Yankees

Crystal Ball III

Last year I managed to predict three of the "final four" playoff teams and that probably means I will get all four wrong this year. But, without further ado, here is how I see the 2007 season ending up.
AL East
1-Yankees Yes, there are reasons to pick against them again, but the offense is deadly and the bullpen is very deep. Clippard and Hughes are waiting in the wings and I think they won’t have to wait long, but that is the difference, unlike years past, the pitching has a plan B in the minors.
2- Red Sox I almost went with Toronto, but I don’t like their health concerns. Boston made some big moves in the offseason, but inexplicably didn’t get a closer. That sent Papelbon back to the pen and Tavarez into the rotation. Lester may save them from that, but he won’t replace a rapidly-aging bottom of the lineup. Will Lowell and Varitek hit this year? Can Drew withstand Boston? Too many questions for me to pick them any higher
3- Toronto As I said, I flirted with picking them 2nd, but I have questions here too. Can Frank Thomas repeat his performance from last season? Can Halliday pitch the entire season? Overall, they should be good, but I wonder if they are due for a step back.
4- Tampa Bay What, the Devil Rays not in last? Yup, Delmon Young, BJ Upton, plus a great farm system and ownership finally willing to use it brings the Rays out of the depths.
5- Baltimore Peter Angelos is hard to understand. Erik Bedard should have a very good year. Markakis is a star on the rise, but there are way too many holes.

AL Central
1- Twins I think everyone is overlooking Minnesota. The M+M boys are great and Santana is the best in the bigs. Nathan can close with anyone and Tori Hunter will be plenty motivated.
2- Indians I was going to put the Tigers in this spot, but I worry about their young pitching and losing Rogers for the year. Cleveland has developed a nice team and should be pretty dangerous when Lee comes back
3- Detroit The Tigers will be good and it is an indication of this division’s strength that they are my pick for third
4- Chicago Not that I hate what Kenny Williams has done, but I just think the other teams have moved faster than him (for now)
5- Kansas City At least the fans will get to see 162 games of Alex Gordon.

AL West
1- Angels They are the class of the division with a ton of talent in the minors and a great owner. They will be tough all year long
2- Oakland I don’t think Zito will hurt them as much as people think and Piazza will be a nice addition. They will be in it, just won’t win it.
3- Texas Some interesting things going on in Arlington, including a new ballpark name. More importantly, the team is improving.
4- Seattle Hard to figure out what the Mariners are doing. Maybe Hernandez develops this year and gives them a boost, but it won’t be enough.

NL East
1-Philadelphia I like the team and their offseason moves. Freddy Garcia will boost the rotation when healthy and Ryan Howard is quickly becoming better than Pujols.
2-Mets Hard to understand how they didn’t add a starter in the offseason. Pelfy may come along, but when Glavine and El Duque are your 1-2, you have trouble. They still have a great lineup and I think Alou gives a big boost.
3-Braves Atlanta has greatly improved their bullpen and I wouldn’t count them out of making a run, but I think they lack behind the Phillies and Mets talent-wise.
4- Marlins I don’t think this team will win 70 games, but they have a worse team bringing up the rear of this division
5- Washington The Nationals may be the worst team in the NL. Losing Soriano in free agency after trading for him was a huge blunder.

NL Central
1- Cubs Call it crazy, but I think all the spending and Lou Pinella add up to a nice run in Chicago this year.
2- St. Louis I think the champs take a step back, but I predict a great pennant race down to the wire.
3- Millwaukee If Ben Sheets could ever be healthy, this team would be able to go somewhere, I am guessing he is not again.
4- Houston No Clemens, no Pettitte and Cliff Lee will be the biggest bust of free agency.
5-Reds I like the first two starters and Bailey should be up soon, but I don’t see much beyond that.
6- PIttsburgh Are there any reasons to even watch baseball in Pittsburgh anymore?

NL West
1- Dodgers I hate the Pierre signing, but I think they have the most talent of a very balanced division.
2- Arizona Young players and some good pitching bring them back from the dead.
3- San Diego The thought of David Wells finally working out and taking care of himself saddens me. He could have been a wonderful pitcher if he had done it earlier.
4- Colorado The Rockies win more than last year, that’s progress.
5- Giants Old team with Barry Zito, I guess the rebuilding commences when Bonds breaks the record.
Playoffs 
Twins over Angels- Santana twice beats anything the Angels can do


Yankees over Indians-Too much offense and Hughes in the fourth game seals it.

