May 29, 2007

Yankees Quick Check: Pitching + Run Support + Defense=Win

Tyler Clippard came through for his seasoned, big league teammates Tuesday night against the White Sox. In return, the defense and the offense chipped in to help him out. This Yankees' season could have been scripted by the late, great, Kurt Vonnegut himself, as this cosmically challenged team found itself fraught with a plague of injuries, poor plays, and silent bats in the lineup. If momentum ends with the next day's starter, the Yankees have stumbled every fifth day with a new, unproven arm sent out to the mound to earn his first major-league win and to keep the team from slipping further down the greased pole that is the AL East standings.

Tuesday night's game represented the prototype game which the Yankees need if they are to get back to .500 and then mount some sort of run at either a wild card berth, or, dare I say it, the division title. There's been a lot written about the talent that's on this team and how eventually these players will begin to play better baseball because "they have to, they're too good." It seems so simple after watching them play Tuesday night that all they have to do is pitch well, play solid defense, and hit in the clutch and their problems will fade away the same way as one forgets a dreadful nightmare somewhere after the time they wake up and before they eat breakfast.

The flip side of this is whether or not the fickle finger of fate decides to torment some other team in their division instead of them. One wouldn't want to see anyone get hurt; but, what if the Red Sox began to slide backwards due to injuries to key members of the pitching staff? What if Big Papi, David Ortiz, fell into a "two for forty nine" batting slump? Things can happen. If Kurt Vonnegut can have theoretically written a "Dead Eye Dick" style script for this Yankee team's unexpected and unprecedented run of bad luck, then some other unseen author could craft a tale of a former underdog team, the Red Sox, which found themselves at the top of the division early in the season, only to find themselves in a rapid skid downward by the All Star Break. It can happen, though this writer would rather see the Yankees get by on their merits, than by capitalizing on unfortunate events which ruin other teams.

My point in all of this is that just as no one could have predicted the karmic catastrophe which befell the Yankees this season, the recipe for extricating themselves from this division standings quagmire seems to consist of fundamental baseball, solid pitching, and timely hitting. Mix some bad luck for their division rivals for good measure.

May 25, 2007

Good Luck Yankees, I'm Out For the Weekend!

As if anything I do or think will have any effect on the Yankees level of play, I have to take the weekend off with my family. That means, no more crying about the Bombers in the confines of this space, and no more advice from my living room armchair for Brian Cashman and company. Of course, I'll watch the games, such as I can, while attending the many gala events I've been invited to over the course of the next three days. But, I will watch them in much the same way kids view horror movies. That is with my hands over my eyes while peeking through my fingers.

They should get through okay though, the Yankees that is. They seem to respond well to a good pitching performance by their starters of late. The lone exception would be that aging, fragile, touchy, intense, opinionated, clubhouse loner, Mike Mussina. That's another whole column right there. But, that will have to wait until Mr. Grudge returns after this glorious Memorial Day weekend.

It needs to be said, however trite this offering may be in this space, that I offer a special thank you to all of our service men and women in the United States Armed Forces fighting for our country overseas. Also, thank you to all of my readers both here and over at Gotham Baseball Magazine for making this site ever more popular.

Happy Memorial Day.

May 24, 2007

Yankees Quick Check: Taking It Day By Day

A quick and un-scientific survey of the dwindling number of Yankees fans at my place of employment on Thursday revealed that hope is still alive in Yankees Land. "Day by day, that's the only way I can take them." Reported one of the longest tenured and most stalwart of the fans I surveyed. "They looked good last night," He continued "and they blew it the night before, and the kid Clippard did great against the Mets. Let's see how they do against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim this Friday. coming up."

He said the "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim" for dramatic effect. It was like saying "General George Patton," instead of merely "Patton." Tyler Clippard takes the mound again against the younger, more competant of the Weaver brothers for the Angels. The Yankees have a good chance in that game as no one named Mike, Moose, or Mussina will be pitching for them.

