By Jon Lane
The Yankees have little time to bask in the glory of their four-game destruction of the Red Sox with a game tonight against the Blue Jays, and a seven-day West Coast trip without a day off until August 20, but the facts and figures generated from this Boston Beatdown are extraordinary:
? The Yankees completed their first four-game sweep of the Red Sox in 24 years; their pitching held Boston’s offense scoreless for 31 innings, the longest streak in 35 years.
? The Red Sox were 3-for-38 with runners in scoring position in the four games.
? The Yankees are 4-8 against the Red Sox this season, but from their perspective that’s more beautiful than a supermodel. Consider: Since the All-Star break, the Yankees are 18-5, the Red Sox 8-14. New York is also 18-3 in its last 21 home games and 56-27 since Alex Rodriguez made his season debut May 8. The Yankees have won seven straight and hold a commanding 6 ½ game lead in the AL East, the Red Sox’s largest deficit since October 1, 2006, with 51 games left.
It remains too early to tell if this will finish off the Red Sox like the Yankees’ five-game sweep at Fenway Park did in 2006. And unlike the past four days, the Yankees’ famous sweep in 1978 put the Red Sox down, but not out as Boston rallied down the stretch to force a one-game playoff, the day Bucky Dent broke hearts all over New England. But a comparison of other numbers lends credence to this being Boston Massacre III:
1978: Yankees 42, Red Sox 9
2006: Yankees 49, Red Sox 26
2009: Yankees 25, Red Sox 8
Does this mean the season is over? Absolutely not. But as Steven Goldman writes, the success of the past four days have the Yankees in a very good place.
By Jon Lane
Game 1 of the two-game set is tonight with Andy Pettitte squaring off against Roy Halladay, who makes his first start in T.O. since surviving the trade deadline and remaining a Blue Jay. Red Sox-Yankees may begin on Thursday, but this series also carries plenty of intrigue.
? Nice pitching matchup tonight (YES HD, 7 p.m.): Andy Pettitte vs. Roy Halladay. Pettitte may be on his last legs, but so far so good in the second half. He comes off a strong game last Thursday in Chicago, two runs (one earned) on five hits in 6 1/3 innings during a tough-luck no-decision, and owns a 2.70 ERA in his last three starts – and has pitched into at least the seventh inning in all three. Speculation will increase from where I sit on whether this will be Pettitte’s final Major League season, but anything he provides down the stretch is critical. If the Yankees make the postseason, Pettitte will get a Game 3 start – or perhaps Game 2 – based on track record alone.
? Expect a packed house energized that the Yankees are in town and Doc Halladay (11-4, 2.68 ERA) is still a Blue Jay. Halladay is 16-5 with a 2.90 ERA in 34 games – 32 starts – versus the Yankees and 8-0 with a 2.10 ERA in his last 10 games against New York at Rogers Centre. The last time the Yankees saw Halladay in Toronto was May 12, when pitched a complete-game five-hitter in a 5-1 victory, but they did tag him for five runs in seven innings (three home runs) during a 6-5 July 4 win in 12 innings.
? We’re seeing Phase I of the Joba plan with the Yankees bumping him an extra two days to start Thursday against the Red Sox (while avoiding throwing Sergio Mitre out there). How the team actually manages this innings limit thing will be unveiled a little each time. If you notice, Phil Hughes has been getting a bit more work with each appearance (except yesterday).
Speaking of Mitre, he and his 7.90 ERA starts Wednesday. Unless Brian Cashman snags a veteran starter that clears waivers this month, he better hop Mitre shows dramatic improvement off a disasterous start Friday night (five runs on seven hits in three innings). Otherwise you’re looking at Kei Igawa (whoa boy) starting potentially key games.
? Heading into Showdown Thursday, the Red Sox play two games against the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg before flying into New York City. Both teams will have their hands full the next two days.
By Jon Lane
We’re just approaching mid-May and have reached the season’s first “big” series. For once it’s not Yankees vs. Red Sox, for the Bronx Bombers are in Toronto to face the first-place Blue Jays.
That’s not a typo, folks. The Blue Jays, an afterthought for years in the AL East, are 22-12, boast four players (minimum 112 at-bats) batting at least .283 and have persevered despite a starting rotation held together by Roy Halladay, bubble gum and duct tape.
Already it’s a big series and a proving ground for both teams. The Yankees need to work out of their annual early-season doldrums and make a statement, writes Steven Goldman. They will greet the sub-.500 Twins and Orioles on their next homestand before welcoming the World Champion Phillies Memorial Day weekend. If they can hold it together, notes Goldman, Jorge Posada (and perhaps Brian Bruney) will be back and the team will (theoretically) be fully staffed for the first time all year and can really make some progress.
Don’t forget about Chien-Ming Wang either. Wang is starting in Scranton tonight and a strong effort might punch his ticket back to the Yankees along with the hope that his 34.50 ERA over three starts was a wicked aberration.