Yankees over Twins- This will be an epic series, but I think the Yankees win Game 7 at home.

Phillies over Dodgers- Ryan Howard hits 4 HR’s


Cubs over Mets- Pedro’s back, but Zambrano is better
Phillies over Cubs- Ryan Howard in Wrigley backed up by a better pitching staff

And finally….
Phillies over Yankees- the quest for 27 will begin again in 2008.

One Third Done

On the eve of interleague play, the Yankees have reached the conclusion of the first third of the season, a point where it is still too early to sweat the standings, but long enough to see some individual trends and patterns. Clearly, it has been a successful first third of the season for the Yankees; they end it with a 35-20 record, which is the best mark in baseball. This is even more impressive when you consider they were 8-11 after getting swept at home by the Red Sox.

The 2004 edition of the Yankees is currently made up of mediocre starting pitching, an excellent bullpen and a scary lineup. Let’s take a look at each area of the team.

Unlike years past, the Yankees do not roll out a starter who can dominate every day. Mike Mussina got off to a horrible start, but seems to be getting back on track. Kevin Brown was great at the start of the season, but has been roughed up as of late. Javier Vazquez has been dominating, but tends to give up a long ball at the most inopportune times. Jon Lieber has been up and down; his last two starts the down part of his season. Jose Contreras, I don’t want to talk anymore about Jose Contreras. On talent alone, this squad should improve and the Yankees will definitely need better in October.

The reason why the Yankees have not been hurt by their so-so starting pitching is that their bullpen has been lights out. Mariano has converted 23 out of 24 saves and Tom Gordon has given Joe Torre a second closer out of the bullpen. Paul Quantrill has been solid, with a few bumps along the way. The only real problem in the bullpen has been the lefties, White and Heredia have been terrible, but Joe Torre hasn’t needed to use them in crucial situations.

Offensively, the Yankees are a team you can never count out of a game, regardless of the score. A Rod, Sheffield, Matsui, Posada and Giambi are all having monster years. Ruben Sierra has been great when used. Enrique Wilson and Miguel Cairo have hit enough to cover second. The only real problems in the lineup are Bernie and Jeter. Bernie’s OPS has gone from .601 in April to .789 in May to .868 in June. An OPS over .800 for the season would make the Yankees happy. Jeter seems to have turned things around since the end of May, but he has a lot of hitting to do to get up to his normal career levels.

So, the Yankees head into the next part of the season with a solid foundation and apart from some minor tweaking here and there, no need for a bigger move- though that doesn’t mean one won’t be made in Yankeeland.

Peter’s columns appear Monday, Wednesday and Friday and he can be reached at peter@yankeesredsox.com

The Bridge, Part 2

At the conclusion of a successful road trip, the Yankees returned home to almost blow a five run lead in the ninth. They avoided a devastating loss, but again they needed to use Quantrill, Gordon and Rivera in a game they should have put away easily.

Now, the decision to use Quantrill was interesting, he came into the game with a four run lead. Yes, he has traditionally pitched the seventh inning this year, shouldn’t this be the spot to use someone else? After all, the “Big 3” are first, second and third in appearances in the American League this year. Gabe White, Felix Heredia and Tanyon Sturtze have been terrible and the fact that Joe won’t use them with a four run lead speaks volumes.

The problem is, you can’t send the same three guys out night after night and expect them to always click. Part of the reason the Yankees signed Quantrill and Gordon was to reduce Rivera’s workload. While he hasn’t appeared in the eighth inning much this year, he is still being used a ton. Quantrill’s ERA was twice as high in May as it was in April. Clearly, the Yankees need to have a fourth option in the bullpen to give these guys a night off.

The good news this weekend was that Steve Karsay has hit 94mph in a rehab start and his miraculous recovery may put him back in the Bronx by mid-June. However, Karsay cannot be counted on as a fulltime contributor just yet. The Yankees need to look at three different options to provide that fourth arm: Brett Prinz, Scott Proctor and Colter Bean.