Such was the general consensus as I made my rounds, polling my co-workers. Apparently a memo went out to all Yankee fans announcing that this was supposed to be the "opinion of the day" which the Yankee's faithful must cling to, rather than jump off the bandwagon. This writer didn't get the memo. It's frightening to think what the Angels, certified Yankee-killers, will do to this team if the Yankees feel good about themsleves and think they can drop one or two games in a row. This writers cynicism about this season has grown to the point that if the Yankees do win a game, I'm under the assumption that it has more to do with the other team blowing it, rather than the skill of the Yankees. Maybe that's a terrible way to think; but, if it gets me through, one day at a time, then I'll do it. I'll be miserable.

May 23, 2007

NY Yankees: Hey Moose, Buy A Clue!

Apparently Mike Mussina didn't get the memo. The New York Yankees are trying to battle their way out of a deep hole in the American League East and win their division. Yes, that is a tall order, and if the level of determination they showed on both Sunday and Monday indicated that they were serious about becoming contenders, all of that was lost on the "Moose."

As reported by Kat O'Brien in the Wednesday, May 23, 2007 edition of Newsday, "Mussina has never really gotten on track this season, and he did not do so last night. He gave up six runs in four innings in his first start of the year, then strained his hamstring in his next outing. Once he came off the disabled list, he had two decent games before reverting to inconsistency in his last two." Mussina is quoted as saying: "I felt like my arm had some life the first two," Mussina said. "I haven't felt like I had that life the last two." Not for nothing, if you don't feel like you can pitch before a game, then don't.

If the Yankees were ten games up over the Red Sox instead of the other way around, this writer would feel that Mussina was right to take the ball and give it a shot. At this point in their season, every single game, every inning, every pitch is important. Mussina should have either sucked it up and thrown like he never has before, or given the ball to someone else. Given that all of the rookies who have been called up this season have largely done a terrific job, one of them could have taken the mound on short rest.

Still, Mussina's lousy outing does not get the rest of the team off the hook. The team was back to it's typical (for this season) listless approach at the plate, and allowed Julian Tavarez to squelch their offense. Now they have to face Curt Schilling tonight and they can't win while asleep at the wheel. They need to pretend that this is the post season even though the Red Sox are on cruise control. The Yankees have to pretend that this is a big, important game like game seven of the 2004 ALCS. No, wait, scratch that.

Just when one thought that the Bombers have turned a corner over the last two days, they go ahead and fall flat on their collective face, again. What's Joe Torre's take on Tuesday night's game? "We had opportunities," manager Joe Torre said, "and we just couldn't get the big hit." (Kat O'Brien, Newsday)

This latest tepid performance has raised the level of frustration felt by many Yankees fans to the point where they feel everyone should be traded and Brian Cashman should replace all of them with young guys from Triple "A" Scranton. At least those young guys would play hard, and it would be worth rooting for a team full of players who are thankful that they are playing in the big leagues, instead of a collection of sloths resting on their past laurels, making excuses, and apologizing for nothing in particular except to say that they're sorry. Oh, I'm sorry, that last one was aimed just at Jason Giambi.

May 22, 2007

Mr. Grudge Is In Gotham Baseball Magazine

Mr. Grudge is in Gotham baseball Magazine. For those of you who love baseball, this magazine is a must read. Click here to catch up on all that is happening in the world baseball in the major leagues, minor leagues, and even fantasy leagues and high school baseball. Of course, please read my column. Also, sign up and enjoy the forums.

Mr. Grudge wants to give thanks to the kind folks at Gotham Baseball Magazine for believing in my writing, and for posting me on their fine website. I encourage all of my readers to visit them and subscribe. Thanks you.

NY Yankees: Plenty Of Baseball Left

The Yankees looked aggressive Monday night against Boston. While they did win 6-2, they left the equivalent of the population of a small city of base runners stranded on base. However, I liked the fact that they ran on Tim Wakefield. Granted, Wakefield’s delivery is slow, and he pitches like he's a union employee on overtime. But, it was a good way to follow up on Tyler Clippard's excellent start against the Mets the day before. If they can keep this type of play up, win or lose, then this writer can keep respecting them as a team.

As Johnny Damon said while being interviewed on the field after the game "We need the fans to rally behind us." Johnny is good in the clubhouse, and he's capable of helping to lead a team of "idiots" to the World Series for an historic win. Maybe his attitude last night can help lead desperate fans who are crying for Torre's head back to their TV sets and to the stadium as the Yankees try as the team tries to piece together a respectable season and a possible post-season run.

