Results tagged ‘ Jose Molina ’

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.

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.

Game 2 ALCS: Live blog

alcs_400.jpgBy Jon Lane
It’s cold (again) and rain – lots of it – is threatening the New York metropolitan area (again), but the Yankees are taking batting practice in preparations for Game 2 of the ALCS.

Courtesy of STATS Inc., the Yankees, Angels and MLB, here are a few nuggets to know and what to watch for.

First and foremost, the weather report: Weather.com’s hour-by-hour forecast pegs a 40 percent chance of showers at 8 p.m. and 55 percent by 9. We were supposed to get soaked last night, but it held off and CC Sabathia was awesome. In the event of a rainout, the current speculation has the teams playing here tomorrow at 4:30 and flying to Anaheim afterwards to play Game 3 Monday at 1 p.m. California time.

Starting lineups: As expected, Jose Molina is catching A.J. Burnett and batting ninth. For the Angels Maicer Izturis (2B) and Mike Napoli (C) are in for Howie Kendrick and Jeff Mathis, respectively.

Pitching matchup: A.J. Burnett (13-9, 4.04) vs. Joe Saunders (16-7, 4.60)

Burnett finished his first season in pinstripes very strong. Since September 18 he has 34 strikeouts and a 1.80 ERA. Joe Girardi this afternoon reiterated why Molina is in and Jorge Posada is back on the bench. “Molina caught A.J. in the last round,” Girardi said. “Sometimes you have to make sacrifices and our players have done that all year long.” Throwing to Molina, Burnett gave up a run in six innings in Game 2 of the ALDS and was 5-2, 3.28 in 11 starts as one-half of this battery. His final six starts of the season were all caught by Molina (3-1, 2.92).

And still wondering why Burnett and not Andy Pettitte is Girardi’s Game 2 starter? He was 5-3, 3.51 at Yankee Stadium and the Yankees were 12-4 in those starts.

Saunders went undefeated over his final eight starts (7-0, 2.55) and the Angels are 42-19 in his last 61 regular season starts, but hasn’t pitched since October 4 (five innings in a season-ending 5-3 win).

Historical precedents: Game 1 winners have won the ALCS 23 out of 39 times (59 percent). Since 1985 and the advent of the seven-game series, 12 of 23 (52 percent) have advanced to the World Series. However, the team losing Game 1 in six out of the last nine ALCS have rallied to win the league pennant. Since 1999, the Bombers have not lost Game 2 of an LCS, going 5-0 in that span. Their last LCS Game 2 loss came to Cleveland in a 12-inning game in 1998.

Stalled: A big storyline coming into the ALCS was the Yankees controlling the Angels’ feared baserunning. The best way to do that is keep the top of their order off the bases. Chone Figgins and Bobby Abreu are two of the Angels’ best players. However, their one-two punch combined to go 0-for-8 in Game 1 with three strikeouts. Figgins is 0-for-16 in the postseason. Somehow the Angels swept the Red Sox in three games, but it’s imperative they get their sparkplug re-ignited.

Throwing out the first pitch: Tino Martinez.

On the Stadium jukebox: Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion,” Metallica’s “Wherever I May Roam,” Jacko’s “The Way You Make Me Feel.”

Highlights from Girardi’s press briefing:
Look for roughly a 45-minute time limit for Burnett to sit around in the event of an in-game rain delay. If it gets past that, Girardi will go to the bullpen early. “You have to be smart about it,” he said.

On having any advantage over a warm-weather team at this time of year: “I don’t think it’s such a huge advantage because they do play in cold
weather cities in April. And we were fortunate — two of the teams in
our division (Blue Jays, Rays) that you play early have domes, and one of them is actually in
a warm place. And when we went to Boston earlier it was 80
degrees. It was one of our hottest days, so I really don’t think it’s
much of an advantage.”

Game 3 starter Andy Pettitte is still with the club. The team had not yet decided to fly him west ahead of time.

Back with a lot more later. On the field working pregame, Chris Shearn chatted with Kevin Long, Phil Hughes and Michael Kay.

