There’s great and then there’s Mo…
Seriously, he didn’t need to record 602 saves to prove that he was baseball’s all-time best closer. Today, Yankees legend (go ahead and attach the tag) Mariano Rivera became the all-time saves leader, eclipsing former San Diego Padres great Trevor Hoffman by one. I don’t want to take anything away from Hoffman who clearly was one of baseball’s greats, but he clearly limped to 601 saves in those final years with the Milwaukee Brewers. Rivera, in contrast, retains his position as one of the best in the game despite his age. Hoffman’s final year, despite his record 9 years with 40 plus saves, did not include at least that threshold. Rivera, on the other hand, captured the record with his 43rd save of the season.
Many Yankees fans worship Derek Jeter. While I admire Jeter, and I am glad that he has spent his career with the Yankees, my favorite current Yankee has been Mariano Rivera. Going into 1995, my favorite player had been Don Mattingly for a number of years. Despite his back ailments toward the end of his career, I always appreciated the character and the quality of the individual. When you think of guys you’d like to emulate, Donnie Baseball was certainly one of those guys. He was always genuine and sincere, and the one opportunity I had to meet him in person only reaffirmed that he is a quality individual. When Mattingly retired, I obviously continued to follow the team but I can’t say one player stood out among all others to me. That is, until Mariano Rivera emerged from the shadow of closer John Wetteland, who departed via free agency after the 1996 season. At first, I was skeptical to see the break-up of the awesome duo of Rivera-Wetteland. I loved the way Mo would come into the 8th inning throwing nothing but pure heat with his cutter, and then Wetteland would come on in the 9th like a psycho and retire the side, albeit with a few nervous moments. After Wetteland moved on to Texas, I wondered if Rivera would be able to make the conversion to closer. Rich Gossage had been my all-time favorite closer for years, and I didn’t think the team would have another who could match the Goose, let alone exceed him.
Rivera, from the moment I first saw him appear in the Yankee pinstripes through today, has been nothing short of the consummate professional. He is clearly the type of guy you want to be like. He accepts and forgets setbacks, and he never gloats in victory. I have never seen or heard him criticize others, and he has always accepted responsibility (which is huge for me). I will be sad when Mo takes the mound for the final time, but the way he has continued to pitch, that day isn’t coming any time soon. It has always been hard for closers to make the Hall of Fame, but I have no doubt that Mo will be a first ballot selection. Some guys are good, some guys are great, but none of the guys are Mo.
Frankly, I am quite surprised the Yankees find themselves in first place with a fairly comfortable lead in the AL East over the Boston Red Sox. If the Yankees had been able to play at least .500 ball against the Sox this year, they’d have the division clinched by now. On paper, I really believed that the Sox had the best team. But of course, you have to play the games, and the Sox have had health challenges that have caused them to fall behind the Yankees. When the Sox picked up former Seattle pitcher Erik Bedard at the closing deadline, I mistakenly thought it was building excess capacity. In retrospect, the Red Sox needed more help in the starting rotation, and even over-paying for health risk Rich Harden would have been worth it. I know that the Red Sox could still rally to capture the AL East flag, particularly considering the Yankees sluggish play of late, combined with the fact that they still have to play the hard charging Tampa Bay Rays seven more times. But with just a couple of weeks left in the regular season, I’d rather be up 5 games than down by as many.
That schedule hit me like of wind chill of 40 below…
I am closing out my first baseball season as a resident of Minneapolis, and I was able to see the Yankees when they were at Target Field in late August. Nevertheless, I was a bit dismayed when I saw the 2012 Yankees, and realized that the Yankees wouldn’t make the trip to Minneapolis until late September. On one hand, you want your team to clinch early, but I hope the team is still playing meaningful baseball when they make the trip to the Twin Cities.
