Results tagged ‘ Hideki Matsui ’

Off and running

By Jon Lane
The Hot Stove is fired up and it’ll be burning through this week’s General Managers meetings in Chicago and the Winter Meetings in Indianapolis. It’ll be re-fired after baseball takes a (scheduled) sabbatical for the Christmas holidays and keep you warm until pitchers and catchers report in February.

The biggest question on the minds of Yankees fans is the futures of Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Andy Pettitte. All three are free agents and in their mid-to-late 30s. At this point figure on Damon coming back. He was clutch in the ALCS and World Series at the plate – and especially on the base paths – and remains valuable as a slap hitter at the top of the lineup who can get on base.

Matsui is the toughest decision. Many believe he’s a goner, and logic dictates he will be unless he’d accept a workable one-year deal to be a part-time player; the Yankees have a strong desire to rotate the DH position with veteran players, namely Jorge Posada. But Matsui’s MVP performance in the World Series certainly changed that story a bit.

Pettitte’s plan was to take his time to contemplate one more year or retirement, but according to SI.com’s Jon Heyman, the left-hander told teammates he’d like to try again one more time. The starting five would be set right away (CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Pettitte, Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes) – assuming John Lackey doesn’t become the newest hired gun Yankees brass suddenly bails on their Joba the Starter plan. Either way, there will be depth entering Spring Training with ample time to evaluate if Chien-Ming Wang has anything left.

Felix Hernandez in pinstripes would look fantastic, wouldn’t it? Of course, Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik sees no reason why “King Felix” won’t pitch in Seattle for at least the next two seasons.

“He’s our property this year and next year, and we’re looking forward to him being part of the organization as we move forward,” Zduriencik told reporters at the GM meetings.

It would take a King’s Ransom for any team to acquire Hernandez, 23 years old and off a season in which he established career-highs in wins (19), innings pitched (238.2) and strikeouts (217), and a career-low in ERA (2.49). The M’s come off a surprising 85-win season and have to tools to compete in the AL West, so I don’t see Hernandez going anywhere, that is unless Nintendo of America cries poverty.

Besides, Brian Cashman is walking around chest out and chin up, body language that reads “I told you so.” Cashman took a lot of heat for not dealing for Johan Santana in 2007. People stopped talking about that a long time ago.

If you still care about the enemy – I know you do – Tim Wakefield and the Red Sox have finalized a new two-year contract, reports WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford. Meanwhile, while the Jason Varitek Era in Boston appears to be over, the BoSox are on Roy Halladay’s wish list if the Blue Jays decide to finally unload the right-hander.

Imagine CC Sabathia opposing Halladay April 5, 2010 at Fenway Park? The thought of that alone will keep you warm once the weather reaches the intolerable stage.

Ladies & gents, the Bronx and Toyko are partying

matsui_350.jpgBy Jon Lane
So much ground to cover. I’ll have a mixed bag in this space later with my feature on Hideki Matsui’s Reggiesque performance in Game 2. This image from the AP shows people watching a TV at the Yamada Denki discount store in Tokyo and their national hero, Matsui, become the first Japanese-born player to be named World Series Most Valuable Player after hitting a record six RBIs.

Assistant general manager Jean Afterman, instrumental in bringing Matsui to the Yankees in 2003, had some great perspective on a physically-challenging season that culminated in him being named Series MVP.

Nick Swisher, at his frat boy best, put it to us this way: “MATSU! They’re partying in Tokyo tonight! He deserved that MVP trophy. There’s no doubt about it.”

Five more years?
Mariano Rivera is serious. Entering the final year of his contract, Rivera believes he can play five more years. He turns 40 years old later this month.

“I’m serious and hope the organization will do whatever it takes to bring me back,” Rivera said. “Whatever happens, happens.”

You go ahead and try to stop him. Rivera threw 41 pitches in the final 1 2/3 innings to lower his career World Series ERA to 0.99. He has 11 World Series saves and 39 in the playoffs for his career. Oh yeah, in the regular season he converted 44 out of 46 save opportunities and posted a 1.76 ERA.

“There’s nothing Mariano can’t do,” said Alex Rodriguez. “He’s Superman. All I was thinking enough today was give Pettitte enough of a cushion to get Mo in the game. Once Mo was in the game I felt like we could bring this home.”

Unprecedented
One season removed from missing the playoffs, the Yankees won World Championship No. 27 and their first in nine years, an eternity in these parts. They are the second team this decade to win two world titles (Red Sox in 2004 and 2007).

