By Jon Lane
Inclement weather, part of the absolute worst June ever in terms of never-ending rain, compromised my time away, but only a little bit. I enjoyed quality time with the family and the week that was, from a landmark live streaming announcement, to Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson, to a one-sided Subway Series and capped by the great Mariano Rivera, it was seven eventful days, along with a few to pause and mourn the tragic losses and reflect upon the legacies of two cultural icons.
Strictly in the confines of baseball and the Yankees, many props to the newly-wed Joe Auriemma, and fellow colleague Glenn Giangrande, for filling the YES Blog. You’ll be reading plenty more from them and seeing the duo on Pinstriped Weekly as the season progresses. Wrestling fans are familiar with this expression from Jim Ross: “Business is about to pick up.”
? Turns out that’s what happened late this morning with the Yankees’ acquisition of veteran Eric Hinske (pictured) from the Pirates for two Minor Leaguers. It was only yesterday when Brian Cashman provided his usual GM-speak when discussing the non-waiver trade deadline of July 31 by saying, “We’ve got the pieces in place.” When you spend $400 million on people, you expect to have the pieces in place, yet Cashman is best at flying stealth before pulling the trigger. Expect him to look into Huston Street’s availability to buff the bullpen.
Since losing Xavier Nady for the season hurts, Hinske will help share the load with Nick Swisher in right field and even help spell Alex Rodriguez; last season for the Rays, he started 47 games in right, 37 in left, nine at first base and four at third. He’s never hit for average, but the 2002 AL Rookie of the Year slugged 20 homers with 60 RBIs and 21 doubles for the AL Champions and won a World Series with the Red Sox in 2007. This is a guy whose value goes beyond subpar numbers. He’ll provide intangibles and grit, which even the high-priced Yankees need.
The team will need to make a corresponding roster move today, which means either Brett Tomko will be designated for assignment or Ramiro Pena optioned to Triple-A so he can play every day. This morning I figured Shelley Duncan’s return was imminent, but that won’t happen.
? The Yankees are winners of five straight – albeit three came against the New York Mess, er, Mets – while having busted out offensively. The numbers from their last three games against a Quadruple-A lineup from Flushing are staggering: The Yankees outscored the Mets, who never led, 33-3 and held them to a .102 batting average. Jerry Manuel’s men were atrocious defensively and lifeless all around; only Livan Hernandez and Gary Sheffield showed any kind of heart and soul. Worst of all, Francisco Rodriguez issued a bases-loaded walk to Mariano Rivera. Embarrassing. And word had it Carlos Beltran may need microfracture surgery, which would mean his season is over and career in jeopardy. Whoa boy.
It turned out Beltran won’t need surgery. But still, there are big problems in Queens.
? Rivera is the greatest closer to ever play baseball. Period. I don’t care if you love or hate the Yankees, this is as close the truth gets to opinion. Jim Kaat and Steven Goldman each ruminate on the magnificent Mo.
? In case you bring up that the Yankees bullpen owns a 1.60 ERA in their last 13 games and how well Phil Hughes has pitched, would you honestly trust this current collaboration against the Red Sox in late September? The Yankees are in decent shape: They lead the surging Rays by a game-and-a-half in the Wild Card race and are 3 ½ behind the Red Sox in the AL East while having outscored opponents 37-13 since Joe Girardi’s ejection last Wednesday. But neither that nor anything masks their insidious 0-8 record against Boston. The Red Sox have an elite bullpen from top to bottom, the Yankees don’t, and that’s been the biggest factor in this one-sided rivalry.
By Jon Lane
Or in my case hours later. Thanks to mad traffic getting out of the Bronx – even 45 minutes after Alex Rodriguez’s pop fly shockingly bounced off the heel of Luis Castillo’s glove – and an incident on the Long Island Rail Road, I walked into my door after 3 a.m.
Friday night came down to this: The Yankees did not deserve to win. Five pitchers combined to walk nine batters, Mariano Rivera inexplicably continued to not get it done in tie games and A-Rod was a routine catch from again being vilified for failing to deliver in the clutch.
Then Castillo dropped the ball and Mark Teixeira – running hard from first base, in other words doing what he’s supposed to do but more and more players refuse to do – raced home with the winning run. But considering the Yankees’ performance in Boston and against the Mets, in this case it was better to be lucky than good. To quote Derek Jeter, “We feel like we stole one.”
“It’s hard to believe, because we tried to give the game away all night, and they took advantage of all the mistakes that we made,” said Joe Girardi. “And in the end, we got the big gift. “I understand that we kind of got a gift tonight. And you can’t pitch like that and expect to win.”
