May 2009

My Mercy Flight To Cleveland

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No, the Yankees aren’t going to win every game for the rest of the season, but I thought I’d better get myself on a plane after their 5-4 walkoff loss to the Indians and talk to them before Monday night’s series finale. The game is on ESPN, and I don’t want them embarrassing me in front of the entire country.
My sources told me the players would be having dinner at The Chophouse and Brewery, a steak place in Cleveland’s trendy Warehouse District.
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So I took a cab from the airport and went straight there. I found them in a private room. They were, without exception, eating this.
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I introduced myself to the group, and explained that while I didn’t want to interrupt their good time, I felt it necessary to address them, fan to team. They were very polite and invited me to join them. CC was kind enough to order me a steak after I admitted that all I’d eaten on my flight was this.
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“What’s on your mind, She-Fan?” asked Jeter as he was scarfing down onion rings.
“You were safe on that bang-bang play in the sixth inning today,” I said. “I know the calls even out over the course of the season, but if the ump had gotten this one right, you’d have scored on Tex’s homer.”
“Did I hear my name?” asked Teixeira from the other end of the table. He was eating his steak with his hands, not a care in the world.
“Congratulations on your thirteen-game hitting streak,” I said. “Longest of your career, right?”
“You got it,” he said, then patted A-Rod on the back, causing him to choke momentarily on his carrot, which he had ordered without salt or butter. “Since this guy came back to us, I’m on fire.”
I met A-Rod’s eyes. He seemed a little down. “You’re not a hundred-percent, are you?” I said.
“No, She-Fan,” he said. “My lateral movement just isn’t there. My surgeon told me not to put too much pressure on myself, but I feel like I cost us the game today. I couldn’t make a play on Peralta’s hit.”
“It was Coke who gave up the leadoff walk to Crowe,” I pointed out.
With that, I moved over to where all the relievers were sitting and delivered a stern lecture about throwing strikes and challenging hitters, instead of nibbling and falling behind in counts. I think Jose Veras cursed at me in Spanish, but Mo couldn’t have been nicer. He asked me how long I’d been a Yankee fan. When I said I was coming to see them play the Nationals on June 17th, he offered me free tickets. “I already bought some on StubHub, but thanks,” I said. What a sweetheart.
I spent some time with Matsui and his translator. I told him I was very concerned about his knees and wondered if they were the cause of his weak hacks at the plate.
“I’m not ready to retire,” he said testily. “And I’m not going to the Giants in a trade.”
“Fine,” I said. “Then stop pulling off the ball. You looked awful today.”
I got up from my chair and walked to the center of the room. “Listen, I didn’t come here to criticize. I just want to say thanks for a great month of May. You guys really got it together and I’m proud of you.”
“Woohoo! We rock! We roll! We have the most fun of any ballplayers!” exclaimed Nick Swisher. He did a little dance in his seat and then high-fived Johnny Damon.
“Tomorrow’s game against the Indians marks a brand new month,” I continued. “I want you to keep up your winning ways. That means effective starting pitching.” I cast a long, piercing look at Joba, tomorrow’s starter. “It means hitting with men in scoring position.” I wagged a finger at Jorge, who struck out and hit into a double play today. “And no misplays in center field.” I shrugged at Gardner, who was still grumbling about that ball that sailed over his head for a double.
“It goes both ways, She-Fan,” said Jeter. “We need you to do something for us.”
“Name it,” I said. “Anything.”
“Don’t move.”
“Don’t -”
Before I could speak, AJ came running out from the restaurant’s kitchen and slammed a banana cream pie in my face.
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My trip was so worth it.

Oh, Say Can You Cee Cee?

