By Jon Lane
Crazy eights. Kangaroo Courts. Walk-off fever. CC’s electricity. All of this and more have defined the Yankees’ current eight-game winning streak. This will not last forever, contrary to a colleague’s belief that this team will never lose again, but I reiterate what I wrote yesterday. Don’t be afraid to enjoy this. The way the Yankees have been going about the business of winning is refreshing. For the first time in a long time, the players are acting like kids, which is what you’re supposed to do while playing a kid’s game.
The Yankees are also proving that they’re a team of Guardian Angels. There’s been enough bad press about the faults of the new Yankee Stadium, and how much money the team spends and asks of its fan base every year (folks, it’s not how much money you spend, is what you do with the money you have). Not enough people (if anyone) talk about the the impact the Yankees have on people who are sick and dying, especially children.
Last season, a reader e-mailed me with a favor to help arrange a visit with the Yankees on the field at Camden Yards for a seven-year-old boy with an inoperable brain tumor. The team’s media relations staff went above and beyond to create an amazing experience for young Jake Hill. The players stopped to take pictures, and sign baseballs, shirts and his field pass. Jake lost his battle in January, but that day in August created a large enough smile to carry him through a fight of which everyone knew he was a winner.
Last Friday, Brett Gardner’s visit with Nico Viglitti, a cancer patient at New York Presbyterian Children’s Hospital in Manhattan, earned plenty of coverage. Nico made Gardner promise he’d hit a home run that night against Twins. Gardner did – his way, an inside-the-park homer. I’m told Gardner cannot visit her again until she’s out of ICU and every day he checks his messages for any updates on her condition.
During yesterday’s pregame show, Kimberly Jones did an unbelievable interview with Polly Tompkins, who is battling Stage 4 breast cancer. Listen closely to her encounter with Derek Jeter. I’ll make you laugh and tug at your gut.
Another anecdote just passed on to me: The Yankees received a phone call late Friday night from a New York City police officer whose son has leukemia and was looking for someone to visit him. Francisco Cervelli not only volunteered, he had each of his teammates sign a baseball before seeing the boy. And yesterday, Jonathan Albaladejo and Ramiro Pena visited children from the Collegiate Elementary School, an independent school for boys in New York City.
The moral of the stories is how every player, especially the young core, has been doing their part each day to serve as Guardian Angels. This happens around the league and it’s great, but the Yankees’ efforts aren’t publicized enough in a media market that devotes two pages to a fist pump.
By Jon Lane
The Yankees are 9-8. In five of those losses they’ve allowed at least 10 runs and have been outscored 73-27.
On Wednesday, the Yankees played baseball for four hours and 57 minutes covering 14 innings. Saturday, it took 4:21 to complete the sixth-longest nine-inning game in Major League history.
Think the bullpen is tattered and torn? Brian Bruney is on the disabled list and there are big problems with everyone not named Mariano Rivera. Jonathan Albaladejo,
Phil Coke, Damaso Marte, Edwar Ramirez and Jose Veras have a combined
ERA of 7.08. Marte has been a disaster and there’s no middle ground with Ramirez or Veras. Both are either real good or flat-out unwatchable. (No, Joba Chamberlain is not being moved to the bullpen.)
The past two losses have been galling. Rivera blew a two-run lead in the ninth on Friday and A.J. Burnett a 6-0 advantage yesterday, a game that required 385 pitches, 28 hits, two errors, 15 walks, a catcher’s interference and two hit batters in those four hours and 21 minutes.
What hasn’t changed is the Yankees’ biggest problem offensively last season, delivering with runners on base. Saturday they slugged 15 hits but left 12 men on base and are a combined 7-for-36 with runners in scoring position in the series.
The Rays are 7-11. The Angels, 6-11. The Indians, 6-12. The Mets, 8-9. The Cubs, 8-8. Moral of the story: seasons do not end in April and none of those teams’ managers are on the hot seat. The Red Sox have won nine in a row, yet are one game behind first-place Toronto with the Yankees three behind the pace.
Enjoy your Sunday.
By Jon Lane
The secret to Jonathan Albaladejo’s success? Simple. After taking his warm-up pitches on the mound, he has a way of blocking out all distractions (fans taunting, piped-in stadium energizers, what have you). He shouts to himself, “SHUT THE [HELL] UP!” Over his last couple of appearances Albaladejo escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam and was part of Wednesday’s yeoman effort by the bullpen. If it ain’t broke, don’t break it.
Before the game, it was my turn to get punk’d. I’m exiting the visitors’ clubhouse and let the door close behind me. Suddenly I hear a loud thud and an angry cry. I was made to believe that I failed to realize that someone was right behind me and did not hold the door open. The security guard who prevents riff raff from entering sacred ground shoots me a dirty look. I open the door worried about the person behind it. He shoots me a smile, points and says, “Nothing happend. I’m okay.” The guard let out a laugh that reverberated through the vast hallway.
Every game a Yankee Stadium employee parks himself into an open seat on press row and through a walkie-talkie communicates runs, hits, errors, runners left on base and the current line score, to the people manually updating the old-school scoreboards in left and right field. I’ve never seen that at Fenway Park. There must be a tried and true system that’s done right by Red Sox employees since 1912.
