A trade so bad, it’s supernatural

Johan Santana for Jon Lester, who has the stuff but hasn’t displayed the command to be an elite pitcher, a shortstop with a solid bat but and promising patience, but very limited fielding ability [Lowrie], and a one dimensional sinker ball specialist with a very shallow ceiling due to lack of secondary pitches [Masterson] 

Wow.

Ellsbury is excellent. He has a swing tailored toward finding holes in the defense, similar to Jeter in that regard. That’s just a fantastic, natural ability. He’ll always have a high BABIP, personifying the old Wee Willie quote “to hit ‘em where they ain’t.” [Interestingly enough, I got into a shouting match with a Red Sox fan at a bar after Jeter beat Papelbon last season with one of his fist floaters into right. He was raging about Jeter being lucky, but when you have a swing like Jeter, or Ellsbury, it’s just a beautiful thing where contact will yield a high number of hits, with some simply bound to be ugly duck snorts. It’s unexplainable, but completely verifiable. Luck is the residue of design, when it comes to these guys]

But he too, has a limit to his value, because he’ll probably never hit for much power.

So, well done, Bill Smith. If you can take the package that doesn’t include Ellsbury, you have just made one of the worst trades in Baseball history. There’s really nothing the Yankees can do about this. If the Twins truly believe the Red Sox’s inclusion of Lester equals Kennedy [who has way better control and command than Lester] AND Jackson [who could be the Yankees’ CF by 2009] than he is simply being unreasonable, and hurting his franchise severely. Scarring it in fact. My God… if the Twins don’t get Ellsbury, this is positively nightmarish, a preposterously disastrous trade. So atrocious, it’s almost mind bending. I hate to be a jerk, but if this happens, I hope the Yankees run it up on the Twins when they play next season. When Lester is out of the game in the fourth inning after allowing three hits and four walks, and Masterson, the mop-up man, emerges from the bullpen, well, it’s going to be on… it’s going to be on… every time, cause we don’t play… 

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Ever Lastings

From one of my posts at BTF:

[I should really do this more often. The old cut and paste job… I’d have more content…]

I’ll be extremely interested to see whether Lastings has the discipline to make the necessary, near daily adjustments to be a consistently great player. His healthy relationship with Acta is definitely a plus, and maybe he gets taken under the wing of an older and wiser Dimitri Young, who could definitely be a positive influence on a young guy at this point in his life. He’s been there before, after all. Fair or not, in the few times I’ve seen Lastings play the OF it seems he gets a terrible read on fly balls, often employing the *******, I really misjudged that” last second dive. He’ll definitely get better reads out in center field.

Church needs to get off to a hot start. It could get ugly if the fans turn on him. He’s been accused of being soft in the past. Whether it’s true or not, who knows…

Omar should have asked for Saul Rivera. Rauch probably wasn’t available in this trade… which is awful, just reprehensible. But that’s a column by itself. This… is a blog post.

Quick one regarding Tejada rumors

I could see the O’s being interested in Farnsworth, just to plug him into the closer’s role on the last year of his deal. He’d be motivated to nab another big money contract, and they’d have absolutely no commitment whatsoever… this is the kind of deal Executives love because it can be rationalized without much effort:

“ Of course… we make Farnsworth the closer, Gardner could be lighting a spark for us by 2009, at the latest, and this Horne kid is ready to slot into the rotation today! Plus, we can deal Farnsworth at the deadline for even more prospects if [wink, wink] we’ve somehow fallen out of contention! Call that old man Angelos, we have a deal to sell!”

All the while, are they receiving max value in such a deal? Eh… what do you guys think? Tejada is still a very technically sound hitter, hand/eye, approach, all that jazz. He could really be rejuvenated by New York. I could actually see this happening, though interdivision trades of such magnitude rarely occur… unless you count the epic Chris Britton for Jaret Wright midnight massacre of ’06.

The Gift and the Curse

“I like songs about drifters – books about the same.
They both seem to make me feel a little less insane.
Walked on off to another spot.
I still haven’t gotten anywhere that I want.”

-Modest Mouse, The World at Large

OK, quiet down for just a second, cease and desist with the anger and indignation. Because I love telling this story, never get tired of it.

It was an unbearably hot afternoon at Yankee Stadium. We’re playing Texas, Juan Dominguez on the mound. Alex Rodriguez is at the plate, in the midst of a phenomenal 2005 season, carrying the team.

We’d seen Jaret Wright come and go, booing him off the mound as he held his right shoulder in unbearable pain, tobacco spilling out of his mouth, agape in agony.

We’d seen Carl Pavano vanish, day to day becoming month to month, month to month becoming here to eternity.

We’d seen Kevin Brown implode. That’s that.

We’d been watching our season hang by a delicate strand, our maddeningly talented clean-up hitter preventing an irreparable rip.