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He was dominant in tonight’s 10-5 win over the Indians, but indulge me a sec.
Before I start pontificating about the game, I absolutely must rave about the movie I saw this morning. My film festival group showed a screening of Disney/Pixar’s animated feature “Up,” which opened around the country yesterday. GO SEE THIS MOVIE! It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, male or female, romantic or cynic. It’s just plain great – a funny, heartwarming story about living life to the fullest. I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did. Here’s the trailer, which doesn’t do it justice.
Back to the game. I wasn’t sure how CC would react to pitching in front of the Cleveland fans, but he didn’t display any nerves at all. In fact, the only drama in the first inning was when Victor Martinez fouled a ball off his knee and stayed down on the ground for an eternity.
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I admired his desire to play hurt, but come on! He was holding up the game!
Basically, this contest boiled down to the following formula:
great starting pitching + flawless defense + solid offense = win.
The Yankees had it all going on. CC lost a bit of focus with a 7-0 lead in the fifth, but for the most part he cruised.
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Tex and A-Rod, in particular, made some great plays behind him, and the offense seemed very relaxed, as if they knew they wouldn’t have to play catch-up.
Jorge – tater!
Swisher – tater!
Jeter – 2 RBI single!
Cano – ditto!
And all seven runs came off of Carmona, who’d been tough on the Yankees in the past. We tacked on three more against a reliever named Ohka, not to be confused with Okra.
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Everybody contributed in some way. A-Rod isn’t running well, but his arm is one of these.
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Matsui can’t run well either, but he had a couple of doubles.
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And Gardner runs really well, of course, and scored after taking a simple walk.
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Robertson shut down the Indians in the eighth, but in came Veras for the ninth. The Yanks were up 10-3, but I couldn’t stand to watch.
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I did hear Michael Kay say this: “If they could straighten out Veras, it would really stabilize the bullpen.”
Right. And pigs can fly.
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What did Veras do this time?
Served up a solo shot to Choo.
Hit DeRosa in the arm.
Allowed a double to Francisco.
I’m sure he’s a very nice person and will perform admirably for some other team. But enough. It’s time for the Yanks to send him packing.
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But I quibble. The important thing is that the Yanks won again, extended their errorless streak to 16 games and are still in first place for another 24 hours. Life is good.
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Yankees Win Causes Wave Of Nostalgia

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The Yankees’ 3-1 victory over the Indians tonight, coupled with the Red Sox’s loss to Toronto, put the Bombers in sole possession of first place for the first time since 2006, according to Brian Hoch’s report on MLB.com. No, a half-game isn’t exactly a runaway lead, but I decided to take a ride in the way-back machine and see what was going on with the Yanks in ’06.

Torre was still the manager and Bernie was still on the roster, and A-Rod was still married to C-Rod as opposed to dating Kate Hudson.
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Jeter, Mo and other current Yankees were around, of course. But how about all the bit players, who eventually shuffled off into baseball oblivion? Like…
Bubba Crosby
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Sal Fasano
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Kevin Thompson
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Craig Wilson
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And a couple of pitchers who left their mark in very different ways…
Aaron Small
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Tanyon Sturtze
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Good, good times. But what’s heartening is that the 2009 Yankees are a better team than the 2006 model that won the division, and tonight’s victory over the Indians showed why.
Pettitte may be 37 with an apparently stiff back, and he put runners on base in every inning. But he held the Tribe scoreless for five-plus. Not bad for an end-of-the-rotation guy.
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Alfredo Aceves may not be the second coming of Ramiro Mendoza, but he’s been doing a decent imitation. So what if his idol is Dennis Rodman, the mascara-wearing cross-dresser? As long as he leaves the eye makeup at home and gets people out, he’s OK by me.
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Jeter has excelled in the leadoff spot, and credit goes to Girardi for flipping him with Damon in the lineup.
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Posada came off the DL tonight and promptly went 2-for-3. And Mo? He notched his 58th save for Pettitte, surpassing the duo of Welch and Eckersley. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: he’s a god among men.
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Sure, there are big problems with our bullpen and the issue of RISP must be addressed. Still, the 2006 team was stuck with Giambi at first instead of Tex, Wil Nieves as a backup catcher instead of Cervelli/Molina/Cash, and Randy Johnson and Jaret Wright on the mound instead of CC and AJ. This year’s herd is looking better and better.
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One final note: the bugs. They were back in Cleveland. No, not in plague-and-pestilence-size quantities; just in little clusters here and there. But what’s up with them? For all I know, they’ll spend the rest of tonight mating, and by tomorrow night Progressive Field will look like this. Please, no.
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She-Fan Exclusive: Scouting Report On Indians