As for the fans and writers calling for Torre’s head, I have an answer for them. Let him manage this season until it is over and done with. Its way too early, and he deserves the right to finish the season on his past accomplishments alone and not to be let go because of an almost historic run of bad luck and because of sloppy and desultory performance from some players. Torre has always been praised for pressing the right "buttons" to make his team work. He may have been pressing them a bit frantically last night, like someone dialing nine-one-one, but he pushed the right ones, got the running game going, and got decent pitching from Chien-Ming Wang. That's enough for one ball game, but it also may also be enough to convince his players that the rest of the season is worth fighting for.

Terry Francona, when interviewed by Michael Kay before the game Monday night on ESPN was quick to say the right things. Eager to avoid being quoted in every newspaper, website, and blog across the nation as being boastful, pointed out earnestly that “There’s plenty of baseball left to play.” He was also quick to note that the Yankees “Will heat up soon” or words to that effect. Essentially, Francona was trying hard not to run around with his arms in the air shouting “Yee Ha! The Yankees are toast!” Francona also doesn’t want his team to lean back and take a break and allow the Yankees to somehow catch up to them. They have their own historic comeback, being down three games to none in the 2004 ALCS to refer to in terms of realizing historic upsets.

Francona may very well be right. The Yankees can make a comeback, and it’s too early for them to consider the Yankees out of the race. A week ago, this writer would have thought the entire season was doomed. After last night’s game, the Red Sox remained a comfortable 9 ½ games ahead of their bitter, division rivals. There’s a lot of breathing room still between them and the Bombers. However, a wildcard berth for the Yankees is very probable for the Yankees, and Francona knows that. Also, we all remember the 1978 Yankees who overcame a fourteen game deficit and eventually won their division.

If Boston has to face a Yankees team with a healthy starting lineup consisting of Roger Clemens, Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, and possibly Phil Hughes in July through August, and, if the Yankees, who appear to awakening from their slumber, continue to play hard, things may not be so easy for the Red Sox down the road. The Yankees have had more than their fair share of injuries to their starting rotation, while the Red Sox currently have only one of their starters on the disabled list. That pitcher is Josh Beckett. As Terry Francona also stated in his interview Monday evening: “It’s good to play well early, but it’s also good to be playing well late in the season,” or words to that effect. Also, there's the possibility that the "injury bug" may catch up to the Red Sox as well. This writer hopes it doesn't as one does not hope for injuries either to the team you're rooting for, or their opponents. However, realistically speaking, such is the game of baseball. Injuries do happen, and at times with alarming regularity.

Last season, the Red Sox lost key players to injuries and finished the season in third place. No doubt that bit of history hasn't been forgotten either by the Red Sox management, or in their clubhouse. Maybe that is why Francona was reluctant to celebrate an early win for his team in the AL East. This writer doesn’t carry a tape recorder in his car and is unable to quote either Michael Kay or Terry Francona directly; but, the message Francona was making was clear. The Yankees can still be a formidable opponent, anyone on his team can succumb to injuries at any time, and there’s plenty of baseball left to play.

May 18, 2007

NY Yankees: From Devoted Fans: Hope

As I am always eager to do, I speak with other Yankees fans to get feel for the state of mind Yankees fans have. The polling I am conduct is very un-scientific, and often un-verifiable. This is the only way I can gather any real material other than my own thoughts for this blog. Bear in mind, I don't have any press credentials, and the only way I'll have access to anyone on the Yankees roster is if I buy a ticket and attend a game. I don't think anyone on the team will answer any of my questions there either as they wouldn't be able to hear me screaming at them from the "nosebleed seats."

Imagine this scene playing out in the stands:
Me: “Hey A-Rod! How do you explain your recent hitting slump!”
Drunken fan: “Shut up and sit down, you #@&*%^$! loser!”

Here's an example of my reporting methods. After striking up a conversation with a man wearing Yankees gear at my son's Lacrosse practice, I asked them what he thought of the Yankees’ current nine game deficit in the AL East. He immediately chimed in with an optimistic comparison of this team to the 1978 Yankees. I couldn't be sure if this guy in the Yankees cap and jacket was offering his own analysis of the situation, or if he was merely repeating what he heard on a popular sports radio program verbatim. I’d heard the same opinion on the radio as I drove to the practice field in my environmentally unfriendly SUV only minutes before our conversation.