And here he is. There’s an electrified current slicing through the beautiful blue sky, and we anticipate something special.

Dominguez winds and fires, Alex locks and loads.

The ball explodes off his bat, obliterated.

We stand, watch the flight, preparing to unleash a spectacular roar, tell whoever happens to be sitting next to us that yes, told you so, just had that feeling.

And than, nothing…

Silence.

We’re looking for the ball. And Alex is rounding the bases, head down.

Did it land upper deck? Was it swallowed by the atmosphere, rip through the O-Zone?

A pin could drop, for one beautiful moment. Soundless shock.

Awe transcends translation. Ever hear 57,000 people simultaneously gasp?

We’d make the playoffs in 2005, somehow, even with a cast of thousands pitching in from the rotation. We made it because Sheffield was great, because Mariano had his best single season, because Jeter was Jeter, because Cano and Wang emerged from nowhere.

But really, we made it because of Alex.

Couple months later, that moment, that afternoon at the stadium, it’s all forgotten.

And that’s why I love telling the story, now, more than ever.

So I can remind one and all, what we just lost.

………………………….

Alex Rodriguez is a fascinating study, even through the narrow view within white lines. He was a true chameleon in Pinstripes, a man of many stances. There was the slightly hunched, uncomfortable edition of 2004, which relied entirely on raw strength. There was the upright, smooth and mechanically sound phase of ‘05. There was the panicked, high kicking, long swinging ’06 model, forcing the action and choking his talent. Finally, in ‘07, there was an Alex from a distant, less burdened past, slimmed down and lightening quick, rising to almost every occasion, complex character with a compact cut.

……………….

Alex is entertainment. His transformations occurred at random. He could appear unstoppable, mashing high nineties heat with the ease of a contented artist, or unnatural, timidly scurrying after foul pops, minding the tarp twenty feet away.

The fun of following A-Rod is in his never-ending capacity to surprise.

…………………..

What to make of the memories? Where was the satisfying resolution, the justification? Had it been lost within the shuffled cards of karma?

There wouldn’t be closure between him and Jeter. They were former best friends turned fellow employees, supposed to share the city together. Nope, there wouldn’t be word that they’d buried the hatchet, hanging out again, painting the city the same color as Billy and Mickey. It wouldn’t be that simple.

There wouldn’t be a moment of connection between him and the fans. He wouldn’t walk the dugout roof, spraying champagne at the stray few refusing to depart a championship celebration. He wouldn’t drunkenly hold up a trophy certifying him as Series MVP, before telling his critics to stick it. There wouldn’t be a chant begging him to stay at a Victory Parade. It wouldn’t be that simple.

There wouldn’t be vengeance against the bitter sportswriters of America. They wouldn’t have another serving of crow to eat. How could they win? Red Sox ownership wouldn’t pay for playing it cheap. In fact, they’d appear brilliant tacticians. How could that be?

The story doesn’t seem complete, the final chapter left unwritten. There’s nothing but abject emptiness, vague indignation, agitation equaling self-righteousness, the same song dragging on and on and on and on…

…………………..

Am I angry, personally?

Nope.

Am I disappointed?

Sure.

Because, now, a piece of me exists that thinks the worst of my favorite player. It could be suppressed before, out of loyalty, but now, I can’t help but think: Think he couldn’t give a **** about being a Yankee, that’d he be a Marlin if they paid him an extra cent. Think he couldn’t care less about legacy, leaving that to his bank account. Think he isn’t mentally tough enough to be a champion. That he can’t raise his game to match the magnitude of a moment.

I can’t help but think that Alex Rodriguez can be given the Mike Tyson treatment, executed perfectly by Buster Douglas. When the bully pushes, push back. He’ll fold.

Yankee executive Gene Michael, principal architect of the contemporary Dynasty, called compilers “bully players”. They can abuse the dredges, but how do they respond when pushed?

Are they left crawling on the canvas, sorting through the shattered pieces of their invincibility, searching for their mouthpiece?

I can’t help but think that New Yorkers can sniff out the phonies, see through a façade.

I think I can’t wait, just can’t wait, to boo Alex Rodriguez.

And it’s disappointing, for **** sure.

……………….

What of Alex Rodriguez? Where does his greatness float next? What is Scott Boras instructing?

Does he go to San Francisco, where the sportswriters have already irrationally lashed out, deeming him another Barry Bonds unable to carry his team to a mythical promised land somewhere past a five run lead in Game Six of the World Series?

Does he go to Boston, where most Red Sox fans are rightfully loyal to Mike Lowell?

Does he go to Los Angeles, where a continuation of his complicated relationship with Joe Torre awaits?

What about the Angels, or a dark horse, like Toronto?

Can the drifter find a home?

Does he want to?

………………………..