While several Yankees were attending the Cavaliers-Magic game tonight, I painstakingly sorted through the Indians’ lineup to gather as much intel as I could in anticipation of our four-game series.
Obviously, we need to exact payback for the humiliating 22-4 drubbing in April. So let’s look at the lineup we could be facing (they change it around a lot) and try to find weaknesses. The Tribe just came off a sweep of the Rays, so they’re feeling hot hot hot. The Yankees need to cool them off.
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* Asdrubal Cabrera.
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Not to be confused with “a strudel,” the Venezuelan shortstop has seven stolen bases. He was suspended for three games in September ’08 for his role in a brawl with the Tigers. Tip to Yankees: if he charges the mound, duck.
* Grady Sizemore.
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The center fielder has been DH-ing, due to a sore elbow. He has an unsightly 49 strikeouts and is only batting .223. Still, he always seems to kill us. Tip to Yankees: don’t be lulled into a sense of security.
* Victor Martinez.
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Another Venezuelan, Victor Jesus Martinez has been a beast lately, with 36 RBIs and a .359 average. Like his countryman, he was suspended for that fight with the Tigers last year. Tip to Yankees: get him out but don’t get him mad.
* Shin-Soo Choo.
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The former Mariner was a star in his native Korea. And last year, his .386 average with RISP was fourth best in the AL. Tip to Yankees: don’t let him come up with RISP.
* Jhonny Peralta.
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Jhonny is a shortstop with a name that’s spelled funny. He’s a third baseman too. And he’s a man with a black smiley face on his chin. He’s also got 43 Ks. Tip to Yankees: pound the zone and take your chances.
* Ryan Garko.
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This guy is no dummy. He went to Stanford, for God’s sake! Not only does he admit to reading, but he promotes literacy. Tip to Yankees: find a position for him and put him in pinstripes.
* Trevor Crowe.
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Just called up from the minors, the rookie outfielder is batting .182. His father, David Crowe, played on the PGA Tour, and his cousin, Russell Crowe, is a famous movie star. (Just kidding about Russell.) Tip to Yankees: let him get a hit – only one – so he can tell his dad about it.
* Ben Francisco.
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Not much to say here, except that he grew up in California and played high school baseball with Garko. He’s batting .259 with 31 strikeouts. Tip to Yankees: don’t sweat it.
* Luis Valbuena.
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He’s the only Venezuelan on the team that wasn’t involved in that fight with the Tigers. Plus, he has zero homers. Tip to Yankees: plunk somebody else and pitch to him.
Speaking of the fight, here’s a look.
Typical baseball hissy with lots of standing around.
Here’s hoping there are no fights – and definitely no Lake Erie midges.
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Another Ridiculous Day But With A Happy Ending

It feels as if I’m at war with the entire service industry. Yesterday, I battled Delta, American Express and Apple. Today, it was this place.