However, I could sense the mood of this man. I could tell this Yankees fan and dad who was watching his son run across the field, lacrosse stick in hand along side my son, actually believed that this 2007 Yankees team could overcome their current nine game deficit and go on to win the World Series. "After all", he offered, "You have to remember that the 1978 Yankees came back from a fourteen game deficit in July behind Boston to enter the post-season and win the World Championship". He spoke with such vigor and authority that he made this writer believe that this team composed largely of listless, paycheck players could match the stellar spirit or talents of Thurman Munson, or Goose Gossage, just to name a couple.

Another Yankees fan, a co-worker of mine had extreme optimism as well, offered a different take, rather than the 1978 Yankees comparison.
By July the Red Sox will go about a ten or twelve game skid, right around the time the Yankees will become really hot, and then things will change.” He said. Then, for good measure he added “Don’t worry. The Red Sox will fall. They usually do.” I can’t say that I didn’t worry after that prediction. It was hardly based on anything but the gut feeling of a seasoned fan that sees the Red Sox as unwitting dupes standing in the path of his beloved Yankees. Inevitably, he believes, the Red Sox will fall by the wayside so the Yankees can charge past them and on to World Series victory.

If I was new to baseball and to the Yankees I might just believe him. But replay the final game of the 2004 ALCS in your head and you’ll get the same creepy feeling that I’m getting now as this team goes into the Subway Series against the Mets, and then after that (gulp) up against Boston. As of this writing, I’m scouring the internet doing research on how to build a time machine. 1978, here we come.

May 16, 2007

NY Yankees: Wildcard Or Bust!

As John Sterling, the venerable Yankees radio broadcaster is fond of saying: "You can't predict baseball." For the Yankees, this season proves that adage very poignantly. Who would have predicted that in the middle of May, the Yankees would be eight games behind the Boston Red Sox, and five games back in the Wildcard standings?

Are the Yankees capable of a comeback? In this writer's opinion, no. At least as far as the division is concerned. The Red Sox would have to go into a prolonged slump for the Yankees to overtake them. Plus, the level of play the Yankees have displayed recently has been flat, uneven, and lacking the typical "punch" from their lineup. Big hitters aren't hitting, and injuries struck early and often from the start of the season, mostly to their starting rotation. Many young arms have been plugged into the number five slot in the rotation in the hopes of finding a diamond in the rough; but, some did well, one got hurt, and another others lacked run support. Kei Igawa, their off-season acquisition from Japan, has been sent to Tampa for an overhaul. Such is not the makings of a comeback. It doesn't matter what Roger Clemens can do for the team, he only throws once every five days. The Yankees have to get fired up, and soon.

The Yankees can shave their heads, “Cowboy up”, act like "idiots" (see: Damon, Johnny), or come up with their own, witty, inside joke to inspire them. Whatever it is they need to get, they’d better catch it right away, and hopefully it’s very contagious. Right now, what’s spreading through Yankees Land is shock. The fans can’t believe how deep the trench their beloved team has dug for themselves is. Many are still in denial, asking other fans if it is indeed possible that the Bombers won’t make it to the post-season. The way things look now, it’s probable. Likely? Maybe not; but, definitely probable.

As for the wildcard? My guess is as good as yours. Being five games back in May isn't the worst position to be in. Yet, as I stated in the opening paragraph "You can't predict baseball." On that note, maybe the Red Sox actually can go on a twenty five game skid?

May 15, 2007

New York Yankees: Not Hitting and Unfitting

The big story for the Yankees this season has been the injuries to their pitching staff, the overuse of their bullpen as a result, and the standings in the American League East which has them eight games behind the Boston Red Sox, and in second place. One other factor in their steady decline which has only recently started to get attention is the lack of hitting coming from key players.

In article by Kat O'Brien in the Tuesday, May 5, 2007 edition of Newsday, the reporter explores the hitting slumps experienced by Bobby Abreu, Jason Giambi and Robinson Cano. Both Abreu and Cano never got off the ground this season. This is especially troubling for Cano as he was in contention for the batting title in 2006.