7:21 p.m. So far, so good for an on-time first pitch. The grounds crew is prepping the field while fans slowly file in. Some reading material while you wait: Chris Shearn does his best Joe (9=8) Maddon.

7:41 p.m.
Weather update: Chance of rain downgraded to 10 percent at 8 p.m., 20 at 9 and 30 at 10.

7:45 p.m. Beautiful rendition of our national anthem by NYC firefighter Regina Wilson.

7:49 p.m. Tino Martinez throws the ceremonial first pitch to Jorge Posada.A minute later the Bleacher Creatures applauded A.J. Burnett as he left the bullpen flanked by Jose Molina and Dave Eiland.

7:57 p.m. Nick Swisher salutes the Creatures with a fist pump. Burnett’s first pitch is a strike to Chone Figgins. Game time temperature is 47 degrees.

8:05 p.m. Torii Hunter earned himself a cheap two-out double when he fisted a blooper that landed just inside the right field foul line, but on his next pitch Burnett got Vladimir Guerrero to ground out to short. Nice start for A.J. Sixteen pitches, 13 for strikes.

8:19 p.m. Take away a couple a pitches low and a tad outside, Burnett looks sharp. He froze Kendry Morales on a breaking ball to open the second and needed only nine pitches total to work a clean frame.

8:30 p.m. 1-0 Yankees on Robinson Cano’s triple. Those two-out walks (this to Nick Swisher) kill you every time.

8:46 p.m.
The natives were getting restless, but Burnett survived a two-out walk to Chone Figgins to retire Bobby Abreu on a fly ball to center.

jeter_400_101709.jpg8:52 p.m. Derek Jeter – again. HR to right field, the first of the ALCS. 2-0, Yankees. Jeter’s second of this postseason and the 19th of his career. He passes Reggie Jackson and Mickey Mantle for sole possession of third place on the baseball’s all-time list.

9:04 p.m. Teixeira is having an amazing defensive game. First he does his best Henrik Lundqvist impersonation, saving A-Rod from a throwing error. Then he stretches to his left to catch Jose Molina’s throw to first after Guerrero’s swing and miss hit dirt and ricocheted off his leg.

9:07 p.m. Burnett in four scoreless IP: 12 of 15 first-pitch strikes.

9:41 p.m. Good A.J. electrifies an audience. Bad A.J. sucks the life out of it. A bases-loaded wild pitch just tied the game. David Robertson is getting warm. Guerrero’s ground out mercifully ends the top of the fifth, but Burnett threw 33 pitches and started every batter except one with a ball. He’s thrown 90 in the game and Molina is due up second. If we see Posada, that’s the cue Burnett’s night is over.

9:45 p.m. Nope, Molina is batting. Watch Good A.J. return to retire the side in the sixth.

9:52 p.m. Replays show Jeter was safe on his double-play grounder. Another impeccable job by the umpires this postseason.

10:01 p.m. What did I tell you? Three up, three down in the sixth. That’s 105 pitches for Burnett. It’s looking like Joba Time in the seventh.

10:08 p.m. Not a good past two innings for the Yankees. There was the never-ending fifth, and in the sixth Teixeira reached first on a throwing error, but A-Rod flied out and Hideki Matsui grounded into an double play.

10:12 p.m. Burnett is starting the seventh. Hang on a second. Andy Pettitte is yanked from Game 3 of the DS with 81 pitches in 6 1/3 superlative innings and Burnett is still in this game – AND he’s facing a lefty hitter after retiring the righty Napoli. Someone please explain.

10:14 p.m. Phil Coke now coming in to face Figgins. To give Burnett credit, there would have been two out if not for Cano’s error. Burnett gets a nice ovation and responds with a tip of the cap.

10:26 p.m. Joba Time: Loud applause as Joba enters to “Shout at the Devil.” Nice job by Coke rebounding from his walk to Figgins to strike out Abreu, a professional hitter. Joba Chamberlain to face Torii Hunter with two on and two out in the biggest confrontation of the game.

katehudson_250_101709.jpg10:37 p.m. Save the Joba to the bullpen debate for the offseason. That was a great job whiffing Guerrero with a nasty slider to leave the bases loaded and the game tied at two. It has been a nail biter, just ask Kate Hudson.