My first season as a “local” Vikings fan is not going so well…
Speaking of Minnesota, life as a Minnesota Vikings fan has definitely not been fun this year. The Vikings have been a great first half team against both the San Diego Chargers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but they failed to make the necessary adjustments at halftime. In both games, a miserable second half led to a close defeat. As the Vikings stand at 0-2, it’s clear that they could have easily been 2-0. I am not a fan of Donovan McNabb, but I recognize that having rookie Christian Ponder at QB would not have meant automatic victories. Teams can rebound from 0-2 starts, but they really need to win this coming weekend. That’s no small task given the opponent is Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions. No NFC North games are easy, but Lions definitely have the players for an offensive juggernaut. The Vikings need to reach deep within themselves, and play like they are capable of. They can beat the Lions, and hopefully they’ll prove that ‘on any given Sunday…’.
Have a great week, everyone!
The going gets tough, the Yankees decide to bail…
The Yankees should be able to clinch the Wild Card
slot at some point, but I’ve given up hope of taking the AL East unless things
change very quickly. The Tampa Bay Rays
have great momentum right now, and the Yankees don’t. So far this month (going into Saturday’s
game), the Yankees are 10-12. When you’re
racing for the pennant, that kind of record is not going to get it done
(obviously). The Yankees’ magic number
remains at 3. With a single win against
the Red Sox, they could reduce the number to 1 but at this point, the Red Sox
are playing like the superior team and they certainly have not given up
hope. After the end of the home stand
against Boston, the Yankees take to the road to play the Blue Jays and the Red
Sox (both challenging places to play).
This month, the Philadelphia Phillies have definitely
shown they are ‘in it to win it’. They’ve
clearly distanced themselves from the Atlanta Braves and they’ll head into the
play-offs as the hottest team in the National League. It’s been a great season for the Cincinnati
Reds, but I think the Phillies, even with their injuries, are the better
team. The trading deadline pick-up of
Roy Oswalt was huge and it gave the Phillies pitching superiority (even against
the likes of the San Francisco Giants who boast a very strong rotation). Speaking of the Giants, they’ve also been
playing good baseball and currently lead the NL West by a slim margin. I like the Giants as an underdog if they can
stay on top against the San Diego Padres, but I don’t think anyone is going to
beat the Phillies and they’ll head to the World Series for the third straight
Michael Bryant, Philly.com, Staff Photographer
Back to the American League, the Tampa Bay Rays and
the Minnesota Twins are playing the best baseball. As much as I would like to say “Rays suck!”
or “Twins suck!” or “Yankees are going to win it again!”, the truth is that the
AL Championship Series will most likely feature the Rays and the Twins. The Rangers are fading and of course so are
the Yankees. If the Yankees’ freefall
results in a miraculous achievement of the play-offs by the Boston Red Sox, it
will definitely rank as one of the greatest September flops in recent
In the NL, the Atlanta Braves and the Colorado
Rockies are fading, and the Padres aren’t far behind. For a time this season, I thought the Padres
were the team to beat, but now they’re fighting to make the play-offs.
John R. McCutchen/San Diego Union-Tribune
At this point, it is hard to visualize the 2010
World Series involving any teams other than the Tampa Bay Rays and the
Philadelphia Phillies (a repeat of the Phillies’ championship year in
2008). More than likely, the outcome
will be the same.
Congratulations to my friend, Julia (of Julia’s
Rants), for winning the latest wager between she and I. With today’s 7-2 victory, the Boston Red Sox
have ensured that they will take at least two of the three games in the Bronx
and they’ll go for a sweep on Sunday. I
guess the Yanks could have used those 6 home runs today instead of yesterday. The Yankees, now 10-13 for September,
continue to give the Red Sox hope that they can reach high enough to eclipse
the Yanks for the Wild Card slot. The
Sox are now just 5 ½ games behind the Yankees.
I guess there’s a Red Sox cap on its way to my home in CA… L
Noah K. Murray/The Star-Ledger
Maybe I think a motivational pep talk by Tony
Dungy. Then again, it didn’t seem to
help the Yankees. Let’s hope that next
weekend is more exciting than this weekend is turning out to be…
The Yankees played a hard fought series in Boston, and escaped with two out of three despite their “pathetic and embarrassing”¹ play. They had a day off and traveled to St. Petersburg, Florida to face their other primary AL East rivals, the Tampa Bay Rays.