But, it is not just poor pitching and a lack of hitting plaguing this Yankees team. There looks to be, from a fan’s perspective, a lack of desire on their part. Yankees fans have much to worry about with this team. If they to make up any games against Boston during the rest of May, they need Boston to completely de-rail and go in a major slump, while the Yankees would need to win nearly every series they play. That's a tall order for a team this un-inspired and flat.

This lack of fizz is unfitting for a team which claims they want to go to the World Series. A baseball buddy of mine recently stated: "Why don't we call this team what they really are. They're a bunch of high-paid mercenaries who care only about themselves and don't know how to play as part of a team."

Across town, the Mets are playing terrific baseball, the team is unified, and their shaving their heads and having fun to show it. What do the Yankees need to do to be inspired? There's no one this writer can point to who might be willing to shave his head. Perhaps George Steinbrenner can bend his rules a bit and let Johnny Damon grow his beard and long hair back.

May 10, 2007

Yankees Fans: Never Celebrate, Just Complain

Perhaps fans of other teams do this too, but I noticed a trend among all of my "Yankees fan buddies". They'll talk to me only when the Yankees are losing or when they are having a bad week. No one will ever come up to me and tell me that they saw the last game that they won and it was great. It's as if they expect the Yankees to always win, and when they don't it's time to gripe and complain like the team will never win another game again. For them, disaster looms not only after every single loss, but even in victories where the Yankees left runners stranded on base in scoring position, or a relief pitcher came in and gave up a run or two. "They can't do that against Boston" they'll say. Granted, although the do Yankees appear to be foundering (as of this writing they are eight games behind The Red Sox, and in third place in the AL East), and signing Roger Clemens may be too little help too late, there is no way these fan/friends of mine are going to be happy unless it is October and the Yankees just won the World Series.

Recently, which happened to be the morning after a Yankee victory, I encountered one of the guys I work with who is a regular participant in the Yankees discussions which take place where we work, and I asked that since the Yankees won against the Texas Rangers the night before, why didn't he come to me with a "happy report" on the previous night's game? He said: "Let's not get too excited. If they can win three against Boston, then I'll be happy. But this team doesn't look like it can handle either the White sox or the Mets, for that matter." He may be right, and I'm inclined to agree with him; but if the whole point of being a fan is to derive some sort of pleasure from a watching a game, then, using my baseball buddy’s yardstick for "fan enjoyment", the average Yankees fan get's no joy at all from any regular season game.

The whole Yankee's regular season is a setup for championship in October. At least that's the way the team's organization from George Steinbrenner on down sees it. This attitude has also trickled down to the fan base as well. No wonder A-Rod got booed so vociferously last year even though he put up good numbers. Nothing is too good for fans of this team. It's "Dynasty or Bust" every single summer.

Is this writer, a Yankee's fan, worried that this team does not have what it takes to make it to the post season? You bet I am. Yet, my love and appreciation for this sport, as painful as it may be, helps me to understand that there are twenty nine other teams in Major League Baseball, and that the Yankees can't win every year no matter how much money they spend toward that goal. Yes, I am worried about the team and their season. Yet, I am also worried about Yankee fans and their incessant griping. To paraphrase an over-used line from the cinema: "Spoiled is as spoiled does."

May 9, 2007

Doug Mientkiewicz: Yankee's Pick Me Up

One Yankee who is beginning to show more than a blip on the radar screen is Doug Mientkiewicz. Signed during the off-season in a platoon situation with (at the time) either Andy Philips or Josh Phelps, Mientkiewicz has been doing more lately than flashing impressive leather. He's been hitting and making remarkable plays. Tuesday night in the fifth inning, Doug dove for a ball hit by Gerald Laird of the Texas Rangers, and while on his knees, dove towards him for the tag. But when laird missed the first base bag, Mientkiewicz, while still on his knees scrambled and beat Laird to first base for the out. Watching the instant replay, one has to say "wow." That play is the definition of hustle.

The Yankees have been plagued with injuries, mostly to their starting rotation, this season, and now it seems that Jason Giambi may have to miss some games due to a bone spur in his foot. It's good timing that Mientkiewicz is swinging the bat much better these days because it will help pick up the team in Giambi's absence. It's not to suggest that Mientkiewicz is a hitter of Jason's caliber; but, having someone showing as much hustle as Doug Mientkiewicz has lately is exactly what the doctor ordered in this situation. In April, the pitching staff was unable to pick the team up after the spate of injuries which sidelined their starters. Let's hope the Mientkiewicz sets an example for others.