10:53 p.m. The Yankees are morphing into the Twins. A sure inning-ending double play ball is booted by – of all people – Derek Jeter. That would have restored faith in Phil Hughes, whose ALDS ERA was 9.00.

10:59 p.m. Faith restored. Hughes fans pinch-hitter Gary Matthews Jr., but Girardi isn’t fooling around. Mariano Rivera is in the game with two out in the eighth to face Erick Aybar with runners on first and second.

11:01 p.m. Mariano the Magnificent. The Angels have stranded 10 runners and are 2-for-10 with RISP.

11:11 p.m. Figgins can’t buy a hit. Johnny Damon robs him with a stumbling catch to open the ninth.

11:16 p.m. Hey Yankees fans:
Your team led the Majors with 15 walk-off wins and had one in Game 2 of
the ALDS. Teixeira, A-Rod & Matsui in the ninth.

11:45 p.m. Amazing. What was supposed to be a double-play is instead one out and the winning run at second because Aybar straddled the bag and failed to step on it. The Angels are putting Jeter on intentionally for lefty Darren Oliver to face Johnny Damon. Fans are already chanting Damon’s name.

11:53 p.m. Does anyone want to win this game? The teams are a combined 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position and have left 17 men on base (11 by the Angels). Teixeira is 0-for-5 and hasn’t hit a ball out of the infield.

12:01 a.m. From the impeccable timing department: It begins to rain four hours after first pitch and Chone Figgins snaps a hitless streak of 19 at-bats with an RBI single off Alfredo Aceves to put L.A. ahead 3-1. Damon has no arm in left and Aybar can fly, but the throw was closer than you’d expect. Still, this is shaping up to be another galling loss to Scioscia’s Angels unless the Yankees can summon that walk-off magic one more time.

12:11 a.m. Unbelievable.

12:17 a.m. Onto the 12th of an endless game and it’s raining a bit harder. Bellow all the A-Rod superlatives you want, but Aceves and to make it stand and someone has to make it count.

12:22 a.m. Memo to Marte: You have one job. Get it done.

12:25 a.m. He got it done. David Robertson coming in. Chad Gaudin the last man in the pen, just like last Friday.

Game 2 scene setter

ALDS.jpgBy Jon Lane
First pitch
: 6:07 p.m. at Yankee Stadium; gates open 3 p.m.

Pitching matchup: A.J. Burnett (13-9, 4.04) vs. Nick Blackburn (11-11, 4.03)

Forecast: Cloudy with a slight chance of showers in the evening; showers likely with a slight chance of thunderstorms after midnight. (They could play through “showers,” but “thunderstorms” will force a delay and put everyone in one big I hate rain bad mood.)

If there’s a rainout: Game 2 moves to tomorrow night (TBD) and the teams lose the travel day. Games 3-5 will remain Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. If the series then goes the distance, the Yankees would be faced with a choice of starting Burnett on short rest, Chad Gaudin or Joba Chamberlain.

Throwing out the first pitch: “Mr. October” Reggie Jackson. Incidentally I heard a replay of Reggie’s appearance on “The Howard Stern Show.” His weekly Tuesday night show on Sirius 123 was plugged, but the rest of the details are for mature audiences only.

The big story: Joe Girardi’s decision to sit Jorge Posada and start Jose Molina.

Before Game 5 of the 1977 ALCS in Kansas City, Billy Martin made the most courageous decision of his career when he benched Jackson, George Steinbrenner’s $3 million man. It’s apples and oranges compared to Posada and Molina, but hang with me. Jackson was 1-for-15 in the series and numbers against Royals starter Paul Splittorff so poor that when asked, Catfish Hunter told Martin that Jackson “can’t hit him with a paddle.” That left Martin, who felt if the Yankees lost he would be fired anyway, to convince Steinbrenner and Gabe Paul why he had to bench Jackson.

Posada owns three World Series rings and was .285-22-81 this season, while Molina can’t hit even if attempted to put paddle on beach ball, so obviously this is different. But what’s similar is the manager’s guts. Ian O’Connor writes it’s E-2 on Girardi, but Sam Borden commends Girardi for making the requisite tough decisions.