Think the Toronto media is pumping up this week’s three-game set? The Toronto Star is hyping tonight’s matchup as potentially the game of the year, and not just because it’s Doc Halladay facing A.J. Burnett. The scribes have noted the critics who have cited the Blue Jays playing 20 of 34 games against the AL Central and have not yet faced their rugged division rivals. Then there’s the return of Alex Rodriguez, and the sense of urgency growing in Yankeeland, that’s expected to draw a walk-up crowd that will boost attendance to at least 30,000. Figure on a few of them holding foam syringes and wearing blond wigs. Necessary? No, but it’s the nature of the beast.
Blue Jays fans have had nothing to cheer about since consecutive World Series championships in 1992 and ’93, so you can’t blame them for getting excited about their team holding the AL’s best record. The Jays have rarely made a big bang during the offseason, but the core of the team is beginning to pay dividends. Cito Gaston’s group lead the Majors in batting (.294) and runs scored (204), and are in the top five in on-base and slugging percentage. Then of course there’s Halladay, whose six wins are tied with Zack Grienke for the league lead and his 52.0 innings pitched rank third.
It was September 24, 2008 when Burnett walked off the Rogers Centre mound for the last time as a Blue Jay after whiffing 11 Yankees through eight innings. A crowd of 28,701 gave him a standing ovation, imploring him to re-sign as a free agent. That didn’t work, so expect Burnett to receive the treatment given to Mark Teixeira (Baltimore), Johnny Damon (Boston) and A-Rod (everywhere).
“I’m sure I’m going to get some boos,” Burnett told the media in Baltimore, “as long as I hear a couple of claps in there. But to be honest with you, it’s probably going to fuel the fire. I’m going to channel it that way.”
Burnett needs something to get him going. He’s winless in his last four starts (6.66 ERA) while allowing five home runs and walking 13 in 24 1/3 innings. CC Sabathia stepped up Friday in Baltimore in what everyone hopes will spark a turnaround. Now it’s Burnett’s turn. He’ll have to out-pitch his old friend. Halladay was 3-0, 1.80 in two complete games against the Yankees last season and owns a career record of 15-5, 2.86.
By Jon Lane
Finally it’s upon us, baseball! The Yankees open their Grapefruit season today at 1:15 p.m. against the Blue Jays in Dunedin, Fla., in which their full roster will be intact before many players leave to prepare for the World Baseball Classic.
This game is neither televised nor over the radio waves – I wish it was because Alex Rodriguez is playing and it would have been interesting to gauge fan reaction – but we’ll do our best to provide periodic updates. A-Rod is braced for a hostile reception, but to him that’s nothing new.
News flash: Joe Girardi announced the order of his rotation this morning, reports The Journal News‘ Peter Abraham.
Many of you were hoping Wang would be No. 2 between Sabathia and Burnett. You got your wish and it’s a good decision by Girardi to separate two power pitchers with Wang’s nasty sinkerball, which helped win 19 games in consecutive seasons. Not a bad No. 2, eh?
Furthermore, the plan is for Chamberlain to make roughly 30 starts. Chamberlain will be carefully monitored, but the last thing you want to do is handle him with kid gloves. Let him go out and show what he’s all about.
Brett Gardner CF
Derek Jeter SS
Robinson Cano 2B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Nick Swisher RF
Shelley Duncan DH
Juan Miranda 1B
Todd Linden LF
Kevin Cash C
The starters: Brett Tomko vs. Brett Cecil
The Yankees agreed to a Minor League contract with Tomko on Friday and invited him to Spring Training. The veteran right-hander turns 36 on April 7 and split last season with the Royals and Padres. In 12 seasons, Tomko is 95-99 and a 4.68 ERA in 368 games (260 starts) with the Reds, Mariners, Padres, Cardinals, Giants, Dodgers and Royals. His chances at the making the Yankees are a longshot – and our Steven Goldman is not a big fan – but he’s another veteran arm that could be stashed away just in case.
Tomko, incidentally, will wear Bobby Abreu’s old No. 53.
The rotation: Tomko, Kei Igawa, Christian Garcia, Mike Dunn, Dave Robertson, Dan Giese and Jose Veras.
About the Blue Jays
Remain a middle-of-the-road team off a fourth-place finish in the AL East … pitching staff is anchored by Roy Halladay, who has thrown 220-plus innings in three consecutive seasons while averaging 17.3 wins … injuries limited five-time All-Star Scott Rolen to 115 games (.262-11-50), but he batted .307 with three home runs and 11 RBIs over his final 25 games … Vernon Wells suffered a left hamstring injury in drills on February 23, and might miss the remainder of spring training … manager Cito Gaston returned for his second stint as Jays pilot when he took over for the fired John Gibbons on June 20, 2008 and signed a two-year extension that September.