With Javier Vazquez on the mound, it looked as though the Yankees would stack up very nicely against David Price and the championship-contending Rays. Staked to an early 2-0 lead, Vazquez promptly gave it up in the bottom half of the 4th inning. Former Yankee Carlos Pena tied the score with a two-run homer, and Jason Bartlett had a two-run double in the 5 run inning. Another former Yankee, Dioner Navarro, hit the single that put the Rays in the lead. Those would be the only runs that Price would need enroute to the Rays’ third victory of the season.
Marcus Thames made his second start of the season in left (in place of starter Brett Gardner), and Mark Teixeira continued his traditional ice cold start. After four games, he is 0-for-16 which matches the worst hitless start of his career. Let’s hope that he ends the streak on Saturday.
The weekend games will pit CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett as the rotation begins its second go-around this young season. I am expecting a much stronger start from Sabathia than we saw in Boston, and the same with Burnett. They’ll face Wade Davis and James Shields, respectively.
On the bright side, the Boston Red Sox lost too as the Kansas City Royals rallied for two runs in the bottom of the 8th to win 4-3. It was a great start by the ageless and reliable Tim Wakefield, but once again, the bullpen was the Achilles heel for the Red Sox.
¹I found Umpire Joe West’s comments about the Yankees and Red Sox as “pathetic and embarrassing” to be, well, pathetic and embarrassing. His frustration was over the slow play of the opening series between the two teams. In my opinion, West should voice any concerns he has internally within his own organization and not air the negative comments publicly. I am biased and if I were a San Francisco Giants fan, I’d vehemently disagree, but there’s nothing like baseball’s best rivalry, the Yankees and the Red Sox. I am a Minnesota Vikings fan, and I dislike the Green Bay Packers. I am a San Jose Sharks fan and I dislike the Anaheim Ducks. I am a Los Angeles Lakers fan and I dislike the Boston Celtics. But there is simply nothing like Yankees-Red Sox. Right Julia?
Speaking of the Vikings, the wait for Brett Favre continues. It is a given that Favre won’t make any decisions that would actually require him to show up for training camp, so this is going to be long and drawn out once again. It’s frustrating because it is very hard for me to get excited about either Tavaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels at quarterback. It’s rumored that the Vikings are taking a look at Tim Tebow. However, he is a major project and many think he’ll never succeed at the pro level. On the plus side, his former teammate Percy Harvin is on the Vikings and it would ease Tebow’s transition. We’ll see how this plays out. I definitely agree that the Vikings need to be thinking about the quarterback of the future regardless of what Favre may do. I’d love for the Vikings to pick Jimmy Clausen in the NFL Draft, but he’ll be long gone by the time the Vikings select unless they can move up.
Both the Sharks and the Lakers are set to play in their respective sports’ play-offs. I am hopeful that this is the year for Joe Thornton and company. For the Lakers, it’s ‘here we go again’ with Andrew Bynum unavailable until the play-offs due to injury. Unfortunately, that’s an all too familiar song, but hopefully he’ll be ready to play once the play-offs do start. If both teams could play and beat Boston, I’d be a very happy man. Of course, that would mean championship series for both, but hey, so long as WE win, what does it matter? 😉
The Yankees quietly picked up former San Diego Padres outfielder Chad Huffman on waivers and assigned him to AAA Scranton/Wilkes Barre. Huffman was placed on waivers to make room for Matt Stairs (hasn’t he played for like every major league club?). I didn’t think much of the move when I first saw it, but later I saw comments about how frustrated fans were and how they saw the fingerprints of Kevin Towers all over this one. Towers, the former Padres GM, is now a special consultant for the Yankees. It would appear that the Padres had hoped Huffman would clear waivers for a minor league assignment but were, perhaps, thwarted by their former general manager. I saw these comments about Huffman by Padres assistant Paul DePodesta and it makes me a little jazzed about the pickup (and not so disappointed that the Yankees had to return Rule 5 pickup Jamie Hoffmann to the Dodgers):
“We lost the player. And, he’s a pretty good one. Chad was a 2nd round pick in 2006 out of TCU and has been a successful minor league hitter throughout his pro career, posting an OPS over .800 in each season. While crushing lefties early in his career, Chad had his most successful year yet against RHP during his first season in AAA in 2009. He always controlled the strike zone and also hit for some power–a combination we like. We think he’ll be a good Major League hitter.