May 8, 2007

Slow Mo Shouldn't Go

We'll never stop believing in Mariano Rivera. He's been almost un-hittable for so long that when he has bad outtings, such as Monday night's game against the Mariners when he gave up the go ahead run, in the form of a solo home run, in a game tied at 2 to Adrian Beltre, fans are shocked. Quoted in a report on the Yankees MLB website by Caleb Breakey, Don Mattingly said about Rivera: "We expect him to be perfect every time out," Mattingly said. "It's not always going to happen, but it's Mariano. You know he's going to do the job for you."

If you're like this writer who witnessed Beltre's home run against the "Sandman" Monday night, it felt like the wind was knocked out of you. The man is only human. Is his recent spate of melt downs due to age? Rivera is thirty eight years old. He's been dominant for so long in his career that people forget that someday, even the great Mariano Rivera may have to either change roles on the team or retire. What would the Yankees do without their hero closer? They'd lose big games in tight spots, that's what they'd do. Since there is no heir apparent in the farm system or anywhere else on the impending trade market to fill his big shoes, Yankee fans, and the Yankee organization as a whole have every reason to ponder whether or not Mariano has reached the end of his career.

It could be that Mariano is going through a rare stretch. Because he hasn't been used very often this season, his performance may be suffering because of it. A pitcher like Mariano needs to taken out for a spin every once in a while, like a finely tuned exotic sports car, to maintain performance. Mariano has a routine, and the bizarre nature of this Yankee's season has kept him on the bench way too often. In games where the Yankees hand the bullpen a lead after six or seven innings and they almost expectedly give it up, what's a closer to do?

This season, as the ninth inning approaches in a close game, the strains of Metallica's "Enter Sandman" will blare over the Yankee Stadium loudspeakers. Fans will cheer for their hero as he tosses his warm up pitches on the mound. Will he close the game? Will there be another upsetting ending like the one Monday night and others this season? Who knows about that? But, one thing is for certain, Mariano Rivera is a hero, a legend, and we shouldn't give up on him, yet.

May 7, 2007

"The Rocket's Pin-Striped Glare"

Yankees fans around the globe are high-fiving each other and shouting "YES!" But, they aren't talking about the Yankee’s television network. They are all celebrating the return of Roger Clemens to the Bronx, and not a moment too soon. Though he most likely won't start again until the end of May, his presence both on the field and in the clubhouse, and all throughout the American League means one thing: the Yankees are contenders...again.

Forget the fact that they opened the bank vault for Clemens and made special concessions for him that they don't do for anyone else (he's free to go home between starts), the Yankees needed to do this, and it was the only move to make. If they lured The Rocket back to Yankee Stadium in the off season with his special condition of returning home between starts, one could raise an eyebrow, or complain about the Yankee’s payroll. But, this deal deserves special consideration. This team is currently 5 1/2 games behind Boston, and that gap could widen to an insurmountable gulf, even this early in the season. In spite of the terrific pitching the Yankees have received from the starters of late (we can erase Kei Igawa's last start from memory with the help of psycho-therapy) this team has a lot of catching up to do.

Bringing in Roger at this point in time was the equivalent of pulling the emergency brake on a runaway train. Who knows who else is going to pull a hamstring? Can the Yankees still rely on guys like Darrell Rasner, who pitched extremely well in his start against the Mariners on Sunday, shutting them down for 5 2/3 innings? Who else out there is a bit sweaty about Matt DeSalvo’s scheduled Monday night start against the Mariners?

There's no argument that plenty of hope was springing from the pitcher's mound both at Arlington and at Yankee Stadium this week. Young Phil Hughes pulled a hamstring while throwing a no-hitter Tuesday night, and Chien-Ming Wang pitched a perfect game into the eighth inning. Both had terrific stuff and made Yankee fans very happy. But, there was still an under-current of doom in the Bronx. There was nothing to anchor the good feelings left over from both of those games and give the team and fans alike something to build on. There was no one, not even the mighty A-Rod or the captain, Derek Jeter, who loomed large enough over Boston's lead in the AL East to make the Yankee's ride to the World Series believable or possible. Only the seven time Cy Young Award winner and no-doubt, walk in Hall of famer himself carries such credentials.

