By Jon Lane
Jason Grilli delivered the goods for the Rangers, escaping a first-and-third jam by getting Alex Rodriguez on an easy comebacker and pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings. After the game he delivered the money quote.
“Fear not the Yankees or any other team that we come across,” Grilli said. “We’re playing well against them and this sent a statement to any team that’s out there. I really believe this team has all the pieces to get to the playoffs.”
This was a dichotomy to the play-em-one-game-at-a-time approach from the rest of the team and manager Ron Washington. It’s not a bad thing. Such an intense focus on the present has helped the Yankees, a veteran in Ivan Rodriguez who’s played in two World Series and won a ring with the Marlins in 2003, and it’s kept Michael Young’s mind from dreaming about competing in his first playoff game.
Ian Kinsler’s concern was putting a bug in the Yankees’ head, making them think about possible payback time.
“We’re trying to play good baseball and looking to get out of here, take this to Minnesota and get on a run,” he said.
But don’t blame Grilli for his bravado. He told me about the time in 2006, after the Tigers lost their final five games – three against the lowly Kansas City Royals – to blow the AL Central title to the Twins, he was on the charter flight to New York. One more win and Detroit would have hosted Game 1 of the ALDS. Instead they were flying to New York and written off.
“I wanted to puke,” Grilli said.
After dropping Game 1 at Yankee Stadium, the Tigers rallied past Mike Mussina to steal Game 2 and exhaled so loudly you felt a stiff breeze. Players whistled and screamed, “Who Da Tiger!” and passed around Coronas to celebrate the ending of a six-game losing streak. Detroit would bounce the Yankees in four and sweep the A’s en route to the World Series, where they ran out of steam and lost to the Cardinals in five.
“We were like, ‘What the [heck],'” Grilli recalled. “Let’s go out and play.”
Designated for assignment by the Rockies in June, Grilli was acquired by the Rangers for cash considerations four days later. Until getting A-Rod to bounce out, he had not recorded an out in nearly a month, having spent time on the DL and giving up three runs his prior two appearances. He’s another veteran who adds playoff experience to a franchise looking for its first-ever postseason series win. Someone had to declare the Rangers legit. Leave it to a guy who has nothing to lose.
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By Jon Lane
Nick Swisher had a great line after the disaster that was the Yankees’ 15-5 loss the the Rays: This game is like an Etch-A-Sketch, you need to shake it and start over again.
Whenever our own Jim Kaat worked a game in which nothing went right, he’d call it an “amnesia game,” one that you forget about quickly. You turn the page to the next day and the next game. That’s what the Yankees need to do tonight. I say this knowing that much of their fan base is already proclaiming the season a bust: There will be more of these amnesia games, so suck it up and focus on the big picture.
That leads me to Chien-Ming Wang. It may be two starts, and seasons are defined over the long haul, but there are big problems here. A pitcher who was 46-15 with a 3.74 ERA from 2006-08 has given up 15 runs on 15 hits and six walks in 4 2/3 innings covering two games for an ERA of 28.93. In light the worst start of Wang’s career (eight runs on six hits while recording only three outs), John Harper suggested that he may find himself out of the rotation by May should he keep throwing his sinker thigh-high.
Phil Hughes won his first start at Triple-A Scranton on Sunday after allowing three runs on six hits in six innings with six strikeouts and would be the first one called up in the event of injury or poor performance. If Wang, a two-time 19-game winner, were to be removed from the rotation, it wouldn’t be without precedent. Two seasons ago, Joe Torre pulled a struggling Mike Mussina in favor of Ian Kennedy following a stretch in which the veteran right-hander allowed 19 earned runs in 9 2/3 innings — an ERA of 17.69 — over three starts.
Incidentally, the last of those three starts was a 16-0 Yankees loss to the Tigers on August 27, 2007 – in the heat of a pennant race. Not only did Mussina finish the season 3-0, the Yankees recovered to make the playoffs. Nothing like breaking out the Etch-A-Sketch in times of need.
For now, Wang is starting Saturday against the Indians and it’s way to early to conclude that he’s suddenly forgotten how to pitch. When his sinker is up and the rest of his repetoire is flat, he’s in a world of hurt, and even if opposing hitters’ homework is paying off, the good pitchers make adjustments and continue to evolve. That’s where Wang is right now. Joe Girardi and Jorge Posada say the problem is mechanical, and Wang added he’s not injured. But if this continues by mid-May, tough decisions will have to be made. And then you have to worry about the bullpen and whether it’ll be running on fumes by the All-Star break.
Peter Abraham speculated that the Yankees may need to make a move tonight to strengthen their bullpen, which leaves Jon Albaladejo and Phil Coke as candidates to be optioned out. Last night was the most powerful argument why the Yankees leaving Florida without a long reliever was a mistake. It got to the point where Swisher was on the mound in the eighth inning. The Yankees are better than that, and to quote Posada, “Wanger is better than that. He knows that.”
Back with more later, including tonight’s starting lineups. And T-minus two days until the home opener.
By Jon Lane
It’s 1-0 Yankees in the top of fifth thanks to a Mark Teixeira single. Andy Pettitte has whiffed five and as of this writing retired seven straight batters. Apparently, the veteran left-hander is already in midseason form. He won’t pull a Mike Mussina, winning 20 games coming off a down season, but he’ll be much better than last year as a No. 4 starter.
You’ll get to see Pettitte in person, or on the tube, when he splits Saturday’s exhibition game with A.J. Burnett. The YES Network will air it live at 1 p.m.
The photo to your left isn’t Pettitte, but it’s a cool shot of Derek Jeter. His range is supposedly diminished, but can anyone duplicate his patented leaping snap throw to first base? I think not.
3:07 p.m. Think Mark Teixeira is ready for the season? His RBI double put the Yankees ahead 2-1 in the seventh and he’s accounted for both of the Yankees’ runs so far.
Teixeira is 2-for-3 and is batting .408. Pettitte pitched 6.2 strong innings, allowing five hits, one run (earned), no walks, seven strikeouts and one wild pitch while throwing 92 pitches.
3:15 p.m. Angel Berroa doubled home a run to provide the Yankees some insurance, but was gunned down as third base attempt to stretch it into a triple. Still, he continues to make his case that he and not Ramiro Pena, should head north.
3:35 p.m. That’s a wrap from Dunedin. Edwar Ramirez froze Jose Bautista for strike three to secure a 3-1 Yankees win. One step closer to coming home.