OK, finish taking a skewer to this piece if you like, maybe even praise it if you’re so kind and inclined. Done? Do I have your attention?

Good.

Because I love telling this story, never get tired of it.

It’s an October night, 2005. The family and I are watching Game Five between our Yankees and the Angels, hoping for a miraculous, unexplainable campaign to continue.

There’s company over, and the drinks are flowing. We’re passing around a Giant Sombrero, our rally Sombrero we call it. My dad wears it, as the Yankees bat in the ninth, down by two, running out of outs.

Derek Jeter, who Santiago would have no problem calling great, leads off with a single.

Here comes A-Rod. He can’t buy a hit in the Series. He’s due. He has to be. My pale Irish dad is wearing a giant sombrero, and Alex Rodriguez is going to come through.

He’d done it all season. Answered the critics with every mighty swing. We’d have been dead in May without him. He’d torn through September, solidifying himself MVP.

And, here it is, Alex. Now was the time, to redeem 2004, bury the memory, wash it clean.

The room hushed. Anticipating.

He swings at the first pitch. It’s a weak swing of uncertainty, of fear. He grounds into a double play. I thought he beat the throw.

He returns to the dugout, biting his lower lip, eyes watering, eye black fading. Alex Rodriguez has essentially ended the season he saved, a gift and a curse.

I felt pity, I felt rage. I felt winter in the wings.

I took the stupid hat off my dad’s head. I needed another drink.

No magic, no more.

<span face="Times New ************** it, Alex.”

<span face="Times New ************** it.”

– Matt Waters

The Replacements: Ten possibilities for life after A-Rod

Matt’s top ten recommended third baseman to replace A-Rod:

  1. Mark Teahen- Young, can pick it at third, excellent base-runner, showed signs of being a fantastic player second half of ’06… line drive inclined left handed hitter, meet short porch… move to the outfield may have set him back. The Yankees and Royals aren’t ideal trading partners, however. Austin Jackson and Jose Tabata are practically untouchable, the Yankee organization’s first impact positional prospects in a long while. Melky is very similar to DeJesus, so the Royals won’t have a ton of interest there. Long shot.

  1. Adrian Beltre- Overpaid, but the contract length is manageable [2 Years]. Lacks plate disciple. Had best season in ’04 while playing hurt, because he couldn’t swing at everything. Flourished when forced to play within himself… but he hasn’t sure that consistent ability since. A phenomenal fielder who could blossom within Girardi’s disciplined environment. Seattle was a horrible fit for him from the start. The Mariners show no desire to work the count, and the front office doesn’t seem to care. Perhaps participating in an offense including Jeter, Abreu, Posada, and Giambi would do wonders… Hard to believe he’s still only 28. I’m a big Beltre fan. His talent would never allow him to be a total disaster, and the upside is still enormous.

  1. Hank Blalock-Banged up the last couple of years… Could argue he’s been a disappointment relative to the hype… perfect “change of scenery guy” whose value has taken a hit… Jon Daniels can be swindled.

  1. Scott Rolen- Shoulder injuries scare the **** out of me… but he’s Scott Rolen. One of the best fielding third baseman ever. Laid back demeanor, quiet fire would play well in New York. Cold war with LaRussa is truly fascinating. The two obviously despise each other, but his name almost never comes up in trade rumors… how long does it continue? With LaRussa back for the foreseeable future, he’s probably available. Last truly great year was way back in ’04, was having an excellent ’06 before wearing down in September due to aforementioned shoulder issues… could see the Yankees in pursuit, if for the name value only. Will surgery have him back to 100 percent? Mike Mussina for Scott Rolen sounds sensible… well, maybe not to Cardinal fans.

  1. Miguel Tejada- His range combined with Jeter’s would probably doom Wang to a plus 4 ERA… Ball doesn’t explode off the bat like it used to, but he’s still a technically proficient hitter, with an excellent approach, especially with men on base. Unrealistic with Angelos still calling the shots in Baltimore, though Melky is perfect for them.

  1. Garret Atkins- Low on the list because his acquisition isn’t likely… another great fielder. Ian Stewart sill lurks in the minors, but the consensus has Atkins lapping him, totally secure. Chien Ming Wang is a guy they’d love, for his ground ball tendencies in Coors Field. Wang would be a CY Yong candidate with that defense behind him, especially Tulowitzki. Rockies probably don’t want to mess with their chemistry… but a match could be there.