As for the Mets, Jerry Manuel refused to ostracize Castillo – so much for him throwing his players under the bus – while angry fans lit up sports talk radio demanding that Castillo, in the midst of a bounce-back season, be immediately released. An old cliche in baseball is that momentum is as good as the next day’s starting pitcher and if the Mets take the next two games less people will be talking about Castillo and more about the Yankees’ June swoon.
But remember, the Mets choked away the NL East two years in a row, falling short of a playoff spot by one game both times. They can’t look at Friday and say, “It’s one game and it’s early.”
“We’ve had three games this week where we should have had three wins over rivals and we came up short,” said Manuel, citing other blown chances the prior two nights against the Phillies. “This is going to be a good test for us.”
And a bigger one for Castillo’s psyche. After the game he was alone in the clubhouse at his locker, elbows on knees and eyes reddening. The lone consolation is that the Mets don’t return to Citi Field until June 19. It’s up to he and the Mets to give their angry and jaded fan base something a lot more positive, or slightly less negative, to discuss.
By Jon Lane
Lots of housekeeping before first pitch in a little more than an hour. I spent most of my time in the Mets’ clubhouse where the discussion was about the intensity of the Subway Series, the team’s unbelievable injury situation and a mini-controversy about a column written by FoxSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal in which he suggested that Manuel, in baseball parlance, “throws guys under the bus.”
More on that shortly, but on the Yankees’ side a Twitter post by Red Sox owner John Henry ruffled the normally placid Mark Teixeira. Shortly after Texieira lined out to first last night to complete the Yankees’ eighth straight loss to the Red Sox, Henry wrote “The MT curse,” a reference to Teixeira spurning the Red Sox offer and going to the Yankees as a free agent. It wasn’t the first time the organization had their chance at landing the slugger, but was denied. As their ninth-round pick out of high school in 1998, the Red Sox couldn’t sign him then either.
“I play the game the right way. If anyone has a problem with the way I play then they can take their shots at me,” Teixeira said.
“How old is Mr. Henry? There’s no reason to get into with a 70-something year-old man about baseball. If I’ve offended anyone from the time I was 18 years old to now, I’m sorry. I don’t know what else to say. I think it’s a little silly. It’s actually very silly. There’s nothing else to say.”
Teixeira put the topic to bed by putting aside the 0-8 stigma and focusing on the Mets. And there’s action in that locker room as well. If you thought the Yankees’ injury situation last year was bad, what Mets are enduring is worse. Already without Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado, J.J. Putz, Oliver Perez, Angel Pagan and Ramon Martinez, John Maine was placed on the 15-day disabled list Thursday night with weakness in his surgically-repaired right shoulder.
Fernando Nieve, a waiver claim from the Astros late in Spring Training, was told after the Mets’ loss to the Phillies on Thursday that he will take Maine’s place tomorrow here at the Stadium and will be evaluated start-by-start. Nieve debuted with two scoreless relief innings last Saturday at Washington after he was promoted from Class AAA Buffalo when Putz was put on the DL.
“I’m going to try and treat it like a regular game,” Nieve said. “I’ m excited about it, but I’m thinking like it’ll be a normal game. I’m a baseball player and I have to be focused on what I’ve been doing. If you start thinking about that stuff I don’t think you’re going to do out there.”
As for Manuel, Gary Sheffield and David Wright were quick to come to his defense. Before the topic was broached, Sheffield credited Manual as being the ideal leader to help an injury-plagued team weather the storm until its stars are finally back and healthy.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Sheffield said. “But at the same time you have to have a strong-willed team to go through something like this. And it starts with our manager holding us together the way he has. To be able to do that speaks volumes about him and this team. We just have to continue to keep our focus. “
Wright added he’s heard no complaints from players believing Manuel has thrown anyone under the bus and that all the players enjoy competing under him. Ironically, it was just under a year (June 17, 2008) when Manuel replaced Willie Randolph partly due to allegations that Randolph had lost the clubhouse.
“I love playing for Jerry — that’s false,” Wright said. “I think Jerry brings a nice dynamic to this team. He keeps us loose and jokes around. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done, he’ll get on you if you need to be get on. I have zero problems with Jerry. He’s done a phenomenal job with the injuries and always getting the most out of his players.”
I don’t see this going any further. Rosenthal wrote a thesis citing facts before forming his opinion. It wasn’t an attack and he didn’t cite anyone speaking in confidence. Manuel wasn’t even asked about it during his pre-game press conference.
Back with a lot more as the night progresses. The sun’s been out for almost an hour and the skies are clear. About time, too.