“This wasn’t an easy decision, as we feel good about our 40-man roster at this point. We talked about a number of different guys and worked through various scenarios–who had the best chance to clear waivers, what depth did we have, what depth did we anticipate needing during the year, etc.
“We hate to lose good players. Additionally, we hate to lose good people, and Chad is a tremendous clubhouse guy. Getting beyond the selfish aspect, we’re excited for Chad. We truly wish him the best with the Yankees and will be rooting for him to make it to New York and contribute to the big league team.”
Works for me… J
P.S. I am headed to Arizona for the week on business so I might not have any blog updates until after I return on Saturday, April 17th. Let’s hope the Yankees get on a roll by that time!
Wow, what an exciting game!…
The Yankees took a 2-game lead in the American League Championship Series with a 4-3 victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday night. It was a marathon 5-hour affair that extended into the early hours of the morning (thanks to the 7:57 pm Eastern starting time).
Theodorakis/NY Daily News
It was the fifth longest game in LCS history. The only surprise is that it didn’t involve the Boston Red Sox, who have played three of those long running games. Hey Julia, it couldn’t have involved the Red Sox “with the Red Sox season over”!
Sorry my friend! Okay, maybe not… 😉
It was definitely a long day for me. I started my morning in San Jose, and I drove to San Francisco to catch a flight to New York. Arriving at JFK Airport around 6 pm Eastern, I got a rental car and drove down to my former home city of Wilmington, DE. I listened to the Yankees game on WCBS (John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman) until I was out of range and had to switch over to ESPN Radio (Jon Miller and Joe Morgan). I was surprised that the rain didn’t appear at Yankee Stadium until the late innings, because I drove through rain throughout my drive down the New Jersey Turnpike, and it continued to rain as I made my way through Pennsylvania to Delaware. I stopped at a sports bar to watch game, but I finally decided to check into the hotel in the 10th inning. So, I finished watching the game in the cozy confines of my hotel room. In all my life, I don’t think I’ve ever watched/listened to a single baseball game through so many different sources! Oh well, as the saying goes, all’s well that ends well!
Simmons/NY Daily News
I thought that A.J. Burnett pitched a great game. I was disappointed that a potential victory was aborted by his wild pitch in the 5th inning that allowed the Angels to tie the score. Had they not scored, it’s possible that the Yankees could have won, 2-1, in regulation with the way their bullpen performed. Nevertheless, baseball is a game of ‘ifs and buts’ so it didn’t happen so this one was earmarked for extra innings.
Before I proceed to the latter innings, I do want to congratulate Joba Chamberlain for the job he did in the 7th inning. He inherited two runners when he relieved Phil Coke. After allowing an infield single to Torii Hunter to load the bases, he struck out Vladimir Guerrero to end the inning. That was a huge moment in the game. Clearly, had they scored any runs, they most likely would have won the game.
Mariano Rivera also did a tremendous job for 2 1/3 innings. Anything beyond an inning was almost unheard of during the Joe Torre days as they sought to protect Mo. I understand that, but these are the days of ‘no tomorrow’. Every game is critical. I know that it has been difficult for closers to get into the Hall of Fame, but I think that both Rivera and Trevor Hoffman deserve first ballot consideration when their playing days are over.
Antonelli/NY Daily News
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the stellar defensive play of first baseman Mark Teixeira. He continues to save runs game in and game out. I am always amazed at how far he can reach to save errant throws, and there is no doubt that the Yankees stayed in last night’s game because of Tex. There is no way that Jason Giambi could have gotten to many of these throws (sorry G!).
Antonelli/NY Daily News
I was bit frustrated in the 11th inning when Alfredo Aceves opened the inning by walking Gary Matthews, Jr. He scored on a single by the previously ice-cold Chone Figgins after a sacrifice had moved him to second. Nevertheless, I really didn’t feel like the Yankees would lose the game at that point, despite the Angels’ 3-2 lead.