  1. Pedro Feliz- Advanced defensive metrics consistently tab him as one of the best fielding third baseman in baseball… a free agent, so it only costs green to grab him, a plus… Another guy who might benefit from better coaching, he SWINGS AT EVERYTHING… people are quick to dismiss the guy, but he really wouldn’t be a terrible option while Brad Suttle develops…

  1. Miguel Cabrera- I’d hate to trade the farm for him, but he IS a prodigy, and his familiarity with Girardi is comforting, especially with the well known character issues… he’d be a defensive liability, unless they move him to first and give third to this guy—

  1. Wilson Betemit- A future superstar, once upon a time… the Yankees want his flabby physique in better condition… With his atrocious swing from the right side, but dangerous cut from the left, he’s a potential platoon partner with this guy—

  1. Morgan Ensberg- I fear Kei Igawa for Morgan Ensberg makes too much sense not to happen… Kevin Towers is an Igawa fan for some bizarre reason, and an Ensberg/Betemit platoon could actually work… mashes lefties, but you figured that out by now… Pretty abysmal in every way last season. Rocket arm at third. I’d pass, but that’s just me.

Not listed:

Joe Crede: Chris Russo’s personal choice, which should be enough of a deterrent. Unfathomably awful plate discipline, his best season featured an .OBP of .323! How is that possible? On top of everything, he’s coming off back surgery. And he’ll have to be pried away in a trade. If the Yankees go after this guy, I’m cashing my check for ’08. It will severely depress me. I’d take the tag team duo of Ensberg and Betemit any day of the week. STAY AWAY!

Nothing personal, Joe…

Mike Lowell: You just know someone will step up and offer him a ridiculous four-year contract. I don’t want it to be my team.

Brandon Inge: Too streaky, strikeout prone. Great athlete, though…

Scott Brosius: They won because they had the best pitching in baseball, OK? Best rotation, best bullpen. The Bro man was a money post-season player, but he didn’t pull his weight in any regular season past ’98. Just the facts, Jack… Get over the guy. He was a championship player, deservedly loved, but let’s not go crazy and claim he’s better than A-Rod. Come on, now.

The Wildcard:

Youliesky Gourriel   Yes, he may never leave Cuba. But in the word of …Joaquin Andujar  youneverknow.

‘Till next time…

FLASHES OF NIGHT

There was Carl Pavano, the supposed anchor turned albatross, battling on Opening Day of the 2007 season, searching futility for a strikeout pitch. He appears out of place in Yankee pinstripes, assuming a secondary skin, awkwardly wrenching arm overhead, seeking the pristine mechanics and precise command that bought him to the doorstep of stardom. Yes, seems too long ago, when Pavano, young, healthy, and fearless, owned the consensus as the top pitcher within 05’s hot stove menu. Matt Clement was deemed erratic, Pedro Martinez dubbed weathered. He was the one.

Here, he grinded through four ugly innings, before departing to cheers from optimistic fans. This was supposed to be the first step toward a revival, Pavano rising from the ashes, overcoming the cursed injuries that had derailed his promising prime. He was a fixture on the top step of the Yankee dugout in the days following his first start, coolly clad in a black hooded sweatshirt, talking shop with Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, legitimately reaching for camaraderie.

He’d pitch one more game in 2007. It was an appropriate beginning. Take nothing for granted.

Not even Pavano’s single win.

Exit scene.

…………………………………………….

I thought they were finished, late May, after two pathetic losses against Toronto, the team contently passive, absorbing beatings that began feeling inevitable. The Yankees were in full descent, the pitching staff ravaged by injuries, and damaged by Front Office ineptitude, the thoroughly overmatched Kei Igawa routinely blitzed. Indeed, Igawa, eyes shrouded behind shades during Afternoon games, had performed horribly enough to indict the whole organization, executive box to coaching staff.

The defeats became a steady drumbeat. My expectations narrowed. I considered new summer hobbies, but, invariably, always returned for more, cursing the whole way as Bobby Abreu bailed out against lefties, Robinson Cano swung at the first pitch, and Hideki Matsui tapped an endless array of harmless groundballs toward second base.

I consider myself an optimist by nature, but couldn’t have been more apathetic at this particular time. Couple weeks earlier, I’d written a bitterly cynical column after a loss at Seattle, cryptically declaring my worry. The past is never at rest, and, after a couple years coping with painful playoff disappointment, I was quick losing patience.

Toronto was the nadir. 21-29. So, it was fitting that the final game on my Saturday ticket package paired the Yanks and Jays, with such a sizable space between then and now. The baseball season is cosmic, organic, it breathes on a karmic level, flowing and connected. This day represented a gaping exhale.

……………………………….