Roger can demand, without explanation, excellence from everyone on the starting rotation. He can motivate the relievers to the point where they might not actually blow every lead the offense hands them. Roger can show the fans that there is still hope in this young season and that this team is hungry, tough, and made of championship caliber stuff.

It may be up to three weeks before Roger Clemens puts on pin stripes again, but with one stroke of the pen, one Major League signing, the Yankees and Roger have put this team, and this baseball town back on the right track for a World Series victory.

May 3, 2007

Do The Yankees Need Clemens?

A lot can happen in a month. Players who were hitting the month before can go into deep slumps, pitchers who were effective and able to record outs suddenly become very hittable. So, if it can happen to a player, then whole teams can either begin to win games, or begin to slump. Considering the Yankees awful start in April due mostly to injuries to their starting rotation, things can only get better.

Mike Mussina is back from the DL, as is Chien-Ming Wang. With Andy Pettitte, Mussina, and Wang at the top of the rotation (not necessarily in that order), and with Kei Igawa maybe pitching fourth, the Yankees should survive with a mix and match of rookies and call-ups taking turns in the number five spot. One of them may even perform well enough to earn a permanent spot in the rotation. Phil Hughes was well on his way to doing just that until he pulled a hamstring while throwing a no-hitter for 6 1/3 innings in the Yankees' 10-1 victory over the Rangers on Tuesday. Speaking of injuries, who knows, but maybe even Carl Pavano will come off the DL to pitch a game or two?

But Roger Clemens? Do the Yankees really need him? This writer thinks so. The Red sox aren't going to fall into third place like they did last year, injuries or not. The Blue jays are a better team, and even the Devil Rays play the Yankees tough. Forget complaining about money and special considerations as part of a potential deal to sign The Rocket. A man like Clemens deserves special treatment if he comes to a team because he can be a real difference maker.

This writer does not doubt that Brian Cashman has been speed dialing Clemens' Agents, the Hendricks brothers, for weeks now. But after George Steinbrenner’s last public statement about the state of the Yankees, I'm sure the Yankees will do whatever Roger wants and pay him whatever his agents have the nerve to ask for. You only want to play home games, Roger? Sure, we'll make that happen. You want twenty five million dollars for a half a season worth of work? Gulp, yeah, we'll make that deal. We'll even give you another brand new Hummer like the one we gave you when you retired three years ago.

The Yankees will do all of that and more so that they can save their season, win the World Series, please George Steinbrenner, save Torre's and Cashman's jobs, keep him away from the Red Sox at all costs, and oh yes, win one for the fans. Come back Roger, now, please.

May 2, 2007

Injuries Mounting for Yankees

During one feel-good game, possibly for the ages, the Yankees watched as their top pitching prospect, Phil Hughes, threw a no-hitter for 6 1/3 innings. The Yankees needed this uplifting start from someone on their pitching staff. It seemed that young Hughes, who was okay in his Major League debut against the Blue Jays, read the statement issued by George Steinbrenner the day before and decided it was time to rise to the occasion and pitch an incredible game.

With plenty of run support, the young Yankees phenomenon dominated the Rangers, walking three and allowing no hits. Then, he pulled a hamstring. Ouch! That's not only for Hughes himself, but a growing number of Yankees, especially the pitching staff who are limping around with pulled hamstrings and other maladies. How can this be? Is there something in sunflower seeds they keep spitting all over the dugout?

Brian Cashman didn't analyze the buckets of sunflower seeds, or the bottled water for that matter; yet, he did use some logic and narrow things down to their new Director of Performance Enhancement, Marty Miller. Where there weren't so many hamstring injuries before Miller took over, there are now plenty with Mike Mussina, Hideki Matsui, Chin Ming Wang, and now Phil Hughes all sustaining hamstring injuries. While it's not certain that Miller's work is responsible for these injuries, Cashman is most likely on the right track. Plus, we the baseball consumers will never really know what the Yankees know and aren't telling us.

If Brian was awake all night thinking about this, as he stated on the YES Network before Wednesday night's rain out against the Rangers, he is aware of much more than they are letting on. Miller's firing does not come from guess work. Also, as desperate as the Yankees are to turn things around, firing someone wouldn't have been all that drastic a maneuver to begin with. With that said, it will take a long time to determine that Cashman has found the culprit which has been sidelining his players since the beginning if the season.