“When you win, especially the way that we won, having to overcome a lot of adversity, and winning it for the city of New York, it’s tremendous, really special,” Rivera said. “It tells you how hard it is. We didn’t make the playoffs last year. This year we gave everything we had.”

This one was for the Boss
Yankee Stadium’s huge Diamond Vision touted World Championship No. 27 with the inscription, “Boss, this is for you.”

Team president Randy Levine said that Hal Steinbrenner spoke to his father, principal owner George Steinbrenner, after the celebration. Hank Steinbrenner relayed the Boss’ emotions while he watched No. 27 unfold on television from Tampa.

“He’s very happy,” Hank Steinbrenner said. “This one was big for him and more emotional than the others probably. We knew they had character. We knew they had makeup. Since the first day we all thought that. So to us they were no-brainers.”

Under Steinbrenner’s ownership (he took over the team in 1973), the Yankees have won seven World Series.

In select company
Joe Girardi is the first manager to play for and manage the same team to win a World Championship since Billy Martin in 1977.

“The joy is the same, but it’s a different type of joy,” Girardi said. “As a player it’s what you dream about ever since you were a little boy. As a manager you still have that joy, but the joy is for other people because you know as a player what it takes to win a championship.”

Crazy scene on the field (it’s 3:11 a.m. as I write this). Yankees employees are running the bases and whooping it up. The rest of New York can join in on Friday when the parade down the Canyon of Heroes begins at 11 a.m.

The old lady across the street

stadium_360.jpgBy Jon Lane
She spoke and people listened for 85 years. She’s dark and empty, and soon will no longer be with us, yet she still speaks with conviction.

I heard her voice stuck in traffic on the Major Deegan, on the exit ramp and emerging from the parking garage. It was then she said it: “They’re taking it tonight.”

Yankees in 6. The new place is quiet at the moment, but the buzz is palpable. It doesn’t guarantee winning or losing, but fate and karma has played huge role in the Yankees’ 2009 regular season. The old lady is demanding she be heard one last time.

_______________________

Joe Girardi is meeting the media in five minutes. Figure on him announcing the lineups – Nick Swisher or Jerry Hairston Jr. in right field is the only suspense – along with sharing more thoughts about being in position to win it all and answering for the thousandth time why he’s starting Andy Pettitte on three days’ rest and how long Mariano Rivera can go.

UPDATE: Swisher is in right. Girardi’s been fielding questions on going with his season-long starter, clinching at home, Mark Teixeira’s slump and A.J. Burnett’s availability (yes in an emergency).

On the iPod en route to the Bronx: A block of Judas Priest, the ideal band to get you pumped up. Now playing: Tommy Bolin’s “Wild Dogs,” another great tune to get one in the zone.

Back with a whole lot more later.

4:42 p.m. Quick hits from Girardi’s pregame press conference:

On the chance to win a World Series at home:

I think any time you get a chance to close it out in front of your own fans, it’s special, especially being the first year at the Stadium and what it would mean to the Steinbrenner family and the Yankee organization and all the people of New York. I’ve been on championship teams where we’ve won it at home and where we’ve won it on the road. And it seems to be a little bit louder and crazier when you do it at home.

On the decision to start Swisher over Hairston
“Swish has been our everyday right fielder. We thought it was important that Swish just sit down for a day. His at bats have been very good since we sat him down. We don’t always look at how many hits you get. We look at the at bats, and does the hit the ball hard, and does he square ball up and is he seeing pitches? That’s what we look at.

“Swish has been our everyday right fielder, and that’s what we’re doing.”

On being second-guessed:
“Well, as far as that, that pretty much happens a lot year in New York during the regular season, as well, so you get kind of used to it.

“The interesting thing about what people were calling second guessing that I’ve always thought is curious is they don’t know if their idea would have worked. Everyone makes the assumption that it would have worked. We base our decisions on a lot of preparation, a lot of discussion. We don’t do anything where we just pull something off the wall and with the intent of it working.

“The one thing about baseball and in life, every decision is not going to go according to plan, and you have to deal with it and you have to answer for it, and you understand that here.”

On the Yankees’ Core Four:
“They understand the moment, they know how to handle the moment. They’ve been through it and can share their experiences with others. They know that they’re not going to be fazed by the situation because they’ve been through it so many times together. So I mean, we like having that. And I’m sure they like having what they went through last year together as a club.

“Experience is important.”