The Jays have a bright future, an impressive collection of young pitching scattered in their bullpen and rotation. While the cataclysmic injury to B.J. Ryan, along with setbacks suffered by Lyle Overbay, Troy Glaus, Russ Johnson and Vernon Wells, may have short-circuited any possibility of a playoff run, the organization may benefit long term from the test of it’s depth. The loss of Ryan forced the elevation of Jeremy Accardo, and prompted the emergence of Casey Janssen. The Blue Jays bullpen mirrors Seattle’s relief corps, before September anyway, when the Mariners could trot out an array of young guns with scintillating strikeout to walk ratios and miniscule earned run averages. But, while the Mariner arms leaked late, the Jay hurlers preserved, featuring such a plethora of talent that Brandon League, kid flamethrower without control, has become an afterthought. If Ryan heals quickly enough, the Jays’ pen could be unstoppable in ’08. Who wants to face Brian Wolfe, Casey Jannsen, Jeremy Accardo, and Ryan as the innings dwindle, especially with Scott Downs and Brian Tallet in reserve, revitalized by their shift to fulltime relief?

……………………………..

My brother Greg and I are late arriving to the Stadium, par for the course really. We weren’t exactly in a frenzied rush however, especially with heavy rain showering the city. On the way there, I notice a gigantic billboard for Fox’s new show, K-Ville, starring the renowned Anthony Anderson and legendary Cole Hauser. In the right spot, of course, these guys effectively exploit their specific talents, Hauser’s stone cold stoicism, Anderson’s goofy comic shtick, but frankly, I couldn’t think of worse roles for either to portray than nose to the grindstone New Orleans cops. Can’t see the two having any chemistry, but you never know. After all, I once lumped “House” in with “Skin”.

I’m intrigued by this massive piece of advertising, however, hanging over the Cross Bronx. It exposes the transient nature of life. Few month’s time, and K-Ville will be gone, painted over, replaced by a new show, new car, something new until it isn’t. Meanwhile, my brother and I will continue to drive by, on our way to Yankee games. And that consistency is comforting, part of the reason why we watch sports, afford such attentiveness to statistics, keep track. The human condition includes an inert fascination with consistency, long lasting reliability. Players receive ample plaudits for it. Explains the calendar, New Year’s, all the holidays. Reality is so unpredictable. Our lives can be irreparably changed at any time, upheaval at a moment’s notice. So we hunt for the steadiness, thirst for it, anticipate Opening Day around the corner, or a Saturday matinee.

Because we never know when it’s going to rain.

……………………………………

During the delay, Greg and I make the rounds at the familiar establishments, Stan’s and the like. A new Yankee era has emerged in recent seasons, grandstands jam packed, attendance tipping the scales at four million. This has altered routines. Now, it’s a virtual impossibility to escape the Big Ballpark without encountering a bodily traffic jam flooding the corridors. Try appreciating the extra ten thousand friends on a hot Saturday in May after a disappointing Devil Ray wipeout, arm to sweaty arm in a overcrowded walkway with some slovenly guy muttering that the ’85 team got screwed because “they didn’t have the wildcard”, distinct whiff of barley and hops on his breath.

A great percentage of the chorus jeering A-Rod last season may have rode in on the same bandwagon. Now we all chant MVP, but not everyone feels like a phony for it.

The attendance splurge is in full effect at the watering holes, which are uniformly standing room only. Pinstriped morale is jacked, with good reason. Our guys had rallied from a disastrous start, overcoming both the opposition and themselves. These Yankees look their worst when they overreach, forcing instead of flowing. In that sense, this has truly become Alex Rodriguez’s team. I’ve arrived at a realization, regarding athletic endeavor, an epiphany. In the vein of every artistic pursuit, feats on the field are tapped from the subconscious, the ability to divert focus inward, for the delivery of an expression. Could range from a brush stroke to a sac bunt. Analysis has no place at game time. Proper preparation is a must, but, when the lights are bright, instinct belongs behind the wheel, a difficult task in sports, due to the competition. Old Shakes never had to endure a writing duel. The battle in athletics is to internalize, forcing pressure to become a mere figment of the imagination.

……………………………….

We escape into the stadium, fleeing from the bar deluge. The game is still delayed by the time we arrive, and the wait continued. At my prodding, we try grabbing seats a few rows up, under cover from the precipitation, but these are filled.  We return to the bowels. I sit against filthy wall, eating my breakfast, a soggy Stadium hot dog. Tarp’s been on for nearly an hour, without an end in sight.

My back is locking up. I rue my decision not to get wasted. Didn’t want to booze so early. It may have made the situation tenable. Instead, I sit cold sober, resembling a bum. I ponder whether to ask a passerby for pocket change, can never have enough. I’m reminded of the homeless guy outside Gate 6 after games, proudly brandishing a sign with the inscription:

Why lie? I need a beer.

One had to appreciate the everlasting ingenuity of honesty. And this thought springs forth another: It wasn’t always good at the stadium. Drug dealers used to buy tickets to games, a secure location for sales. Same for the addicts, the empty upper deck a perfect place to shoot up, anonymous. I’ve been told these tales. They don’t seem real. Makes overpopulation seem small.

Finally, the tarp is peeled from the field. The game can begin.

……………………………….