Imagine yourself in the zone, working feverishly to beat deadline off a 4:57 game and you’re interrupted by the piercing sound of a fire alarm. This wasn’t a drill, nor was it an actual emergency. Yet this went non-stop for about 15 minutes. A few fed-up writers made phone calls and implored on-site security to rectify the situation.
Poor Johnny Damon. A fan reached for a ball hit by Kurt Suzuki in the second inning, denying him of any chance to make a play. Instant replay upheld the original home run call, but that didn’t stop a few fans from briefly giving this one person the Steve Bartman treatment. Well, maybe not that bad, but why this yearning for a souvenir when it can break a difference-making play, especially when it goes against your team?
As for Damon, he misplayed Jason Giambi’s fly ball in the third, which led to the Athletics’ fourth run after homers by Hideki Matsui and Melky Cabrera trimmed the A’s lead to 3-2. For the rest of the game, fans sitting in left field gave Damon sarcastic ovations with every catch and chanted his name during the rest of his at-bats. This wasn’t the usual roll-call, folks.
From the for what it’s worth department: CC Sabathia lifetime against the A’s: 3-7 with a 6.26 ERA, the highest against any AL team. He starts Monday in Detroit, and is 13-9, 4.70 versus the Tigers and 7-2, 3.80 in 11 starts at Comerica Park. His one start there last year wasn’t pretty: nine runs on eight hits (two homers) in four innings pitched.
Has anyone noticed Robinson Cano is on a 10-game hitting streak and batting a team-high .367? The player many wanted traded has 22 hits this month. Last April Cano was 15-for-106 (.151) in 29 games.
By Jon Lane
T-minus seven days until the start of the Yankees’ 2009 regular season in Baltimore on April 6. However, the team breaks camp on Wednesday and will be in the Bronx Thursday for a workout at their plush new digs. Me and my YESNetwork.com colleagues will be there to document the latest news and initial impressions of the new Yankee Stadium. The next night, the palace receives the first of two dry runs when the Yankees play the Chicago Cubs in an exhibition affair (YES HD, 7 p.m.)
First, the Yankees play another Spring Training game today in Dunedin, Fla., against the Blue Jays. This is their lineup:
Derek Jeter SS
Johnny Damon LF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Hideki Matsui DH
Nick Swisher RF
Robinson Cano 2B
Cody Ransom 3B
Jose Molina C
Brett Gardner CF
Pitching: Andy Pettitte, Damaso Marte, Brian Bruney, Jose Veras , Edwar Ramirez.
Gardner made news this past weekend when he was formally named the Yankees’ starting center fielder. Joe Girardi made it clear that this will not be a platoon situation between Gardner and Melky Cabrera. Gardner will be playing every day until further notice, thus his chance to follow in the steps of Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Bobby Murcer, Mickey Rivers and Bernie Williams – at least until Austin Jackson is proclaimed Major League ready.
Gardner’s been a great story. He’s a spunky 5-10 package who was a walk-on at the College of Charleston. His big-league debut was inauspicious: .153 (9-for-59) in 17 games last season before he was demoted. And while he owns a paltry .228 average (29-for-127) in 42 games, he batted .294 (20-for-68) from August 15 until the end of the 2008 season.
This spring, Gardner hit .385 (20-for-52), with two doubles, two triples, three home runs, six RBIs, with a .448 OBP and was 5-for-7 in stolen base attempts. By way of comparison, Cabrera’s line through Sunday was .340 (18-for-53), 3 doubles, 1 triple, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 2-for-3 in SB attempts, .417 OBP, but his regression (.249 in 2008, including an August demotion) was virtually impossible to ignore.
Gardner provides elements not seen around the Yankees in recent years and his lefty bat adds balance to the lineup, but don’t count out Cabrera. He’ll make the team as a valuable reserve outfielder who can spell Johnny Damon, Xavier Nady or even Gardner (who could shift to one of the corners) late in games with an arm that can be the difference between winning and losing. He’s also only 24, so whether it’s with the Yankees or elsewhere as midseason trade bait, Cabrera still has a chance to prove that last season was an aberration.
Girardi said he’s thinking of eschewing a long reliever in favor of Jonathan Albaladejo. Why? Nothing against Albaladejo, who’s had a fine spring, but even elite starters get shelled early and there’s that innings limit on Joba Chamberlain. The rest of the bullpen will be feeling the heat, literally and figuratively, once the weather warms up. Brett Tomko, Dan Giese or Alfredo Aceves are better suited to eating innings and keeping the Yankees in the game should they face an early deficit.
Don’t look now, but Ramiro Pena has a realistic shot of making the team as the utility infielder who helps hold the fort until Alex Rodriguez returns. Pena’s glove has been world class since Day 1, but his bat showed tremendous improvement this spring. His chief competition, veteran Angel Berroa, is batting .358, compared to Pena’s .321, but you cannot underestimate the value of a slick glove, especially at shortstop. And giving a homegrown prospect a taste of the Majors bodes will for his future, too.
Bill Madden cites Pena’s progress and Derek Jeter’s declining range to his left. Also, I covered Pena and fellow prospect Jesus Montero at last summer’s Futures Game, when Pena showed off his defensive skills and discussed overcoming a torn labrum in his right shoulder.
According to Peter Abraham, Girardi said no decisions on these roster spots have been made yet and this could carry into the Cubs series.