There is something to chemistry between some pitchers and catchers. Andy Pettitte had it with Jim Leyritz – and not Girardi – in 1996, so did Greg Maddux with Eddie Perez. You can’t discount that Burnett went 5-5 with a 4.96 ERA and .270 opponent batting average in 16 starts with Posada and 5-2 with a 3.28 ERA and .221 opponent batting average in 11 starts with Molina catching, including 3-1 2.92 in his last six.

Molina showed a knack for keeping Burnett’s emotions in check and in a cohesive enough pace to not made desperate mistakes during crisis situations. And during the time of season where pitching rules all, you do whatever you believe is best to shut down the opposition, especially if Nick Blackburn suddenly morphs into Jack Morris. And it’s not like Posada won’t be available to pinch-hit or enter the game immediately after Girardi finds an opening. And it’s certainly not like the rest of the Yankees lineup can’t hit. Blackburn was 11-11, 4.03, so the odds are long that he’ll pull a Morris and good that the Yankees offense will knock him out early.

Of course, if Burnett is razor-sharp and the Yankees win, Girardi is a genius. If he’s blasted, Girardi is stupid, Burnett is a whiner, boos will be heard from Jersey and Posada would be given carte blanche to scream, “I was the problem?” Yankees fans, in a panic, will declare the series over and demand that Girardi is shown the door.

That’s the nature of sports. It’s also the nature of sports to stop debating, hang up the phone after your favorite sports talk station leaves you on hold for an hour, quit crunching numbers, and sit back and watch. It’s why the games are played. We’ll see if this issue is either buried quickly or linger like a thunderstorm of biblical proportions.

Memo to Mother Nature: Hold off on the showers until after midnight. Too much going on tonight in the Bronx.

Burnett: A faster pace with Molina

burnett_275_100809.jpgBy Jon Lane
A.J. Burnett was adamant about his defense of Jorge Posada during a dugout chat with reporters on Wednesday, and reiterated his success throwing to both Posada and Jose Molina. But he admitted to having a better rapport with Molina, which is why Joe Girardi – not Burnett – made the risky call to bench Posada and start Molina in Game 2.

“It’s more of kind of a ‘me’ rhythm,” Burnett said. “It’s being able to throw both heaters any time I want. And just working off of that. Four seam, two, seam. Just whenever, inside, out and not really worrying about calling it, kind of working a faster pace. He just keeps me going at a little quicker pace. We seem to click.”

Molina shrugged his shoulders and wondered why there was such a fuss over Posada’s disappointment in not being behind the plate and how he suddenly found himself in the middle of it.

“I always say and I will keep saying the same thing, the manager’s Joe,” Molina said. “He writes it down my name, I will play. I’m ready. If Jorge don’t like it that’s him, but you guys have to ask him about that not me. But Joe is the manager. He puts me in the lineup and I play.”

Thanks to Larry Fleischer for the quote. Girardi is also considering starting Brett Gardner in center field, but indicated he’ll probably stick with Melky Cabrera.

3:15 p.m.
Girardi’s been down this road before, having been asked by Joe Torre to take a seat in favor of Jorge Posada. Posada has too, but it was different in 2005 with Randy Johnson’s insistence of throwing to John Flaherty. What worked in September that season backfired in Game 3 of the DS when The Big Unit was rocked for five runs on nine hits in three innings.

That’s one reason why Molina dismissed any thought about certain pitchers responding better to particular catchers.

“You guys have to understand that the one who has the ball is the pitcher,” Molina said. “He’s the one who’s going to decide what he’s going to throw. We just suggest what the pitch could be. But when the pitcher has something in the mind, they’re going to throw it no matter what. I prefer a pitcher be 100 percent in his pitch than 50 (percent) in my pitch.”

Girardi left open the possibility that he may not remain committed to a Molina-Burnett battery if the Yankees advance to the LCS. But let’s face it: This may be the right move – you live and die by pitching in the postseason and if any starter is on his ‘A’ game on any given night, Ted Williams ain’t hitting him – but it’s also a huge risk. A bad start by Burnett and you know Posada will be seething and asking himself, “I’m the problem?”