Prinz is back in the majors after Kenny Lofton’s latest hamstring problem has landed him on the DL. While this stay is supposedly only temporary, until Giambi comes back Sunday, the Yankees should pitch him as much as possible and try him out in some tough situations, it’s time to find out what he is really worth.

The same can be said of Scott Proctor. Proctor has a powerful fastball and seems the perfect candidate to deliver the big strikeout. His control can be off at times, but I am willing to bet that Mel can help him trust his stuff more and cut down on his walks.

The last candidate is Colter Bean. Bean was actually selected by the Red Sox last winter in the Rule 5 draft, but returned to the Yankees when the Sox didn’t put him on their opening day roster. Bean has been awesome in Columbus striking out 36 in 29 innings while only giving up 17 hits and 3 runs. Those numbers are certainly worthy of a major league tryout.

All of this is a polite way of saying that Tanyon Sturtze stinks. This is not surprising as he has bounced from place to place in his career and has a career ERA of 5.20 in over 600 innings. Trading for Sturtze was a desperate play to get another candidate to start in place of Donovan Osborne. Osborne is gone and Contreras is pitching somewhat effectively, it is time for Sturtze to go. Get one of the other three in there and let’s see what they can do.

Peter’s columns appear Monday, Wednesday and Friday and he can be reached at peter@yankeesredsox.com

What’s Wrong With Jeter

As requested, today’s column will take on the much written about subject of Derek Jeter’s missing bat. The multitude of theories as to the reasons he is hitting below .200 can be broken down to these:

1- He has suddenly gotten old
2- His approach is hurting him
3- He is hurt
4- He has a psychological problem with sharing the same infield with A Rod

Let’s take a look at each one.

Jeter is 29 years old; about to turn 30, he has been in the majors for the past nine years and played over 1200 games. These are substantial amounts, but nothing that should have him worn out already. The fact is players of Jeter’s caliber do not suddenly flame out at thirty. A couple of years past thirty and they certainly do, but the clock has not struck midnight for Derek yet.

As to his approach, it is hard to think that something that got him 1500 hits and a career average of .317 before this season has suddenly turned against him. However, he is on pace to strike out 135 times and walk only 45. This may be more a factor of his pressing at the plate and not a sign of a flaw in his swing that pitcher’s have suddenly found and started to exploit. Jeter has always been a free swinger and it is hard to put too much emphasis on projections only one-quarter of the way through the season.

Injury is the most common reason given for his struggles. He must be hurt and not saying anything is the way the story goes. This is the hardest argument to believe as in watching Jeter it is hard to see any difference in his game. Last year, after he came back from his shoulder injury, you could see he wasn’t as aggressive on the basepaths or in the field. This year, your eye tells you something different. Furthermore, the statistical evidence doesn’t backup the injury hypothesis. Jeter is on pace to have one of his best defensive seasons ever. His current range factor is 4.8, an improvement of a point from last season. Yes, the Yankees are turning more double plays, and this helps increase his range factor, but the rate of increase in double plays is not as high as the rate of increase in his assists and putouts. For those of you who don’t like Range Factor as a measure of defense, his current Zone Rating (a percentage of balls fielded by a player in his defensive area) is .895, almost .40 points higher than the best mark of his career. I find it very hard to believe that he would be able to play that level of defense with an injury.

And that brings us to the last argument and the hardest one to prove, that A Rod’s presence is somehow affecting Derek’s offensive performance. It is hard to believe that someone who has consistently performed at such a high level and in high-pressure situations would have a problem with any new teammate, but I suspect that Derek may be pressing a little because of A Rod. Let’s face it, almost everyone (me included) said that A Rod should be the shortstop and Derek should change his position, not the other way around. I don’t care how accomplished a person you are, any type of criticism like that would cause you to want to prove people wrong. I suspect Derek has been trying to prove to the world that he is a great shortstop. As we have seen with almost all the new players coming to the Yankees in recent years, pressing like that doesn’t work well. (See Giambi in 2002, A Rod at the start of 2004 and Sheffield to date) Hitting in the majors is hard enough without having to lug any extra pressures to the plate.

Am I right? Only time will tell, if Derek starts hitting again and no other explanation is given, then I would say I am. If he continues to perform poorly in 2004 then perhaps he is suffering from a mysterious injury or something that I haven’t thought of in this column.