7:36 p.m. Settled into my spot in Section 405. No pregame news to discuss. Let’s face it, the talking is over and everyone is psyched for first pitch. Just now I heard the first chants of “Who’s your daddy?” (and that’s old and weathered, too). While paying for dinner at the NY Grill, Margaret the cashier was wearing her collection of World Championship pins. I asked if she has room for a new one if it comes down to it. She said her guy has one ready and waiting, just for her.

7:50 p.m. Mary J. Blige gave a beautiful rendition of our national anthem before Scott Brosius threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

7:58 p.m. Andy Pettitte’s first pitch is a ball to Jimmy Rollins. The game-time temperature is 47 degrees.

8:02 p.m. Great start for Pettitte. He needed eight pitches to retire the Phillies after getting the red-hot Chase Utley to ground into a double play. Right now the Stadium is playing a highlight montage to Metallica’s “Seek and Destroy.” It’s their best one yet.

8:24 p.m. Another good inning for Pettitte. It got slightly hairy when he threw a wild pitch to Pedro Feliz with two out that advanced Jayson Werth to second base. Feliz popped the next pitch behind home plate where Jorge Posada made the catch.

Pedro Martinez looked sharp early too. Wishful thinking suggested the Yankees pound him early, but you know he’s not going down without a fight.

matsui_200_110409.jpg8:34 p.m. Godzilla goes boom! 2-0, Yankees off Hideki Matsui’s third homer of the 2009 World Series, fourth of this postseason and 10th of his career. The joint is jumping. Pedro’s hearing it now.

Matsui’s World Series numbers so far: .600, 4 HR, 9 RBIs. The Yankees want to free up the DH spot, but it’s going to be very tough to not re-sign him.

8:39 p.m. 2-0, Yankees after two. There’s a long, long way to go, but Pettitte is a guy you feel comfortable with protecting a lead.

8:48 p.m. Well, Carlos Ruiz tripled and scored on Jimmy Rollins’ sacrifice fly. It could have been a lot worse. To reiterate, there’s a long, long way to go.

9:10 p.m.
Two more runs plated by Matsui, now .636-4-11 in the World Series. This was bigger than his home run because it came with two out and after A-Rod was caught looking. Godzilla is making a serious case for both Series MVP – despite not starting three games – and to play in the Bronx for another season.

Pedro, by the way, has thrown 62 pitches. His night may be over. Jerry Hairston Jr. meanwhile, is now in left. Uh-oh.

Memo to Pettitte: You have a three-run lead. Do what you do.

9:17 p.m. Damon has a strained right calf. He probably did it coming home to score.

9:24 p.m. Pettitte works out of trouble again. He’s been walking a tightrope and is at 62 pitches after four innings. I’m wondering more and more whether Girardi will deploy Rivera in the seventh.The lefty was livid with plate umpire Joe West, BTW. West’s strike zone is tight enough. Probably not the best idea to tick him off.

9:43 p.m. Yankees ahead 4-1 going into the bottom of the fifth. Anticipation reached another level when Pettitte retired Jimmy Rollins on an inning-ending double play. He has enough for two more innings to get it to Rivera.

9:48 p.m. Tex breaks through with an RBI single. 5-1, Yankees. Fans starting to smell it, but still a ways to go.

9:57 p.m. Matsui – again. That’s six RBIs and for the first time I felt this place shake. He’s tied a World Series record (Bobby Richardson, Oct. 8, 1960, Game 3 WS).

10:10 p.m. Fans chanting “Andy Pettitte!” Nice touch. Who knows what his future will be if the Yankees seal it?

10:11 p.m. The beast has awakened. Ryan Howard’s two-run homer makes it 7-3. Yogi is a genius.

10:14 p.m. Raul Ibanez’s double ends Pettitte’s night. The lefty sprinted to the dugout and tipped his cap. It’s Joba time with two out in the sixth.

10:19 p.m. Joba cleans up. Nine outs to go, three to get to Rivera. I don’t care if the Yankees blast J.A. Happ to make it 10-3. Lock it down.

10:47 p.m. Not Joba Version 2007, but he gets two outs. Girardi doing anything and everything to give Rivera a lead in the eighth, which means Damaso Marte is in to face Chase Utley with two on. Marte’s been flawless since Game 2 of the Division Series, but still hold your breath.

10:50 p.m. Good morning. Good afternoon. Good night. Marte does his job. Six Mariano Rivera outs to go.

katehudson_350.jpg10:54 p.m Game 6 attendance: 50,315 – including Kate Hudson. A new Yankee Stadium high.