“No, I’m not worried about it,” Girardi said. “I never saw Joe Torre fret about it. I never saw Bobby Cox fret about it when Javier Lopez didn’t catch Greg Maddux. I never saw them worry about it. You put the club out there that you feel should be out there that evening, and then you hope that your club makes plays and throws the ball well. And that’s what you do, so, I mean, that’s the decision that I made.”

3:24 p.m.
Burnett on what’s worked and why he’s not surprised Posada will be on the bench

“I figured he was going to catch because we had a good rhythm in the past handful of starts,” Burnett said. “I guess it’s a comfort level. It’s maybe having the same guy out there every day and not mixing it in and out. And just getting the feel of him wanting to know what I want to do on a consistent basis instead of having to come in and out and figure out what we’re doing. It’s the same game plan every day. Just sticking to it.

“I’m not surprised because what Jorge is to this organization and what he’s done in the post season. He’s the leader in this clubhouse. He’s the leader in the dugout. When he’s out there, even when he’s not playing, he’s very vocal and he’s very — he’s around all the time. So I imagine what — how he’s feeling, you know. But like I said, I figured it was going to happen just because of the handful of starts that Molina caught me. And I’m just going to worry about taking my starts tomorrow. Molina is back there, skip made the decision and there’s really nothing we can do about it.”

Molina on creating comfort and rhythm:
“You have to find the right words and time to do it,” Molina said. “If the guy is giving up a lot of runs, you know that’s not the right time to say something. So you hold off until whenever is the right time. You just gain trust. It’s just about trust.”

ALDS rotation set

By Jon Lane
Joe Girardi announced his ALDS rotation: CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte. That lines up Sabathia for Game 4 and Burnett for a deciding Game 5 if they are necessary.

Girardi cited the home and road splits among the factors behind his decision.

Burnett
5-3, 3.51 (home)
8-6, 4.59 (road)

Pettitte
6-4, 4.59 (home)
8-4, 3.71 (road)

“I did not talk to A.J. about that,” Girardi said. “That was a decision I made – as a manager, you have to make some tough decisions and that was a very tough one.”

Regarding Jose Molina catching Burnett, which means Molina swings a bat in a decisive Game 5: “They’re working in a good rhythm and we thought we keep it that way and keep them working together. Georgie is our No. 1 catcher, but in this situation we chose to go with Molina.”

It’s unclear if Posada will DH in Game 2, but Girardi indicated Hideki Matsui will DH most of the time. Basically, it’ll come down to the match-ups.

No ALDS roster yet, which will be finalized after Tigers-Twins, but Sergio Pena, Brian Bruney and Ramiro Pena will head to Tampa to stay in shape. You figure Francisco Cervelli will be the third catcher and Damaso Marte the second left-hander out of the bullpen, and Girardi all but confirmed Joba Chamberlain will be active. He’ll work out of the bullpen and can pitch to as little as two hitters or more than three innings.

As if there was any suspense, the Yankees chose not to wait until the end of the Tigers-Twins game and formally announced they selected the Division Series with the extra off day. Put it in stone: CC Sabathia will throw the first pitch of Game 1 tomorrow night at Yankee Stadium.

To whet your appetite

By Jon Lane
BREAKING NEWS: Jorge Posada told reporters today that Jose Molina will catch A.J. Burnett in the ALDS. Whether Posada or Hideki Matsui will DH remains to be seen.

“I just hope we win that game, that’s all,” Posada said. “That’s all I have to say. Matsui’s our DH, so we’ll see. Joe talked to me on Sunday. It’s not like I didn’t see it coming. It’s the manager’s decision”

I guess it’ll depend on which Tigers or Twins starter faces Burnett. If it’s Game 2, it’ll be Justin Verlander or Carl Pavano (yes, him). In Game 3 I project Rick Porcello or Scott Baker, the two squaring off against one another later in Minneapolis.