Phil Hughes is on the mound for the Yankees, the untouchable one. His velocity sapped by a myriad of leg injuries, Hughes has been left coping with a suspect arsenal, a previously blistering fastball slowed. These difficulties could strengthen his pitching acumen. But for now, the kid struggles in finding the form that had Baseball America anointing him pitching prospect supreme this past winter. But there are flashes. When he perfectly locates a four-seam fastball under a right-hander’s thumbs for a strike. Or when his breaking ball snaps instead of floating. When his change-up dives instead of hanging.

It’s all in that aforementioned consistency.

He’ll find it.

He retires the Jays in the first frame, in order.

………………………………………

Shaun Marcum returns serve, setting the Yankees down quietly. Marcum relies on finesse, no doubt helped by the stellar defense of John McDonald at short, absent today. He mixes and matches, owning a solid grasp of pitching stratagem. He’s one of the standouts in the Jays’ strong front five, a list including the gifted Dustin McGowan, Jon Lieber clone Jesse Litsch, enigmatic A.J. Burnett, and, of course, Doc Halladay.

…………………………………….

Can always count on oddity outside the Stadium. Have to view each and every day through a fresh set of eyes, the old yard reminds me, recalibrates my filter. The place is a true inspiration, and it’s passing, in just a couple years time, is saddening. It’s the people. Will they remain? Like the dudes sporting powder blue retro Jay jerseys, old school names like Olerud and Borders stitched across their backs. Or the intoxicated guy cloaked in his country’s flag, running around calling himself “Captain Canada”. Maybe it was Michael Moore. They save their best for the Bronx.

Fresh eyes.

………………………………….

We’ve all seen police procedurals, either on television or at the movies. We recognize the formula, patting ourselves on the back for paying attention. Look, here comes the part where the obvious, number one suspect is revealed innocent. Uh oh, now the alcoholic cop is going to take the case too personally. Wait, wait, we have a new villain emerging… and bam, case closed, good triumphs over evil, roll credits.

Well, with the Yankees, especially this incarnation of the team, I’m able to correlate just the same. After all, they are a long running series, and some episodes are bound to get recycled. So here’s the part when they look beaten, the offense stagnant. The starter is rolling along, they’ve squandered some opportunities, but wait, they have a couple runners on in the sixth, Marcum’s long gone, left with an injury, that Blue Jay bullpen suddenly isn’t looking quite as deep… and bam, four runs are on the board, the place is going crazy, I high-five some guy after not saying two words to him all game, Enter Sandman, let’s have those credits.

Alas, it isn’t that simple. Not today. Because, unbeknownst to my brother and I, who have dinner plans with the family to celebrate his birthday, we are about to go for a wacky, infuriating, exhilarating ride, which not only typified the season, but mortified us. Having not eaten since the dog during the delay, I was praying for the game ending with relative ease, eager to down some fajitas at Tequila Sunrise.

But here came Jose Veras to protect the lead, top of the seventh.

…………………………………………

Joba is the man, a second round steal, fell to the Yankees, taken in the same draft as wunderkind Ian Kennedy. He contemplates a hellacious fastball with a devilish slider, sporting the confidence to throw his breaking stuff in any count or situation. He handles the media with ease, displaying a natural charisma that fans feed on, sowing the seeds for a symbiotic relationship. It’s those players who become legends, larger than life caricatures.

But he isn’t available, not today, insulated by a set of rules to protect his priceless right-arm. When the steadily shrinking market for free agent pitching is considered, the value of a stud on the farm increases seventy-fold. There will be fewer diamond-branded band-aids, Mike Mussina available for the highest bidder. Franchises far and wide are making a concerted effort to lock down their aces, well before they hit the market. Where would the Yankees be without the next ones? Bidding for the services of Kyle Lohse?

So instead of Joba, we are treated with Jose Veras. Veras’ violent mechanics echo Armando Benitez, appearing painful, unwieldy. Arm and head jerking, Jose hurls his person into every pitch, both audience and batter pardoned a cringe. His stuff, however, is electric, a final spot on the postseason roster within grip.

He begins by allowing a fluke double to Ray Olmedo. The guy sitting a seat up mutters “Aw, ****”, venturing an early diagnosis on the imminent meltdown. Greg tells me not to worry, he’d seen Jose breeze in an earlier appearance, harnessing his filthy stuff. Reed Johnson, campaign long scuttled by back miseries, follows with a walk. I rebut Greg.

“ Oh man, it’s Jose Veras. Jose Veras.”

Snap judgments in the heat of the moment. They contradict my analysis. Which is the true B.S.? Therein lies the question…

After striking out the slumping Matt Stairs, who seems a grizzled veteran since 1998 for some reason [must be the facial hair], Veras hurls a wild pitch that Jorge Posada, never known as an adroit blocker, probably should have salvaged.