Antonelli/NY Daily News
My faith was vindicated in the bottom of the 11th when Alex Rodriguez hit a game-tying home run just out of the reach of a leaping Bobby Abreu. The ball bounced back onto the field, so for a moment, there was a thought about whether or not was a home run. Even A-Rod had to slow around second to look at the umpire for the home run signal. But replays clearly showed the ball hit the stands and ricochet back onto the playing field. A-Rod, finally, is playing to expectations in the post-season and it has been great. If the Yanks win it all, the MVP, at this moment, has to be A-Rod.
Antonelli/NY Daily News
I understand why the Yankees placed Freddy Guzman on the play-off roster (at the expense of Eric Hinske), however, it was frustrating to see Guzman (who had earlier pinch run for DH Hideki Matsui) bat following A-Rod’s homer. You could almost feel the air deflate out of the Yanks’ momentum when Guzman struck out. The Angels retired the next two batters to get out of the inning. Guzman is here because of his Brett Gardner-like speed. However, I would have felt so much better with Eric Hinske coming off the bench to bat in that situation.
The Angels had their chances. With two outs in the top of the 12th, the Angels defensive catcher Jeff Mathis (not known for his bat) ripped a double off David Robertson who had just entered the game. After the next batter was intentionally walked, Robertson struck out Matthews to end the inning.
In the bottom of the 12th, I thought the Yankees missed a golden opportunity when A-Rod flied out to end the inning with the bases loaded. At that point, I started to turn a bit pessimistic. David Robertson was still on the mound and Chad Gaudin was the last man standing in the bullpen so I knew time was running out.
The Angels got the 13th inning going when an error by Robinson Cano allowed Erick Aybar to safely reach base. He advanced to second on a sacrifice. After Bobby Abreu was intentionally walked, an infield groundout by Torii Hunter moved the runners to second and third. That brought Vlad the Great to the plate. Of course, memories of his game winning hit in Boston swirled in my head. But, in keeping in sync with the Angels penchant for leaving men on base…at least in this game, Vlad hit into a groundout to end the inning.
To the bottom of the 13th it was! Instead of allowing Freddy Guzman to hit, manager Joe Girardi brought Jerry Hairston, Jr. off the bench to bat in the DH slot. Hard to believe that it was the first play-off appearance for Hairston, but he didn’t disappoint as he reached base on a single to center. After Brett Gardner sacrificed Hairston to second, Robinson Cano was intentionally walked. That brought Melky Cabrera to the plate. In a play that made absolutely no sense to me, Angels second baseman Macer Izturis fielded a ball hit by Cabrera and threw wildly to second base rather than going for the sure out at first.
Noah K. Murray/The Star Ledger
At this point in the game, the only runner that mattered was the lead runner (Hairston). He was already advancing to third, so Cano was an irrelevant runner. The ball sailed past Angels shortstop Erick Aybar and it allowed Hairston to race home with the winning run.
John Munson/The Star Ledger
The first two games of the ALCS have been very un-Angel like, given the multiple errors and men left on base. I suspect that we’ll see a very different Angels squad at Angels Stadium as the series shifts to Anaheim for three games. This makes me glad that the Yankees will be taking a 2-0 series lead to the West Coast rather than heading out West tied. I still fully expect this series to go seven games as it is far from over. However, I am hopeful for a few more endings like this…
Antonelli/NY Daily News
On a final note, it was great to see Tino Martinez throw out the first pitch, but he definitely looked better hitting game-winning home runs at the old stadium!
Antonelli/NY Daily News
I am planning to watch tonight’s game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Los Angeles Dodgers in a Philly sports bar. I guess I’ll just remain a closet supporter of the Dodgers and smile whenever the Phillies do something good even though inside I will be cheering wildly for Joe Torre, Don Mattingly and company. Hey, I need to survive the night so that I can head back to New York on Monday morning! 🙂
One (more) final note…good luck to Dodgers Assistant GM Kim Ng. She interviewed for the GM job with the San Diego Padres. It’s strange to think that Kevin Towers will no longer be there, but Kim deserves the opportunity to be the first woman GM in major league history. She did a great job with the Yankees, and for the past 8 years, she’s been magnificent as Ned Colletti’s top adviser. I hated to see her leave New York, but I knew that there were bigger and better things in her future. Kim Ng, General Manager of the San Diego Padres. It has a great ring to it. Good luck, Kim!