For what it’s worth, here’s how each match up:

Matsui vs. Pavano: 1-for-5, 1 K
Matsui vs. Verlander: 4-for-12, 2 RBIs, 1 K
Posada vs. Pavano: 0-for-2, 1 K
Posada vs. Verlander: 1-for-10, 1 2B, 3 RBIs, 2 K

Matsui vs. Porcello: 2 BB
Matsui vs. Baker: 1-for-5, 1 RBI
Posada vs. Porcello: 1-for-1, 1 BB
Posada vs. Baker: 1-for-2

_______________________

Some interesting nuggets from the Yankees and the Elias Sports Bureau:

? Joe Girardi is the fifth Yankees manager (Joe McCarthy, Ralph Houk, Billy Martin, Dick Howser) to win 100 games within their first two full seasons with the team. Girardi also joined Lou Piniella to have played for and managed teams that won at least 100 games. He’s done enough to be named AL Manager of the Year, writes Steven Goldman.

“Winning helps,” Posada said. “Coming here not knowing what to expect, as a player it’s different than as a manager, as a bench coach. The second time around is a little different. He did a lot of things to keep this team united. The first year I think he was tougher more on himself.”

? The Yankees’ 15 walk-off wins led the Major Leagues and were second-best in franchise history behind 17 set in 1943. Their 51 come-from-behind wins and 28 in their final at-bat were also best in the game.

? Think the Yankees enjoyed their new digs? After the All-Star break they won 31 of their final 39 regular season games at Yankee Stadium and compiled baseball’s best home record (57-24).

? Think Alex Rodriguez melts in the clutch? According to Elias, 15 of A-Rod’s 30 home runs either tied the game or gave the Yankees the lead, and seven came in the seventh inning or later and either tied the game or gave the Yankees the lead. Out of his 100 RBIs, 50 tied the game or were go-ahead, and 33 came in the seventh inning or beyond.

? Nobody will consider Phil Hughes for MVP, but consider this: The Yankees went 58-26 after Hughes was named Mariano Rivera’s primary setup man, and 31-5 in games in which Hughes appeared. In 54 games before Hughes, Yankees relievers were 13-10 with a 4.88 ERA and 14 saves). After Hughes, the ‘pen went 27-7 with a 3.37 ERA and 37 saves in 105 games.

A second chance to make the next impression

By Jon Lane
We’re live from Yankee Stadium on a gray Thursday morning, where later today Chien-Ming Wang will attempt to erase a dreadful beginning to his 2009 season when makes his first start in nearly seven weeks. Since he was activated from the disabled list (hip), which also was a chance for him to hit the reset button, Wang allowed two runs and nine hits in eight innings covering three relief appearances while showing the form that made him a two-time 19-game winner.

One start good or bad won’t define the rest of the season for the right-hander, but you know Wang and the Yankees are hoping for the best even though he’s on a limited pitch count (around 75). It’s going to be very interesting to see how this unfolds.

Back later with much more, including today’s lineups and the status of Mark Teixeira, who sat out last night with a bruised right ankle.

11:26 a.m.
Here are the lineups. It’s just a day off for Derek Jeter with a stretch of 17 games in a row. And Teixeira told Joe Girardi this morning, “I’m good to go,” and later explained that his collision with Elvis Andrus was bone on bone, which is what left him sore for a day.

11:54 a.m.
MLB has suspended A.J. Burnett six games for intentionally throwing a pitch in the head area of Nelson Cruz Monday night. It is expected he will appeal.

11:57 a.m.
Some quick rehab reports:

Jorge Posada is healthy and is also getting the day off. Girardi thought about starting him this afternoon, but when Posada told him he was OK, Girardi replied, “Let’s keep it OK.”

“I just thought it was better to give him a day,” Girardi said. “It’s a quick turnaround.”

Brian Bruney threw from 90 feet Tuesday and felt fine … Xavier Nady had the day off … Jose Molina was expected to return to New York today to receive treatment and will be held off from baseball activity for the next week or two.

12:58 p.m.
About 10 minutes before Wang makes his first pitch. Girardi reiterated this morning how Wang’s sinker over his last few outings has worked like it’s supposed to, going down and not side to side. The bottom line is he deserved a shot at redemption and today will not be a case of one bad start and you’re done.

“He had three really tough starts,” Girardi said. “He won 46 games in 2 years. I’m not sure how many guys can boast that. This is not just a guy we’re trying out. This is a guy we believe in.”