Meanwhile, the wave has broken out, oozing through the entire stadium. I curse the gimmick to nobody in particular. Greg and I remain unmoved as it passes through our section, proud curmudgeons, in solidarity with the Bleacher Creatures. I’m left in awe of those captivated by the ability to raise their arms upward. Small wonders. There’s that extra one million, weren’t around way back when…

Alex Rios strikes out. The wave rolls on. A run scores on a Posada passed ball. The wave refuses to die. John Ford-Griffin, a former Yankee prospect, a casualty of the regrettable Jeff Weaver acquisition, walks, after Veras inexplicably attempted to fool him with a 3-2 curve ball. It was his first AB of the season. The wave is finally dead. If I were drunk, I’d chastise the entire section, the annoying, self-righteous guy nobody wants vindicated. Alas, I’m not, and am left speechless after Hill singles, tilting the contest back toward Toronto. Somewhere, the guy cloaked in the colors of Canada popped open a Molson and checked a disappointed Yankee fan into the boards.

Veras exits the game, to a chorus of indignation. After all, he interrupted the wave, the jerk. This is New York, baby. We’re hardcore.

In comes Edwar Ramirez, proud owner of a plus change-up. Ramirez lacks consistent command and control of his fastball, unable to mask his mistakes. He pays, forced to be perfect at the Major League level, after terrorizing the Minors with his phantom change.

Ramirez has struggled of late. Greg chimes in:

“ You’ve been high on this guy, but I just don’t see it. He’s awful.”

Point taken. I plan on returning serve after Ramirez records the final out. He uncorks a wild pitch. Hasn’t been Posada’s finest defensive exhibition, but the Yankee gas can committee isn’t helping matters. Lind singles in Hill. One ugly inning can infect all nine.  I never issue a counterpoint in Ramirez’s favor. I hope he forgives me, someday. Curtis Thigpen, back-up catcher extraordinaire, who waged a battle of attrition with Phil Hughes back in the fourth, fouling off approximately one hundred pitches before lofting a double to short left, flies out to center to bring a merciful close to the proceedings.

………………………………………..

The masses are obligated to arise for the ceremonial singing of  “God Bless America”. This is especially fun, after the follies of Veras and Ramirez. I’m still paranoid about the Tigers making a miracle push to pressure the Yankees for the wild card, but that’s probably just aftershock from ‘04. Never take a thing for granted. Not in this life. “God Bless America” reaches crescendo.

We can sit.

………………………………….

The Blue Jays lead 8-6. I’m aghast at the incompetence displayed by the backend of the Yanks’ bullpen, but not the least bit phased. For, Brandon League is on the mound for the visitors, in all his frenzied glory. One could sum up League by simply surveying his mannerisms, eying his body language. He grimaces, scowls, slumps shoulders, pouts, out of sync, behavior matching woeful command.

Giambi, bat lagging, flies out to left after working the count in his favor. Then, League somehow manages to walk the free wheeling Cadillac Cano on four pitches. Doug Mientkiewicz, on fire since improbably reclaiming the first base job, fists a lucky, dying quail of a double down the left field line, a twist of fate unfortunate enough to totally unhinge League, squinting even more intensely toward home-plate before allowing a two RBI single to the glacially cold Melky Cabrera. Proceeding a Derek Jeter groundout, John Gibbons, whose hilarious saunter to the mound harkens an outlaw’s gait from Spaghetti Westerns, decides to hook League on a high note, calling on Brian Wolfe, who summarily walks Bobby Abreu, bringing Alex Rodriguez to the plate, ready to absolutely wreck a tie game.

……………………………………………

I’m a believer in the power of positive vibes.  Last year, Alex Rodriguez’s struggles in pressure situations became a self-fulfilling prophecy, overblown by the media until they weren’t. Alex admittedly piled on the bulk for the ’06 season, bat speed suffering in an unforeseen consequence. This in mind, couldn’t Alex’s ineffectiveness late in games, against hard throwing relief pitchers, be attributed entirely to the added weight, and wouldn’t the results of this season, a trimmed down Alex annihilating the ninth inning, essentially delete any argument persecuting him as a player unable to deliver in the clutch?

Either way, his greatness is undeniable.

Now, those who doubted expect him to deliver. Encouraging, instead of badgering. Positive vibes, in full effect, as he socks a single off Wolfe, putting his team back on top.

…………………………………..

The game had been totally nonsensical, delayed by rain, careening off course, yet I was assured. Sure, Farnsworth was jogging in from the pen, but he could toss a clean inning, deliver the game to Mo, and I could finally chow on some quality Nachos.

I was determined to maintain a level of placidity. So, when Greg murmured, “Oh ****, its Farnsworth,” I immediately sought the positive. And here it was: Kyle throws the baseball hard. The soft underbelly of the decimated Blue Jay lineup shouldn’t be able to make solid contact against mid-nineties gas. There was my logic. It would be Farnsworth’s day.