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Since I finally got my plane tickets for my New York trip, I figured the next item on my agenda was securing seats at Yankee Stadium. I bought tickets on StubHub.com, but when the site wouldn’t let me download them – and told me I hadn’t even made a purchase – I called their 800 number. It took them ONE HOUR to fix the problem and allow me to print out my tix. Come on, people! You’re making me crazy!
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The good news is I’ll be going to see the Yanks on Wednesday, June 17th – my first time at the new Stadium. They’re playing the Nationals, not exactly the team of my dreams, but who knows? It could be a great game. If anybody is planning to be there that night, please leave a comment. It would be fun to meet up.
Now, onto tonight’s 9-2 win over the Rangers, which not only gave us the series win but also put us into a tie for first with the Red Sox – and represented our 14th straight game without an error.
My highlights:
Tex going yard in the first inning.
Jeter getting on base five times.
Cash lining a double and a single AND throwing out Andrus.
Matsui knocking two out of the park.
Gardner bunting for a single and scoring.
Damon making two great running catches.
Robertson throwing strikes.
Wang finally making an appearance – and looking like Wang.
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And, of course, there was the brilliant outing by AJ. He wasn’t economical. He only lasted six innings. But he struck out seven and held the mighty Rangers offense to three measly hits. Good job, guy.
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My lowlights:
Veras serving up Kinsler’s two-run shot. ENOUGH ALREADY!
Swisher being our only option in right field.
Berroa “pinch running” with the speed of this.
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Luckily, I got the Rangers’ feed again tonight, which meant more merriment from their two crack broadcasters, Josh Lewin and Tom Grieve.
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They really make a game fun. Here’s a sample.
Josh, before the first pitch by Holland, the Rangers’ rookie starter: “Not to put any pressure on Holland, but it’s 79 degrees with low humidity.”
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Tom, assessing the Rangers so far this season: “The batters haven’t walked that often. And they have 376 strikeouts – the most in the major leagues. And the pitchers have the fewest strikeouts in the majors. It doesn’t matter.”
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Josh, referring to Saltalamacchia: “They traded Mark Teixeira for a bunch of green bananas, and Salty was the first to ripen.”
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Tom, after being told that AJ did not lead the majors in strikeouts last year as he’d thought: “I appreciate the correction. I don’t like to misinformation people.”
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Josh, after Matsui’s second homer: “Let’s change the subject. How much time have you spent in Japan, Tom?”
Tom: “I’ve never been to Japan, Josh.”
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Tom, after Cano
tacked on a homer in the ninth: “Cano is a pretty good hitter.”
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And my absolute favorite, after the game was over…
Josh: “The Yankees have an off-day in Cleveland tomorrow.”
Tom: “The Rangers have an off-day in Cleveland in August.”
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I’ll miss those two smooth talkers.

A Ridiculous Day And A Ridiculous Game

It’s late – nearly 11:30 p.m. on the west coast – and Yankees-Rangers just ended, thanks to the two-and-a-half hour rain delay. Or should I say the hail delay?

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I should have known the Yankees would lose this one. That’s just how things were going today.
For starters, I was making plane reservations for my trip to New York next month, and Delta and American Express mixed up the name on my ticket, causing me to spend literally hours on the phone trying to straighten everything out.
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Next on my **** list was Apple. I was told by two customer service people that the dead battery inside my MacBook Pro would be replaced by a new one – under my warranty. But when it came time to hand it over? “It’s not covered. You have to buy it.” Oh, yeah?
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Then I found out my car insurance was going up because of some new California tax and -
Never mind.
Suffice it to say, I was in a crummy mood by game time and hoped the Yanks would lift my spirits.
Hardly. They lost 7-3. What happened?
Joba had nothing.
Melky got hurt.
Aceves wasn’t good.
Neither was Coke.
Swisher and Damon grounded into DPs.
The Yankees left a ton of runners on base.
Sure, there were a few positives. A-Rod made a great play tagging out Kinsler at third; his hip looked just fine. Gardner, who took over for Melky, had three hits and stole three bases. And Tex homered again.
But mostly, it was like watching a lesson in futility. (Question for Girardi: If you’ve got Wang in the pen, why not use him?)
There were lighthearted moments. I was stuck with the Rangers’ Fox Sports Net announcers, and they turned out to be unintentionally hilarious.
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Some examples….
Josh: “People say this team is error-prone, but errors are really subjective and don’t mean much.”
Tom: “Right. You can be a great guy and make a lot of errors. There’s a lot to be said for that.”

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Or this, as Swisher steps up to bat….
Josh (completely serious): “They’re pitching carefully to Swisher with the number nine hitter coming up.”
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Or this, after Davis strikes out for the millionth time…
Josh: “Contact continues to be the issue for him.”
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How about this, as Vizquel walks to the plate…
Josh: “Good game for him tonight. He’s 0 for 3.”
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Or this, as Cervelli stands in…
Josh: “He has a hit tonight. Otherwise, he’s 0 for 2.”
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And my favorite of all, even better than Josh’s comment about A-Rod’s “clandestine canoodling with Madonna”…
Tom: “The Yankees’ runaway spending hasn’t gotten them anywhere.”
Josh: “Yeah. They’re like having the most expensive wedding cake ever but without a fork.”
Tom: “Although they’ve won twenty-six championships.”
Josh: “And the Rangers are still waiting for their first one.”
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Even with the loss, it turned out to be a pretty fun evening.