I spoke to a respected member of the Taiwanese media who noted a swagger that’s been missing from Wang since Spring Training. Imagine being in limbo and having to rehab in Tampa while your wife is weeks away from giving birth to your first child? You’d be pretty upset and the vibe is that Wang will channel those energies in a positive way.

1:16 p.m.
Nice start for Wang retiring the Rangers in order on 13 pitches (nine for strikes), including freezing Ian Kinsler on a perfectly located 3-2 pitch. Remember that Wang’s pitch limit is around 75, but Girardi cited the Rangers’ penchant for swinging the bat, which made him hope Wang can work five-six innings anyway.

1:26 p.m.
Mark Teixeira reached on an error when David Murphy dropped a fly ball he initially caught one-handed. Rangers manager Ron Washington argued that the ball was lost on the transfer from glove to throwing hand, but replays indicated Murphy did not secure the ball first.

I was inserting a moral of the story message to Mets rookie Fernando Martinez about the importance of running to first base no matter what, which Teixeira did, until Teixeira got caught between first and second trying to advance on Alex Rodriguez’s fly ball to right. Shortstop Elvis Andrus cut off Nelson Cruz’s throw, chased Teixeira back to first and tagged him out a split second before getting back to the bag.

1-0 Yankees after one on a leadoff home run by Johnny Damon.

1:51 p.m.
Wang’s laboring here in the third. The Rangers took a 2-1 lead on a wild pitch and Hank Blaock’s RBI single.

1:54 p.m.
Chris Davis led off the third with a ground-rule double and Wang nearly esacaped a runner on third, one-out jam before he threw ball four – and a wild pitch – that allowed Davis to score the tying run. Wang had to work – he caught a bad break with Michael Young’s infield hit – his location wasn’t as sharp as the first two innings. He threw 22 pitches, which gives him 45 after three. His last pitch, though, froze Nelson Cruz for strike three.

2:07 p.m.
Wang’s time in this game is rapidly running short. A single and two straight doubles have given the Rangers a 4-1 lead, the last of which drew boos from an impatient crowd. Alfredo Aceves warming up.

2:09 p.m.
He recovers to record three quick outs without further damage. At 60 pitches, expect the fifth inning to be his last.

2:16 p.m.
A-Rod, incidentally, is 2-for-13 in this series and drew loud boos with his groundout to short after Teixeira led off the fourth with a double.

2:25 p.m.
Wang retired the first two Rangers on the fifth on ground balls, throwing only six pitches. He was on his way to a nice finish before Nelson Cruz crushed his worst pitch of the day into the Rangers bullpen (he had not allowed a home run to a right-handed batter in his prior 21 starts.

His final line: 4 2/3 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 1 HR, 1 WP. Great? No. But Wang isn’t yet fully stretched out to throw 90-100 pitches. It’s a work in progress and not an audition, so you’ll be seeing him in the rotation for some time.

2:45 p.m.
In a blink of an eye, Wang is off the hook. The Yankees load the bases, Nick Swisher draws a run-scoring walk and Mark Teixeira doubles home three to tie the game at five. The number of ways Teixeira is valuable to this team seems to double every game.

2:48 p.m.
Now the fans love A-Rod. He pokes an opposite-field single to plate Teixeira and put the Yankees ahead, 6-5. Lots of layers to this contest, but the most important is Wang laying the foundation to again be an important part of the Yankees’ rotation sooner rather than later.

3:01 p.m.
Ian Kinsler homers off the foul pole to tie the game 6-6. Aceves has definitely looked better in other outings.

3:37 p.m.
Still 6-6 as we enter the eighth. The bullpens have settled things down while Nick Swisher (2-for-3, BB, RBI) is out of the game for defensive purposes. Brett Gardner is in center while Melky Cabrera shifts over to right.

3:43 p.m.
Phil Coke: 1 1/3 scoreless innings with two strikeouts and a snatch catch of a line drive. It’s the best he’s looked in awhile. But I like Girardi calling on David Robertson to face the right-handed Elvis Andrus. Robertson needs to be tested in big spots and he did his job, retiring Andrus on a fly ball to left.

