 3B
Drew RF
Varitek C
Gonzalez SS

Byrd P

YANKEES

Jeter SS
Gardner CF
Texeira 1B
Rodriguez 3B
Matsui DH
Swisher RF
Cano 2B
Cabrera LF
Molina C

Pettitte P

Starting lineups 9/26/09

RED SOX (91-62)
Ellsbury CF
Pedroia 2B
Martinez C
Youkilis 1B
Lowell 3B
Ortiz DH
Baldelli RF
Lowrie SS
Anderson LF

Pitching: Daisuke Matsuzaka (3-5, 6.80)

YANKEES (98-56)
Jeter SS
Damon LF
Teixeira 1B
Rodriguez 3B
Matsui DH
Swisher RF
Cano 2B
Cabrera CF
Molina C

Pitching: CC Sabathia (18-7, 3.31)

Learning and maturing

By Jon Lane
Learning. Maturing. Those were the operative words that came out of Joba Chamberlain’s start Friday night. In holding the Red Sox to three runs on five hits in six innings he earned his first win since August 6 against Boston, snapped an eight-start winless stretch and trimmed the Yankees’ magic number to three.

Best of all, he looked at himself in the mirror and accepted responsibility. In no uncertain terms, Joe Girardi and his coaches told Chamberlain, time to grow up. And when Chamberlain’s night was over, pitching coach Dave Eiland told him in the dugout, good job, great attack and remember what this feels like. For good measure, Chamberlain was awarded the WWE Championship belt as Yankees Player of the Game as decided on by his teammates.

“There comes a point in your career where you look at yourself in the mirror,” Chamberlain said. “I needed to do that.

“As a man you take a challenge and you do two things with it. You either step up or you run away from it. I’ve
never ran away from anything in my life and I’m not going to start now.
It’s going to take a lot more than a couple of bad starts to get me out
of my rhythm. When you have a coach like that who tells you like it is,
not only as a coach but as a person, it’s really gratifying.”

Another encouraging sign: Chamberlain’s rapport with Jorge Posada. The two were in sync to where Chamberlain believed it was the best connection had all season.

“It’s pretty easy when Georgie is on the same page with me,” Chamberlain said. “That’s probably the best we’ve been, on the same page, in a few starts. When you’re on the mound and you what he’s going to call, and he knows what you want, it’s pretty easy to stay in that rhythm. You keep your teammates in the game.”

Girardi wouldn’t formally commit to a playoff spot, or anything beyond Wednesday when Chamberlain makes his final start of the regular season. Perceptions change in this city faster than blinks of an eye, but bet on Chamberlain playing a big role in the playoffs, bigger that than of Chad Gaudin. Gaudin may be a reliable arm, but Chamberlain is a future franchise pitcher. It’s time for him to earn his stars and stripes.

“It’s an important time of year and we told him we needed him to step up,” Girardi said. “He did tonight. We told him we know he’s capable of pitching better and we need him do it.”

When he gets that chance, the handcuffs are off. There won’t be any finite number to fret about.

“That’s all over with,” Chamberlain said.

_______________________

A few quick notes before wrapping up.

? Jon Lester, day-to-day with a right quad bruise, wants to make his next start. Terry Francona tends to agree, but is still proceeding with caution.

“When it first happened, it sounded and looked terrible,” Francona said. “He got X-rays done and they came back clean. He actually might be right on turn for his next start, but we’ll see how he feels and figure out the right thing to do.”

My two cents: Rest that knee and fine-tune him for Game 1 of the ALDS in Anaheim.

? The Yankees’ seven stolen bases was their most since swiping eight on June 2, 1996.

? The Red Sox must hate playing at Yankee Stadium. They’ve been outscored 34-13 their last five games here.

All eyes on Joba

By Jon Lane
A bit of a late start for yours truly but ready to go minutes before first pitch. On the surface, the Yankees and Red Sox have little to play for. Between the lines, there’s still plenty at stake, writes Steven Goldman. And try telling Joba Chamberlain tonight’s game doesn’t mean anything. We’ll get a good idea what he’s made of, and if takes out any anger and embarrassment by punishing the Red Sox. A message will be delivered, both to opponent and employers.

Back with much more as the night progresses.

7:15 p.m. Side retired on 13 pitches – two ground-ball outs and a flyout to center. No fuss, no wasted effort. It’s early but a very good sign.

7:22 p.m. Joe Girardi was animated and passionate in his defense of Joba’s innings limitations and why it was in the Yankees’ best interest. Without naming names, Fausto Carmona is one example of when some young arms – not all – are pushed too far too quickly.

“Everyone seems to have an idea of what’s best for Joba,” Girardi said. “Let’s not forget that he’s 23-24 years old and that this is first full season as a starter. This is a growing process. We knew that going into this year. I wouldn’t say his season has been horrible. You guys make it sound like, and I’m not accusing anybody, he’s 1-19 with a seven or eight ERA.”

Here’s the full interview.