A Relaxing Game For A Change

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I needed that one. After days and nights of close contests, it was such a relief to pound the Rangers for 19 hits in today’s 11-1 win in Texas.
Stars of the game?
* Phil Hughes got into a jam in the second, had a visit from Dave Eiland, and promptly struck out Byrd, Davis and Teagarden to end the inning. After that, he cruised. I would have brought him back out for the ninth and let him try to go for the complete game shutout, especially with the bullpen down a man. But he was at 101 pitches and I guess Girardi thought he might turn into this.
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* A-Rod had five hits and four RBIs – none of them via a homer. Was he helped by having the red-hot Cano batting behind him instead of the ice-cold Matsui? Or does he just like hitting in that ballpark in Arlington? It seemed as if every pitch he saw was fat.
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* Kevin Cash had three hits. No, that’s not a typo. So what if the third hit was a blooper that dropped between the pitcher and two infielders. Nothing wrong with getting on base thanks to some Three Stooges defense by the opposition.
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* The Yankees defense has now gone 12 straight games without making an error. That means everybody is Gold Glove caliber right now.
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Melky provided some levity. In the fifth, he hit what should have been a double, but he tripped and fell after rounding first base and was stuck there. Once it was clear he was OK, the guys in the dugout broke up laughing.
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* Matt Harrison and Kris Benson were a delight to watch. I wish the Yankees could face them every day. When they weren’t walking batters or hitting them, they were giving up doubles.
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There’s another game tomorrow night and the Rangers could easily come right back and bite us. But until then, I’ll enjoy the rest of Memorial Day knowing my team won. Here’s hoping everyone had a good holiday. Hat tip to all our vets!

She-Fan Exclusive: Personalized Scouting Report On Rangers

I don’t know anything about the Rangers, except that they’re the surprise first-place team in the AL West and their fans will boo A-Rod and Tex.

Oh, and that Josh Hamilton hit all those homers in the Derby at Yankee Stadium last year but didn’t win it.
What about the rest of the position players? The Yankees face them today and I felt the need to be more prepared. So here’s what I’ve learned.
1) Ian Kinsler.
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He’s their leadoff guy and has 12 homers and 33 RBIs. But only one walk? Sounds like a free-swinger to me. Tip to Hughes: throw him stuff out of the zone.
2) Michael Young
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He went to college at Cal-Santa Barbara? I didn’t even know there was a Cal-Santa Barbara and I live here. Hm. But his favorite player growing up was Mattingly and he’s the ambassador for Wipe Out Kids’ Cancer, so he must be a good guy.
3) John Hamilton.
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Mr. Home Run Derby only has six dingers so far this season, so he must be due. Tip to Hughes: don’t groove any.
4) Nelson Cruz.
cruz.jpgA former basketball player in the Dominican, he can probably leap for balls in the outfield. Tip to Yankees: hit hard liners into the gap, not in the air.
5) Marlon Byrd.
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Not much to say here, except that one of his hobbies is weightlifting and that his favorite TV show growing up was “The Cosby Show.” Tip to Yankees: don’t let him lift you and mention Phylicia Rashad.
6) Chris Davis.
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He was selected by the Yankees out of high school in the 2004 draft – but didn’t sign. The nerve. So far this season, he has SIXTY-FOUR STRIKEOUTS. Tip to Hughes: be aggressive in the zone and go right at him.
7) Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
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Not only does he have the longest last name in the majors, but he was born on my birthday. That means he’s a Taurus and is very stubborn. Tip to Yankees: don’t argue with him.
8) Elvis Andrus.
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I wonder how many times his teammates have said, after a game, “Elvis has left the building.” The Venezuelan-born rookie shortstop has an older brother named Erold in the Rays organization. But the real point of interest is that his favorite player growing up was Derek Jeter. Tip to Jeter: Talk to him and he’ll be so star-struck he’ll screw up.
I’ll leave the pitching for another post. This should at least lay some groundwork for a successful series.

No Pie

The Yankees almost staged another miraculous comeback against the Phillies, complete with a walkoff and the requisite pie in someone’s smiling face.