11:06 p.m. Godzilla is human, yet if he doesn’t bat again he’ll finish with a .615 batting average in the 2009 World Series. That is insane.

11:10 p.m. Marte will pitch to Howard to open the eighth before Rivera opens for business. Makes sense.

11:14 p.m. Give Marte a ton of credit. He was an afterthought for much of the season after starting poorly and landing on the DL. He whiffs Howard (13 Ks in the WS) and gets a nice ovation. Five outs to go and the place is going nuts for Rivera. I’m headed downstairs to get in postseason position.

11:25 p.m. Three to go.

1:45 a.m. Finally back from the crazy party in the clubhouse. A TON of ground to cover. The old lady had her say.

The Burnett debate

By Jon Lane
It’s one more and done for the Yankees, who can accomplish the mission that’s been on Joe Girardi’s back as soon as tonight. I haven’t been in Philadelphia, but Chris Shearn, Joe Auriemma and Kim Jones have done a nice job keeping you plugged in. The crew – along with My YES – are in Philly one more night to either help celebrate a coronation or meet me in the Bronx for Game 6 Wednesday night.

There’s been debate on whether Joe Girardi made the right decision by going with A.J. Burnett tonight in Game 5 on three days’ rest, instead of Chad Gaudin with a 3-1 series lead and the luxury of having a fully-rested Burnett for Game 6 and Andy Pettitte for Game 7 if needed.

This afternoon on WFAN, Mike Francesa said he was against the idea and suggested Gaudin be the guy who gets the ball, telling his audience that Girardi’s message must be, “Hey this is a free game, just have fun,” while adding that Burnett ought to be sent back to New York tonight.

Fans have a problem with that, and they’re right.

Here’s my problem, besides telling Burnett, go home and miss out on a potential World Championship celebration with your teammates. Gaudin hasn’t pitched since working a mop-up inning October 20. He last started a game September 28, pitching 6 2/3 innings of an 8-2 win over the Royals. He’s pitched well since becoming a Yankee (2-0, 3.43 ERA in 11 games, six starts), but before that went 4-10, 5.13 for the Padres and owns a career record of 34-35, 4.50.

Let’s see, Gaudin is someone who you want to trust with a potential World Series-clinching game, especially one who isn’t fully stretched out, over someone you’re paying $82 million, who electrified New York with seven superlative innings in Game 2?

Here’s why you go with Burnett, and (if needed) Pettitte and CC Sabathia all on short rest:

? In four career previous starts on short rest – none in the postseason – Burnett is 4-0 with a 2.33 ERA.

? Jose Molina will likely catch with Jorge Posada on the bench, which means a Yankees lineup without Posada and Hideki Matsui will have to break through against Cliff Lee. Not ideal, but the battery isn’t broken, so don’t break it. Besides, Posada won’t be sitting the entire game, not by a longshot.

? Phillies closer Brad Lidge pitched for the first time in 10 days in a pressurized spot in Game 4. No further explanations are necessary.

? Still worried about Burnett crashing emotionally? If he bombs tonight it won’t be because he imploded. It’ll be because his location is terrible, and Philly’s prolific boppers will awaken and pounce on it. And from where I sit, Burnett’s been at his best when everyone has bet against him.

? Burnett, Pettitte, Sabathia and the rest of the Yankees will have all winter to rest. This is the World Series and in this case you don’t worry about Game 6 unless you have to. You defeat or get beat with your best.

Business as usual

By Jon Lane
The Yankees down a game after Cliff Lee turned out their lights, what did Joe Girardi tell them before Game 2?

Nothing. He didn’t need to.

“Our club ha been resilient all year,” Girardi said. “The one thing that we’ve been able to do is we’ve went through some tough losses and we’ve seemed to bounce back. It was just business as usual for us today.”

The usual business came in the form of big hits from Mark Teixeira and Hideki Matsui. Ahead in the count, Pedro Martinez threw two curveballs. One was low and outside, and Matsui made the adjustment and put a good swing on it.

Two Matsui-related decisions, one immediate, the other in the offseason. Without the DH, the Yankees will have to determine if they want to put Matsui and his balky knees in the outfield, where Matsui said he’s confident he can handle a full workload. After the season, the major question is whether the pending free agent will return for another year in the Bronx.

Matsui was asked if he stops to look around extra carefully and enjoy it a bit more, considering this may be his final opportunity to win a World Series as a Yankee.