Olmedo beat an infield hit, after Farnsworth, aptly fielding his position, winged an errant throw through the legs of new first sacker Wilson Betemit. Reed Johnson bled a hard earned walk, staring at four straight pitches. Serenity now. The slumbering Stairs hit a rocket into the glove of Betemit. One out. Surely Farnsworth would benefit from this good fortune, Carpe Diem, Kyle. Rios singles. A run. Greg Zaun singles. Another run. We boo Farnsworth as he takes his leave. Loudly.  Enter Chris Britton, prisoner of a wide waistline, which obscures his legitimate talent. He retires the only batter he faces, before Torre, in a bizarre maneuver, summons banished import Kei Igawa. The fans, obviously confused, can only summon a smattering of jeers. He allows another run, why not, but the inning, familiar theme, mercifully ends when Zaun, the speed merchant, is gunned out at home.

All told, the deranged game was reaching near surreal levels. 11-9 Jays, and now it really, really, had to be over.

…………………………………..

Melky Cabrera at the plate, two outs in the eighth, team trailing by two, two in scoring position. The sun is setting. The game had stretched past reasonable context, spiraling into the unknown, anything possible. It would be a brutal loss, for the fans especially, who’d seen their entire day outside the stadium slip away, with every breaking ball in the dirt, every foul ball, every garbled prod from the overworked P.A. system. The moment was Melky’s for the taking, opposing a tiring Wolfe, pitch count soaring, partially due to a protracted, Abreu styled plate appearance by the recklessly impatient Cano, drawing his second consecutive free pass. Up was down, left was right, and the exhausted Cabrera, simply burnt after two months of everyday playing time, squeezed a single under the glove of second baseman Aaron Hill, scoring both runners. Melky, naturally, was thrown out at first after taking a suicidal turn around the bag.

11-11.

……………………………..

They won. It was Melky, in the 10th, singling in the deciding run, lacing a frozen rope into right, freeing about 35,000 prisoners of loyalty. They beat Josh Towers, the instigator of a bench clearing brawl weeks earlier in Toronto, revenge for the well documented ha affair, which had, incidentally, occurred the game after rock bottom. Everything could be connected, but it’s impossible to see how all the pieces fit.

It wasn’t the win I’ll ultimately remember, or even Cabrera, returning to peak form, free from fatigue, riding precious adrenaline for a few hours. Not Alex, who continued proving himself King of New York, or Cano, his breath-taking relay peg from centerfield cutting down Toronto’s winning run at the plate in the tenth. No, I’ll never forget something tingling down my spine.

The completely ridiculous seventh and eighth innings, unending, had extended the game beyond daylight. When Mariano Rivera entered in the ninth, the sky had darkened dim enough for flashbulbs to pop from every corner of the Stadium.

Where had the sun disappeared?

This feeling captured me for a split instant, totally helpless, yet peaceful all the same. I was passing through the living embodiment of a metaphor, a parable.

The Blue Jays encounter injuries. They find talent within. High hopes for ’08.

The Yankees struggle, written off. They recover. Playoffs next week, round one.

It rains. Jose Veras tries to trick John Ford Griffin. A marathon ensues.

Every day is the same. Every day is different. Every day is the same in difference.

Assume nothing. Expect anything. Need fresh eyes to see the flashes of night.

Mussina

I believe Mussina was roughed up something awful during an ugly brawl early in his Baltimore career, which, incidentally, almost bought an untimely end to Cal Ripken’s streak, when the latter got clipped below the knee amid the squalor. It was one for the history books, something out of “Gangs of New York”. After that, Mussina, whose season ended as a result, if my memory serves me correctly, counted himself out of the retaliation business. Sounds logical.

On a random note, my God, how ‘bout his 1992 season, pitching in THAT ballpark, when it truly played like a bandbox… amazing, and interesting to consider, how badly were his statistics damaged pitching in Camden Yards, and later on, relying on decidedly shaky infield defenses? Well, in fairness… Greg Maddux had his best seasons with Jeff Blauser manning shortstop… but that’s the greatest pitcher ever.

If this is final chapter for Mussina, he has absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. People questioning his big game ability are simply ignorant. He had one of the best post season runs EVER in 1997, beating Randy Johnson twice in the ALDS*, before completely dominating the loaded Indians in the ALCS. The O’s had themselves were undone by Armando Benitez and a lackluster offensive performance in that Series. Mussina was sublime. In 2004, he would have defeated Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez, in games one and five, if it weren’t for Tom Gordon being totally shot.

Mike Mussina is one of the best pitchers of this generation, period. 

* “ We weren’t counting on Sandy Koufax showing up for them.” – Alex Rodriguez on Mike Mussina in the ’97 playoffs.