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But it didn’t happen. Instead, the Yanks lost 4-3 in 11 innings and I collapsed onto my bed, exhausted.
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I mean, we were totally supposed to win that game. It was all set up. We got eight good innings out of CC. We sent Hamels packing after six and made him shake his head in disgust after Tex hit one out with a broken bat.
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We survived awful at-bats by A-Rod and Matsui, who looked like they were trying to hit the ball with one of these.
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And we survived a ninth inning appearance by Veras, who walked a batter but didn’t give up a run.
“He possesses good stuff, but the problem is his location,” said Al Leiter, stating the obvious and forcing me to stand up and yell at the TV. “I DON’T CARE IF HE HAS ‘GOOD STUFF!’ HOW GOOD COULD IT BE IF HE CAN’T THROW IT WHERE HE WANTS IT?”
(Sorry. I lost it there for a sec.)
We not only got to Lidge for the second straight day and tied the score in the bottom of the ninth (thanks to Cano and Melky yet again), but we escaped trouble in the top of the tenth after Mo gave up a single to Ibanez, who was a Yankee killer for the entire series and made me want to strangle him.
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But then came the bottom of the tenth. With some reliever named Condrey on the mound for Philadelphia, Jeter and Damon singled and we were THISCLOSE to a walkoff win. Except for two problems.
Tex: grounded into a double play.
Pena: flied out.
Inning over and Girardi turned to Bombko for the top of the 11th. (Supposedly, Aceves wasn’t available. Why not? He didn’t pitch yesterday.) 
Here was the result.
Utley: walked.
Ruiz: doubled in the go-ahead run.
Just a word or two about Ruiz, who killed us like Ibanez did only on both offense and defense. The guy blocks the plate better than most catchers in the majors. Impressive.
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We went down meekly, 1-2-3, in the bottom of the frame. Game over. No celebrating. At first, I was bummed, but who can complain about a team that goes 8-2 during a home stand?
In fact, I think I’ll celebrate anyway. The Yankees put the pies on hold, but that doesn’t mean I have to.

Another Day, Another Walkoff!

Yesterday I was down in the dumps. This afternoon I’m bouncing off the ceiling. Am I bipolar? No! I’m a baseball fan!
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The day began very cheerfully. The Cinema Society I belong to as part of the Santa Barbara Film Festival started back up, and there was a screening this morning. I figured I could go see the movie and be back in time for the game.
The movie was called “My Life in Ruins,” and it’s a romantic comedy with Nia Vardalos, who starred in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” It opens on June 5th and I recommend it to all chick flick lovers. Some funny lines. Beautiful scenery. A happy ending. Here’s the trailer.
There was a Q&A with the director after the screening, but I left the theater and raced home to catch the first pitch. Little did I know the game would have a happy ending, just like the movie.
As usual, the Yankees were having trouble getting anything going against a rookie pitcher. What’s up with that? Isn’t there video to look at, scouting reports to read? Why is this always a problem?
And speaking of rookies, when Mayberry hit that homer off Pettitte in the fifth to put the Phillies up 4-1, I admit I thought Andy and the Yanks were in big trouble.
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But then Jeter’s solo shot in the sixth pulled us to 4-2, and suddenly I had hope. I started standing in front of the TV like a maniac, pleading with them do something – anything – against Happ, Durbin and Madson. Nothing. Nothing! They seemed totally handcuffed.
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But Phil Coke held the Phillies in check, and Veras – yes, the guy who regularly walks leadoff batters – dispatched the Flyin’ Hawaiian. Definitely a good omen.
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When Lidge took the mound in the bottom of the ninth with the score still at 4-2, I had a hunch there would Yankees magic. And was there ever.
Damon: walk.
A-Rod: two run homer.
Cano: single.
Melky…..walkoff double!!!!
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(Are those Chinese characters on his right arm?)
The Yankees won 5-4 in dramatic, late-inning fashion once again. A-Rod silenced those who say he never hits in the clutch. Cano continues to be impressive at the plate. And Melky…..Well, let’s just say I’m glad Cashman didn’t trade him for Mike Cameron.
There was joy in Yankeeville…
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And lots of love for the Melk Man…
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And a double dose of pie for these two.
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These come-from-behind wins are the best thing on TV. As someone (wish I could remember who) once said, “Baseball games are like soap operas with box scores.” So true.
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