He and his knees be ready for outfield if Girardi decides and to play as long as needed

“I’m not thinking about my contract, so I really don’t have an answer for that,” Matsui said. “Even with the atmosphere changes, how I feel and what I do to prepare and my approach at the plate, those things just don’t change for me.

“I don’t feel like I really look at it in terms of success or failure. Obviously every year my goal is to be a World Champion, but I don’t look at it that way.”

_______________________

Mariano Rivera’s 21st World Series appearance moved him past Mike Stanton for second place on the Yankees’ all-time list behind Whitey Ford’s 22, Mariano Rivera threw 39 pitches in two innings, his World Series high, topping 35 in Game 3 against the Braves in 1996. He still extended his own record of 10 Fall Classic and 38 postseason saves. It was also his fourth two-inning save and lowered his career ERA to 1.09.

Despite the workload, Girardi is confident that with Friday’s off day he’ll be OK for Game 3 Saturday night.

_______________________

Was Derek Jeter bunting on his own in the seventh inning? With two strikes, yes, and then the sign was taken off.

“Derek Jeter is a very smart baseball man,” Girardi said. “If he feels he can do the job in that situation, I’m not going to bark at him. He felt he could get it done and he didn’t get it done.”

So why bunt instead of hit-and-run?

“I don’t really like to talk too much about strategy,” Girardi said.

_______________________

Stop the presses: Alex Rodriguez is 0 for 8 with six strikeouts in his first World Series appearance. Lay off the haterade, Girardi isn’t benching him.

“I know he’ll bounce back,” Girardi said. “We’ll get it going with him in Philly.”

_______________________

You knew Yankees fans would give Martinez a rude reception. Par for the course, but one fan stood out when Martinez exited the game after throwing six innings of three-run ball with eight strikeouts.

“It’s a new Yankee Stadium, but the fans remain the fans,” Martinez said. “I remember one guy sitting right in the front row with his daughter in one arm and a cup of beer in the other hand and saying all kinds of nasty stuff. I just told him, ‘Your daughter is right beside you. It’s a little girl. It’s a shame you’re saying all these things.’ I’m a father myself. How can you be so dumb to do those kind of things in front of your child? What kind of example are you setting?”

Love Pedro or hate him, we continue to witness one of the greatest (if not the greatest) pitcher of this generation.

“I tell you what, he may not have 96 to 98 (MPH) he did back then when he was a little bit younger, but his command was every bit as good as it was back then,” said Jerry Hairston, who started over the slumping Nick Swisher due in part to his .370 lifetime average against the right-hander. “He was painting pitches at my knees, inner half (of the plate) basically at will on a couple of guys.”

Hairston, like A-Rod playing in his first World Series game, went 1-for-3.
 
“He’s always been a great pitcher and for him to adjust and adjust to what he’s got now, that’s a credit to him,” Hairston said. “He’s really pitched well this postseason and it was a tough win for us.

Game 2 Live Blog

stadium_640.jpgBy Jon Lane
Pedro Martinez is certainly a polarizing figure. One day after his entertaining rant,
during which he recalled the altercation between he and then Yankees
bench coach Don Zimmer during Game 3 of the 2003 ALCS, Zimmer told the St. Petersburg Times,
“Pedro is full of crap. It’s what, six years later? If Pedro wants to
be a big man, I don’t care what he says.” He did, however, soften his
stance during an interview with the New York Daily News. “I was definitely wrong and Pedro didn’t do nothing,” he said.

This
was my favorite line from yesterday: “I might be at times the most
influential player that ever stepped in Yankee Stadium.” I recall
sitting in the bleachers on September 14, 1998 when he squared off
against Orlando Hernandez. Pedro and El Duque each struck out nine
batters, except Pedro gave up three runs to Duque’s none. Duque went
the distance in a 3-0 win, but that didn’t douse the enthusiasm of a
large contingent from Pedro’s native Dominican Republic who took over
the front row, and proudly waved their country’s flag. That was years
before the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry was re-ignited and Martinez found
himself on New York’s most hated list.

Speaking of influential, Jay Z and Alicia Keys are performing on the field to a slew of flashbulbs.

Speaking
of influential and inspiring, Derek Jeter was named the winner of the
Roberto Clemente award for commitment to community service.

Chat with you right before first pitch.

7:51 p.m.
Former Yankees outfielder and current YES Yankees analyst Paul O’Neill
throws out the first pitch. Those familiar chants of “Paul Oh Neill!”
echoed around the Stadium, along with loud boos for Philly’s starting
pitcher.