3:49 p.m.
Melky … again. Not a walk-off, but he hands a two-run lead to Mariano Rivera in the ninth.

Posada on his way

By Jon Lane
The Yankees are about to get a lot stronger. After playing six innings in an extended Spring Training game Thursday, Jorge Posada told The Associated Press he was scheduled to fly to Cleveland to meet his teammates for the start of a four-game series against the Indians Friday night.

Posada has been sidelined since straining his right hamstring May 4 and I don’t need to remind you how valuable he is to the Yankees. Someone will need to be dropped from the roster to make room for Posada. At this point it makes too much sense to DFA Angel Berroa. He hasn’t had an at-bat since May 4, and young defensive whiz Ramiro Pena serves the same purpose. Besides, you want to carry three catchers to cover yourself in case that tricky hamstring acts up again and until Jose Molina returns you’ll want to stash away Kevin Cash, who in a pinch can fill in at third base. Molina (strained left quadriceps) is working out in Tampa, but not ready for game action yet.

Of equal significance is Xavier Nady’s two hits in five at-bats, including an opposite-field homer to right, while serving as the DH. He’ll fill that spot in New York when he returns to help give Hideki Matsui a blow and eventually take over right field. Nick Swisher is a great guy whose positive energy is contagious, but he’s batting .223 (.127 this month). He’s being spared a night or two on the bench with Melky Cabrera out at least a week.

The 2 Live Stews

zone80.pngHere’s audio of my appearance on Sports Radio 790 in Atlanta, talking A-Rod, the WBC and CC Sabathia with The 2 Live Stews.
LISTEN

Tonight’s lineup vs. Reds (YES HD, 7 p.m.)
Brett Gardner CF
Johnny Damon LF
Xavier Nady RF
Hideki Matsui DH
Cody Ransom 3B
Jose Molina C
Juan Miranda 1B
Angel Berroa SS
Ramiro Pena 2B

Some random takes about the Yankees and around the league:

  • Maybe the idea of Brett Gardner as the Yankees’ everyday center fielder is not so crazy after all, writes John Harper. The Yankees’ Brett the Jet, is batting .381 (6-for-21) with a team-leading three home runs, four RBIs, six runs scored and two stolen bases in eight games. Conversely, Melky Cabrera is batting .278 with two homers and two runs scored. Of course, there remains a ton of time in Spring Training, and Gardner may easily flame out by April, but here and now he provides elements the Yankees need and Joe Girardi loves: hustle, guts and grit.
  • Anthony McCarron is following Francisco Cervelli’s ride with Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic, which knocked Canada out of the tournament and plays tonight in an elimination game.Cervelli received nice compliments from hitting coach Mike Piazza. Yet I still wonder why he chose to play in the tournament instead of trying to make a lasting impression on the Yankees. Jorge Posada’s shoulder issues won’t have closure until he proves he can resume the full responsibility of a starting catcher. Besides, he turns 38 in August and his contract runs out after the 2011 season. It’s never too early to start thinking about the future. It’s not Jose Molina and it may not be Jesus Montero. 
  • Incidentally, I’m enjoying the WBC. And I’m now a fan of Juan Carlos Sulbaran. Pitching for the Netherlands, the Reds’ 19-year-old Single-A prospect came on in the sixth and whiffed Ivan Rodriguez on three nasty pitches. Later, Sulbaran got Carlos Beltran to ground out with the bases loaded on a 3-2 pitch. It’s do or die for the upstart Dutch team tonight when they face a Dominican Republic group out for revenge, but win or lose, Sulbaran will be around for a long time. Years from now, a Reds rotation of Sulbaran, Johnny Cueto, Edison Volquez and Homer Bailey will be scary good.
  • Don’t look now, but Angel Berroa is 9-for-18 with two homers and five RBIs in eight games. Cody Ransom is 6-for-20 (.300) with an RBI in eight games. Berroa, though, has played all of one game at third base (in 2007) and has hit no higher than .270 since being named AL Rookie of the Year in 2003. Ransom’s the guy to play third in Alex Rodriguez’s absence. He’s more versatile and reliable for the long haul.