If Miller's training and conditioning methods are indeed the cause of all of the recent injuries, then it seems like Cashman’s move is a reasonable one. But, during the course of any baseball season, injuries are common enough without players straining themselves due to poorly planned exercise routines. Fans can only hope that the “Baseball Gods” take pity on the Yankees decimated roster and allow them to dive for base hits, slide into base, and pitch beyond the fifth inning without harm. Johnny Damon has been complaining of a bad back for at least a week now and has been going to a chiropractor. Let's hope that the chiropractor isn't named Miller.

May 1, 2007

If Torre's Fired, Then What's Next?

After reading the veiled threat from George Steinbrenner concerning the current state of the Yankees on April 30, 2007, the one word that stands out in his press release is "quickly." We all know in our hearts that if the Yankees don't get out of the basement in the AL East by June, Joe Torre and others on the coaching staff are going to be tossed out the door with their baggage sailing in the air behind them, and quickly at that.

Who then, will be Joe Torre's successor should the Yankees continue to tank, and "The Boss" drops his axe on Torre and maybe even Cashman? Immediately, those who realize how popular Joe is in New York feel that one man who occupies the seat next to him on the bench could fill in as skipper. This person has often been publicly deemed as the heir apparent to the Torre throne prior to the current state of affairs which leaves the Bronx Bombers in turmoil. That man is, of course Don Mattingly.

He has the proper credentials to lead this team of All-Stars, egos, and high priced talent. He's as cool headed as Joe Torre is, making the transition to Yankee skipper relatively smooth personality wise. Those who wished for the fiery Lou Piniella, now with the Cubs, to take over last October would have winced at Sweet Lou screaming at Jorge Posada when a pitcher did poorly (Piniella is notoriously hard on his pitchers and catchers). Mattingly's baseball pedigree need not be examined in this space as he is legend in New York. He'd be a perfect fit, yes, but would he be able to motivate this team? That's hard to tell. He went from "batting coach to the stars", to bench coach for a month. It's one thing to teach someone to swing; it's entirely another to make someone win when their moaning over the firing of their manager who has a lock on the Hall of Fame.

With all of that said, let's pretend that the Yankees don't take Donnie Baseball as the new Yankees manager. Who else is out there? Larry Bowa? Filip Bondy of the New York Daily News had a great line about Bowa as a candidate for Yankees manager in the Tuesday, May 1, 2007 edition of the Daily News: "The very idea of bringing Larry Bowa into the manager's office should scare every Yankees player into peak performance". That pretty much says it all.

How about Joe Girardi? One has to be suspect of a man who is named NL Manager of the Year and then is fired by his team. He's been deemed too controlling, and his conversations with Jon Lieber during the course of last season, offering his buddy helpful pitching advice leaves a sour taste in many fan's mouths, let alone the Florida Marlins. Lieber, who had been unsuccessful against the Marlins earlier in the season, was much more effective against them after his chat with Girardi. If Joe Girardi became unhappy in New York as manager, who is he going to ring-up with helpful advice that could hurt the Yankees?

There is one more candidate to fill in as Yankees manager who has name recognition and is a proven commodity, even in New York. That person is Buck Showalter. Sure, he was fired by George Steinbrenner in 1995, but that's never stopped George from hiring someone back. Buck is currently employed by the Cleveland Indians as their Senior Advisor to Baseball Operations. If Brian Cashman called up Buck and said that George is so very, very sorry for whatever happened back in those pre-glory days of Showalter's first reign as manager, and that they'd love to have him back to take over for Torre who actually took over for Buck in the first place, and there's also a big pile of cash waiting for him in the dugout, Showalter would kiss the job of Senior whatever and fly back to the Bronx before Brian had a chance to hang up the phone. That's my guess, for what it's worth.

So, in conclusion, does this writer want to see Joe Torre go? Of course not. It's not Joe Torre's fault that three-fifths of his starting rotation is on the DL, the other two are shaky at best, and the rest of his team are playing like they have hangovers. Joe deserves the opportunity to ride this one out for the entire season. he has the talent, patience, and the talent on his team. After all, it's only May first.