7:28 p.m. A-Rod’s RBI single made it 1-0, Yankees. That was his 90th RBI in this, his 118th game of the season. Overall he’s .285-27-90. Considering the emotional trauma with his PED admission and overcoming hip surgery, that’s darn good. But certain questions will not go away until he delivers beginning in a little more than two weeks.

joba2_275_092509.jpg7:40 p.m. Good morning. Good afternoon. Good night, Jason Bay, who goes down swinging at an 88 MPH breaking ball. Joba’s got that look in his eye like he’s mad as hell and won’t take it anymore.

7:57 p.m. Joba after three: Nine up, nine down. Three strikeouts. 36 pitches/24 strikes.

8:03 p.m. Make it .287-28-92 for A-Rod as he hit one to the George Washington Bridge. Lester is getting pounded. This is what you don’t want out of your No. 1 starter in the ALDS.

8:12 p.m. Robinson Cano is 2-for-2 and two hits shy of 200 on the season. He and Derek Jeter will soon be the fifth pair of Yankees to each collect 200 in a single season (Lou Gehrig-Earle Combs; Gehrig-Joe DiMaggio; Bernie Williams-Jeter; Williams-Alfonso Soriano).

lester_275_092509.jpg8:16 p.m. Lester took a Melky Cabrera line drive off his right kneecap. He’s laying prone on the field being attended by the Red Sox medical staff. He left the field limping to a nice ovation. The game will be delayed for a bit because new Boston pitcher Hunter Jones will get all the time he needs to warm up.

The hit plated a run to give the Yankees a 4-0 lead.

8:34 p.m. Victor Martinez ends Chamberlain’s brief flirtation with perfection. His two-out solo shot in the fourth puts Boston on the board.

8:37 p.m. Calm, cool and collected Chamberlain shakes off a two-out single by getting David Ortiz to tap his first pitch back to him. Meanwhile, we’re still waiting for a report on Lester’s condition. Lester, by the way, allowed five earned runs in 2 1/3 IP, the most he’s given up since May 26.

8:50 p.m. X-Rays given to Lester were negative. He’s day-to-day with a contusion of right quad. This will be monitored, but it could have been a lot worse.

9:14 p.m. Breaking down Chamberlain’s fifth inning: Jason Bay single (7 pitches). J.D. Drew double (3). Jason Varitek pop up to third (1). Alex Gonzalez strike out (4). Jacoby Ellsbury ground out to first (2). Instead of imploding, Chamberlain quickly retired the No. 8 and 9 hitters and induced a .303 leadoff hitter to ground out. That’s answering your manager’s challenge.

9:32 p.m. David Ortiz goes yard and plates two with two out in what’s probably Chamberlain’s last inning. Nitpick about three runs allowed in six innings if that’s your thing, but Chamberlain needed to show some life and that’s what he did. He’s secured a Game 4 start in the ALCS (if the Yankees get there) from where I sit. He’ll work out of the bullpen during the DS when the Yankees take the extra off day and go with three starters. That’s when these Joba Rules you all love so much will be tossed into the Harlem River.

9:39 p.m. Great shot by YES’ cameras (the game’s on My9) of Dave Eiland talking to Chamberlain, Chamberlain listening and nodding intently, and Eiland ending the conversation with hands on both his shoulders and two slaps on his left one. If Andy Pettitte’s shoulder holds up, and Chamberlain and A.J. Burnett finish strong, the Yankees are fully loaded for October.

jeter_275_092509.jpg9:42 p.m. The Yankees’ six stolen bases tonight are a season high. They took a lot from that Angels series, didn’t they?

9:47 p.m. A-Rod has four RBIs and 93 on the season. Again, this is Game No. 118.

9:51 p.m. Mark Sanchez and Kerry Rhodes in the house. The 2-0 Jets host the Titans on Sunday. Even though Gang Green’s defense hasn’t allowed a touchdown yet, I’m taking Kimberly Jones’ advice and keeping Chris Johnson in my fantasy lineup.

10:16 p.m.
That stolen base count is now seven, two from Jeter. Talk about unveiling a new weapon.

10:37 p.m. It’s safe to say that Jonathan Albaladejo will not make the postseason roster.

10:46 p.m. Phil Hughes blows away Bay. It’s safe to say that Hughes will make the postseason roster.

Red Sox vs. Yankees: 9/25/2009 Lineups

yankees.jpgYANKEES (97-56)
Derek Jeter SS
Johnny Damon LF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Hideki Matsui DH
Jorge Posada C
Robinson Cano 2B
Nick Swisher RF
Melky Cabrera CF

Pitching: Joba Chamberlain (8-6, 4.73)

redsox.jpgRED SOX (91-61)
Jacoby Ellsbury CF
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Victor Marintez 1B
Kevin Youkilis 3B
David Ortiz DH
Jason Bay LF
J.D. Drew RF
Jason Varitek C
Alex Gonzalez SS

Pitching: Jon Lester (14-7, 3.33)