7:57 p.m. A.J. Burnett warming up to Marilyn
Manson’s “The Beautiful People.” Awesome. First pitch 7:59 p.m.
(strike). Game time temperature 52 degrees.

8:04 p.m. A
clean 12-pitch first for Burnett. For Yankees fans’ sake, Bad A.J. must
stay away. For now they’re getting a thrill taunting the heck out of
Pedro Martinez.

pedro_350_102909.jpg8:14 p.m. Pedro in the first: Three up, three down, two strikeouts. He’s come to play.

8:28 p.m.
Ladies and Gents: Bad A.J. Throws 25 pitches, a few in the dirt, and
follows up Raul Ibanez’s ground-rule double that Johnny Damon could
have caught by serving Matt Stairs’ RBI single to left. Of course,
Ibanez was immediately waved home to give the Phillies a 1-0 lead.

8:42 p.m. Wow.
Ibanez’s great diving catch robs Robbie Cano and saves a run. The good
news is the Yankees are making Pedro work (20 pitches in the second as
of this writing).

9:02 p.m. Burnett at his best is
electrifying. At his worst he puts 50,000-plus to sleep. There’s never
middle ground. As far as “rhythm” between Burnett & Molina, even if
there was a DH in Philly, I think you’re seeing the end of this
experiment.

9:05 p.m. BIG strikeout of Ryan Howard with
two on and two out; Burnett deserves credit there. Howard is 2-for-14
(.143) with eight strikeouts lifetime against the Yankees’ right-hander.

9:29 p.m. Life
for the Yankees and life in this once-quiet stadium thanks to Mark
Teixeira’s moonshot to right field. Walking the concourse, fans were
going through the motions. Just like that, one swing from Texieira
snapped out of it. The bomb also awakened the Pedro haterizers.

9:46 p.m.
He drives you crazy, but Burnett somehow gets it done. He erases a
one-out double by No. 9 hitter Carlos Ruiz by retiring two good hitters
Jimmy Rollins (strikeout) and Shane Victorino (pop up to third). The
latter was on the first pitch, which at 86 total pitches affords him at
least the sixth inning.

9:54 p.m. Memo to Johnny Damon:
Why swing at the first pitch with Derek Jeter on second, Pedro’s pitch
count in the 80s and the Phillies’ pen warming up? Fans in front of me
waved their hands in disgust after Damon’s pop up landed in Ryan
Howard’s glove. Golden opportunity to forge ahead wasted.

10:08 p.m. A-Rod
is 0-for-7 in the World Series. There are people planning to wait on
hold for two hours for a one-minute platform telling their favorite
host that he and not Nick Swisher should have been benched.

matsui_250_102909.jpg10:12 p.m. The
Yankees needed another big hit. Leave it to Godzilla to deliver. The
Yankees face a major decision on whether to bring him back for another
season. Matsui may have to compromise if he wants to stay.

10:20 p.m.

At 97 pitches I wondered if Burnett had enough for one more inning
(last week in SoCal he did not). Needed 11 pitches to retire the
Phillies in order, with two called strikeouts, this time he did. His
night is done (108 pitches). Despite what Joe Girardi said before the
game, expect Joba Chamberlain to be the bridge to Mariano Rivera.

I was wrong. Rivera is warming. He’ll go for the six-out save.

10:31 p.m.

Jorge Posada pinch-hitting for Molina with runners on first and second
and no one out in the 7th. Pedro was lifted (107 pitches) and left,
head down, to loud boos.The Yankees going for the kill.

10:36 p.m.
3-1 Yankees after Posada drives one home. Still nobody out with the top
of the order coming up. Unless the Yankees blow it open, Rivera is
locking this one down.

10:41 p.m. Still wondering why Jeter was bunting, especially with two strikes. Made no sense.

10:48 p.m.
More
controversy thanks to the clowns in blue. First base umpire Brian
Gorman and the band of idiots failed to see that Damon’s line drive was
not caught by Howard. It bounced, which is why Howard threw to second
in the first place. It was ruled a double play that ended the inning.
Yet another terrible call, but the bad karma started with Jeter’s
decision to bunt. Remember that if the Phillies get to Rivera.

11 p.m. It’s been discussed to exhaustion, but what Rivera did
to escape the eighth inning, no other closer that participated in the
2009 postseason gets done.