Peter’s columns appear Monday, Wednesday and Friday and he can be reached at peter@yankeesredsox.com

Rocket Return

It is official, Roger Clemens has signed a deal with the Houston Astros. Hopefully, this will end the ridiculous notion that Clemens is one of the great Yankees and should go into the Hall of Fame in Pinstripes.

Clemens is a great pitcher, one of the best ever, and he was an important part of the Yankees who went to four of the last five World Series. Yet, Clemens should not be remembered as a Yankee, but as a Red Sox. He pitched for them the longest and won more games for them than he did for any other team. Yes, he won his 300th and struck out his 4000th with the Yankees, but those moments do not erase all his time with Boston.

There were bad feelings on both sides when he left Boston and I imagine those will be repaired in the next few years. Remember, Carlton Fisk wasn’t exactly a fan of Boston when he left, yet he is in the Hall of Fame as a Red Sox.

Clemens won 77 games for the Yankees, or 14 less than Tommy John did. He deserves to be remembered as a big contributor for the Yankees, but he doesn’t deserve a monument.

Peter can be reached at peter@yankeesredsox.com

Goodbye Andy

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Well, Andy Pettitte is going to be a Houston Astro.  Frankly I am surprised and not just because I thought the Yankees would resign him, but because of what this means for him.

 

First off, for the Yankees, this leaves a hole in the rotation.  The Yankees just pulled off a great trade for Javier Vasquez (Yes, I liked Nick Johnson, but 27 year old power pitchers are hard to come by.) to replace Roger Clemens and now they need to replace Andy Pettitte.  Doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Perhaps they could have been more aggressive in their pursuit of Pettitte and things wouldn’t have gotten to this.  Apparently, they did ultimately offer thirty-nine million, but that was not enough to get things done. Why did the Yankees drag their feet on this? 

 

Well, I suspect two reasons and I am surprised that the media hasn’t focused on these issues more.

 

  1. Yes, Pettitte has been a solid performer for the past nine years for the Yankees, but he is not the ace of the staff and never would be.  Mike Mussina is an ace pitcher, Andy Pettitte is a good guy to have in the middle of the rotation, but a team with playoff aspirations would be in trouble with him in the front of it.  Look at his career numbers compared to Mussina or Pedro or Randy Johnson.  Don’t get me wrong, I liked Pettitte and wish he was still a Yankee, but he is not an ace.

 

  1. The media is infatuated with the idea that Pettitte is a great post-season pitcher.  Fact is, he has pitched some amazing games, Game Five 1996 World Series for example, but he has also pitched some real clunkers, Game Six 2001 World Series.  He was brilliant in the 2003 World Series, but it is a stretch to compare him to Orel Hershiser. 

 

And for Pettitte this move makes me scratch my head.  Yes, going home is important, but Pettitte may be overlooking a few important things.

 

  1. The Yankees have scored a tremendous amount of runs for Pettitte in his career.  Last year he was second in the American League in run support per start with 7.04 runs scored for him.  Wad Miller was the Astros leader with 5.48.  So, it is probably safe to assume that Pettitte have as many runs scored for him this year as he did last.

 

  1. Minute Made Park is not overly friendly to pitchers.  It was 8% easier to score a run there compared to the rest of the National League Parks.  (Yankee Stadium was 6% harder than the American League Parks)  Couple this with the fact that Pettitte has a better ERA at Yankee Stadium than on the road, and you can assume that Pettitte may give up a few more runs next year.

 

  1. Why should this matter?  Because, if Pettitte had stayed in New York and pitched as he has the past nine years he would project to win around 17-18 games a year.  (He wins an average of 53.9% of the starts he makes and starts around 33 games a year)  In three years, that would bring his career win total to 200 games and he would still be only 34 years old.  From that point, he might be able to get close to 250 wins and with that, he might have a chance at the Hall of Fame.  I think his win totals will decrease and his ERA will increase now. 

 

  1. Lastly, Pettitte is not a spotlight guy.  He doesn’t come out and say brash things and look for media attention.  Houston is expecting a savior to walk in the door and I would argue that there might be more pressure on him in that role than there would have been in continuing to be a quiet star on the New York stage.