Game 1 wrap

By Jon Lane
Not much you can say about tonight. Cliff Lee was that good. There
was nothing the Yankees could do. The teams from 1927 and 1961 wouldn’t
touch the Phillies’ lefty on this night. Think back to Sandy Koufax
knocking the bats out of the hands of the ’63 team.

“I kept it simple tonight,” said Alex Rodriguez (0-for-4, 3 Ks). “He
kept it even more simple. He threw the ball well. When a guy throws
like that, you tip your cap and move on.”

A-Rod is still batting a healthy .388 in the postseason. Mark Teixeira
(.186), meanwhile, is back on the skids. After compiling five hits in
the final three games of the ALCS, Teixeira went hitless in four
at-bats. He evaded questions on what went wrong, deflecting all credit
to Lee.

“I think Tex is going to be fine. You take tonight out of it. With the
exception of [Derek} Jeter, we didn’t have any good swings at all.”

Any other night, CC Sabathia might have emerged victorious, but he
admitted he wasn’t at his sharpest (113 pitches/70 strikes). For the
fifth time in his playoff career, Sabathia allowed a pair of homers in
one game, the third time to one batter (Chase Utley).

“I felt pretty good,” Sabathia said. “I had three walks but I was behind a lot of guys. It was just one of those days.”

Phil
Hughes’ postseason troubles continue. He walked the first two batters
he faced to begin the eighth before getting the hook Both came around
to score. And while Lee put the game away a long time ago, those
insurance runs essentially quashed any hopes for the patented Yankees
comeback.

“He missed with his fastball a little bit tonight,” said Joe Girardi. “We’ll continue to talk to him. I mean, he’s been great for us all year. He walked two guys and ended up hurting us tonight, but we still believe in him.”

Hideki Matsui on facing Pedro Martinez:
“He’s always had good command and throws a wide variety of pitches,”
Matsui said. “I don’t know what to expect, but what’s going to be
important is to make sure we have a plan at the plate and make sure we
execute that.”

This is not 2004

By Jon Lane
The inevitable comparisons are in full force. One victory from a World Series the Yankees drop a winnable Game 5 and are back home with two chances to grab that elusive ‘W’ with both hands and hold tight.

In the event you lived on Mars five years ago and are back on Earth: The Yankees blew a 3-0 ALCS lead to the Boston Red Sox in 2004, starting when they were three Mariano Rivera outs from a four-game sweep and the right to play the St. Louis Cardinals in the Fall Classic.

gordon_250_102309.jpgWatching Game 5 of Yankees-Angels, my colleague and friend Jerome Preisler couldn’t help but compare Phil Hughes to Tom Gordon, the latter one symbol of that epic collapse. I covered the 2004 ALCS from start to finish and sure there are similarities. Like these Angels, those Red Sox never quit. They had heart, soul, pop, clutch hitting and pitching, and some good luck. I remember specifically Game 5. The Yankees took a 4-2 sixth-inning lead on Derek Jeter’s three-run double off Pedro Martinez and had the bases loaded with two out. Hideki Matsui laced a liner to right field. If it drops, the game is broken open and we’re not talking about the 2004 ALCS.

Alas, Trot Nixon made a sliding catch to end the inning. Looking back at the series, Joe Torre called that the turning point, the first time when he told himself, “Uh oh.” David Ortiz homered off Gordon to begin the bottom of the eighth and Jason Varitek’s sacrifice fly off Rivera tied the game at four. Fate, by the way, also smiled on the Red Sox in the ninth when Tony Clark doubled off Keith Foulke, If the ball doesn’t bounce over Fenway Park’s short right-field fence, Ruben Sierra scores from first. Instead, Clark and Sierra had to stay on second and third. Miguel Cairo popped out and David Ortiz finally won the game in the 14th.

The moral of the history lesson: 2009 is a different time with a different team. These Yankees had it within them to pull out 15 walk-off wins and two in the postseason. Andy Pettitte and not Jon Lieber (to be fair, Lieber pitched very effectively in the ’04 postseason) is starting Game 6 Saturday night. And if there’s a Game 7, the season will be on CC Sabathia’s back, not our old friend Kevin Brown.