 

I hope Andy does better than I think he will and I thank him for a great nine years. We will miss him.

 

So, with Andy gone, who fills his shoes?  Rumor has it some sort of trade involving Kevin Brown for Jeff Weaver.  If Brown is healthy, that gives the Yankees a very dangerous Big Three and gets rid of a problem in Jeff Weaver.  If they can, I hope they do it.  That would mean that they have replaced Clemens and Pettitte with Brown and Vasquez.  To me, that is an improvement. 

 

Wells is supposedly coming back with weight and conditioning clauses in his contract.  If he were healthy, he would be a good fifth starter, though I am still angry with him for Game Five of the World Series.

 

Something tells me the Yankees might go after Kevin Millwood now.  Interesting thing about Millwood, he and Pettitte have exactly the same number of win shares since 1998- 77 for each of them. 

 

I really can’t figure out what Gary Sheffield is thinking.  Steinbrenner is already volatile enough; I don’t think he will take kindly to this turn of events.  That is too bad; Sheff would be a great addition to the lineup.  The only other Right Fielder who I would rather have is Vlad Guerrero. 

 

Rumor has it Kenny Lofton might be Yankee bound as well.  Lofton would be a good fit as a leadoff hitter, but would we get the guy who hit .327 in Chicago or .277 in Pittsburgh?  He could be a great option against right handed pitching.  Maybe a DH platoon of Lofton and Spezio?

 

This is a somewhat sad day considering we lost a member of the Yankee family, but I am sure the Yankees will continue to retool and their bullpen looks really good for 2004.

 

Peter can be reached at pete@yankeesredsox.com

Turn The Page

Well, things did not exactly go to plan tonight. Let’s talk about it before I get sick.
 
There is no other way to say it, Wells let his team down tonight.  Obviously, his back wasn’t hurting him last night when he boasted that he was all about his "no conditioning" when talking about how Clemens was about "conditioning"  So, what happened?  I pray that he wasn’t out having a good time last night, I imagine we will hear if he was soon.  I can almost guarantee that all chances of the Yankees picking up that six million dollar option just went out the window.
 
Ok, I know Wells is hurt at the end of the first inning, but why did Torre pinch hit for him?  Let’s review, Top of the second, two outs, runner on first, Wells up.  Ok, you never want to give up an out, but I would have sent Wells up to hit in that situation.  Why?  Two reasons.  
 
1- The odds are strongly against Delluci doing much and by putting Wells up there, you save him for later.
 
2- You let Wells sit there and take three strikes, come out to the mound and need an injury replacement.  That way Contreras gets to warm up for as long as he needs.  Contreras was asked to make a tough transition from short to long relief, I think he would have benefited from some more warm up time.
 
Come to think of it, wouldn’t this have been the game to use Weaver?  Not to dwell on last night, but wan’t he the long reliever and wasn’t that what they needed tonight?
 
Nice to see the Yankees know how to execute a run down play.
 
According to my "unofficial" boxscore, the Yankees left nine runners on base tonight.
 
The end of game rally was nice to see.  It is the one positive they can carry over to Saturday night.
 
As I write this ESPN News is showing lowlights of the Knicks-Jazz game, where the Knicks shot 25% and scored 60 points TOTAL.  Let’s review, Knicks suck, Rangers suck, Giants suck, the Yankees have to come through for me!!
 
Well, the last two World Series went seven with the Home Team coming back from a 3-2 hole.  The Yankees will need to take that Home Field advantage to heart and I hope Destiny and Aura decide to show up as well.  
 

Day Off Doodles

Well, it is the first day off for the World Series, but your hard working staff here at yankeesredsox.com is still at it, keeping you on top of things. On the Red Sox side of the ledger, you will notice a photo Andy took today of his shoes. He’s been out there for four days and swears he will break David Blaine’s record by Thanksgiving. Don’t worry folks, we won’t let him jump, he is too valuable to the page and a fun guy to hang out with.

Wanted to mention that I posted the wrong Yankee rotation for the World Series. Sometime after the initial story, Torre decided to go with Pettite in Game 2, not Mussina. Now Mussina goes in Game 3 against Beckett. This is the one Marlin starter who really scares you. He is 23 and not afraid of anything. His start in Game 5 of the NLCS turned it all around. Mussina has yet to win in the postseason, but hopefully his relief effort in Game 7 will get him back on track. Either way, both teams will now have their pitchers rested and should be able to get back to business.