Furthermore, there are glaring differences between Joe Girardi’s lineup to what Torre had to send out for Games 6 and 7 five years ago:

DH
2004 – Kenny Lofton/Sierra
2009 – Matsui

2B
2004 – Cairo
2009 – Robinson Cano

1B
2004 – Tony Clark (John Olerud’s bruised instep kept him from starting Games 5-7)
2009 – Mark Teixeira

Cano instead of Cairo; Teixeira instead of Clark (who struck out to end Game 6 as the winning run at the plate). Here’s hoping you’re reassured. Now all this lineup has to do is score runs off two very good pitchers, Joe Saunders and Jered Weaver.

Phils blast their way to World Series

phillies_275_102209.jpgBy Jon Lane
If the Yankees can defeat the Angels one more time, they will have the ultimate challenge ahead of them. The Philadelphia Phillies pounded and blasted Joe Torre’s Dodgers into submission Wednesday night to become the first team to reach consecutive World Series since Torre’s Yankees in 2000-01 and the first to capture back-to-back pennants since the Atlanta Braves in 1995-96. The last team to repeat as World Champions were also Torre’s Yankees when they won three straight from 1998-2000. The Phillies have a shot at becoming the first National League team to repeat since the Cincinnati Reds in 1975-76.

The Phils smacked four homers off Dodgers pitching, two from Jayson Werth. Bottom line, this team can bash and Yankees pitching will have to raise it to the highest of levels to get past Werth, Ryan Howard and that lineup.

But first things first. The Yankees have to win one more game; it takes four games to win the pennant, the Yankees have won three. A.J. Burnett gets the ball tonight (pregame on YES at 6:30, first pitch on FOX at 7:57 p.m. and YES will have an hour-long postgame show immediately after the last pitch) and the right-hander looked relaxed and confident during Wednesday’s media session. He has a firm grasp on what he has to do, and the Yankees are cognizant about the need to step on the Angels’ throats and make them tap out. Too many teams have rallied from down 3-1. One blew a 3-0 LCS lead. Guess which one?

Benjamin Kabak from River Ave. Blues wrote something I’ve been thinking about since yesterday: Joe Girardi refused to confirm it, but you know Jose Molina is catching Burnett tonight. In Burnett’s prior two postseason starts Girardi has left Jorge Posada on the bench while going with Hideki Matsui as the designated hitter.

That needs to change. To echo Kabak’s take, Posada is batting .308 with a .471 on-base percentage and .615 slugging percentage, compared to Matsui’s .286/.412/.357. The former not only looks more comfortable at the plate – his eighth-inning homer tied Game 3 before the Angels won it in the 11th – he owns better numbers against Halos starter John Lackey. Posada is 12-for-29 (.414) with three walks, a homer, and three RBIs against the big Texan, compared to Matsui’s .286 average, though he does have seven RBIs versus the Angels right-hander. 

How Girardi will handle pinch-hitting/pinch-running duties with regards to Posada and the risk of losing the DH, we’ll find out if the game is close and late. The Yankees don’t want it to get that far. It won’t be easy, but they’ll have to get to Lackey early and cash in on the opportunities they missed against him in Game 1. Batting Posada behind A-Rod gives them their best shot.

Girardi on Matsui, clubhouse, Burnett

By Jon Lane
Key points from Joe Girardi’s pregame press conference:

On the debate of whether Hideki Matsui or Jorge Posada would DH:
“Matsui has been our DH most of the year and is familiar with that role. That is not a role that Jorge has done a lot in his career. If there’s a left-hander on the mound maybe you think a little bit different. But Matsui, I mean, he’s been great against left-handers, so it wasn’t much of a decision because of what Matsui has done in the DH role.”

On the temperature of the clubhouse given the talk about Posada’s reaction to sitting:

“Clubhouse is great. I watched the guys go through practice yesterday. They were loose; guys were having fun. They enjoyed being around each other like they always do, so I think our clubhouse is great.”

On why he believes A.J. Burnett will be successful:
“I’ve always found that A.J. has liked the big stage. I talked about his success that he’s had coming into here as an opposing player, the success before this year he had going into Boston, some of the games. We were 0-2 to start the year and he got our first win in Baltimore. I think A.J. likes it and I think A.J. likes pitching in this ballpark. That leads me to believe that he’s going to have a good game.”

_______________________

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire also discussed Carl Pavano starting Game 3, a potential elimination game:
“He’s been great for us, a veteran pitcher. The leadership you get from a guy who’s been there and done it has been very, very important. And then watching him go out on the mound, when he’s throwing the ball, how he works hitters and works the zone when he’s got his good stuff. He’s in and out and using all his pitches and can pitch backwards if he has to. That’s something that some of our younger pitchers need to learn to do, so he’s been very important for us.