In case you missed it, Dave Anderson wrote an interesting piece on the Yankees in todays New York Times. He correctly pointed out how the Yankees disavow their heritage of 39 American League Pennants by making no mention of their teams that lost the World Series. I guess the thing is, when you have won 26 and lost 12, you don’t need to highlight your near misses. Look at the NY Rangers, they have banners for all their playoff teams. When you look at the banners, it kind of cheapens the Stanley Cup banners. Now, I will admit, making the NHL playoffs is not as big a deal as making the MLB playoffs, but I think that the parallel is appropriate. 38 (now 39) pennants would be a bit of an overload in the Stadium.

By the way, I have email now, peter@yankeesredsox.com. Please feel free to write and hopefully we will get enough mail in the future to do a column about it.

The Empire Strikes Back

Well, that was a gutty performance by Pettite tonight. Not only did he almost pitch a complete game shut out, but he pitched the equivalent of a worry free game for the Yankees. I hope tonight was not his final start in pinstripes. They should resign him immediately. Come to think of it, Wells and Pettite would be a good place to start the Yankees’ 2004 planning.

Back to 2003, Pettite was brillant. the hitting was good and the 3-0 1st inning lead allowed everyone to relax. A couple of notes from tonight’s game:

Rivera was safe at third base. Either way, he should be playing RF every game in 2004

Juan Pierre’s speed is a big topic for the guys at FOX. Personally, I haven’t seen a worse arm in Center Field in awhile. Bernie is always condemmed for his lack of arm strength, but Pierre is pathetic. Bill James once said that guys who can’t run, but can throw, play RF. Guys who can run and throw play CF and guys who can run, but can’t throw play LF. Well, under that criteria, Pierre belongs in LF. Problem is, the Marlins are trying to get by with a 20 year old in the OF where he isn’t comfortable. When Giambi can go from first to third on a hard hit to Center, you know there is a defensive problem.

Again, please resign Pettite.

Boone makes the average play look harder than it is and the hard play look easier.

Matsui isn’t flashy, but he gets it done.

Soriano has taken pitches the last two nights and been called out on borderline strikes. That is irony.

Tim McCarver made a big deal of Pudge throwing out Posada tonight. Last night he lamented about how slow Posada is on the bases. So, why is it a big deal to throw him out at 2b?

More tomorrow…..

Quite a Hangover

Well, I was very wrong on most things and last night’s game was suprisingly well played considering what the two teams had gone through. A couple of note and points and a response to the opposite side of this website

Boone sure went from hero to goat quickly. Bad play cutting off that throw allowing the 3rd Marlin run to score and what a terrible attempt at a sac bunt in the 9th. I can’t remember a worse attempt.

The Yankees continue to struggle in clutch hitting situations. This does not bode well for the future.

D Train really made me look dumb.

Wells pitched a hell of a game. I know he causes a lot of trouble and he is one back injury away from calling it quits, but when the game is on the line, he steps up. Those were seven big innings last night. In fact, that loss went about as well as it could for the Yankees, they used only three pitchers and gave Rivera the night off.

Nice to see Billy Crystal turn to Robin Williams and tell him to get off his cellphone so he can watch the game. While we are at it, couldn’t we ban cellphones from the ballpark. Is there anything dummer than watching people behind home plate on their cellphones waving to whoever they are talking to? Get a life.

Interesting point by Andy about the anti-Boston sentiment that was in Yankee Stadium last night. It doesn’t suprise me considering the depth of hatred on both sides of this rivalry and the past few games. The difference, in my mind, is that the Anti-Boston sentiment will fade quickly in Yankee Stadium while the anti-Yankee sentiment will only grow this Winter in Boston. Look out when these two teams play each other in 2004 at Fenway.

As for Mr. Giambi, I think he was rooting for the team that had his son on their playoff roster. Not that I blame the Red Sox for leaving Jeremy off, but something tells me a loyal Father might.

Pettite needs to step up and pitch tonight. Yankees really don’t want to be down 0-2 with Beckett going for the Marlins in Game 3.