Saturday, May 31, 2008

Kyle Farnsworth Terror Threat Level

With Joba Chamberlain joining the starting rotation, the Yankees have reinserted Kyle Farnsworth into the eighth-inning setup role. Here at River & Sunset, we will document Farnsworth's ineffectiveness leading up to Brian Cashman inevitably overpaying for bullpen help prior to the July 31 trade deadline.

May 30: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 HR, 0 BB, 0 K, 4.44 ERA


Friday, May 30, 2008

The funniest movie you'll see all year

I can say without a doubt that my roommates and I have the greatest collection of "save-until-delete" programming on a DVR player in all of the state of California.

This comes with an important caveat, however. We don't specialize in the "Citizen Kane" or "Gone With The Wind" classics, or even the "Gone in 60 Seconds" popcorn fare of the silver screen. No, we choose to celebrate the movies that time forgot ... and the stars that tried to. Monique's "Phat Girls", Cameron "My Dad is Michael" Douglass' "Adam & Eve" , VH-1's "Hysteria: The Def Leppard Story", Natasha Kinksi's "Cracker Jack". The list, literally, goes on and on.

What our DVR had been missing however, was a laughably-awful sports movie. That was, of course, until "Joe Torre: Curveballs Along The Way".

Wow. Where to start. This 1997 Showtime original feature was rushed to production months after the Yankees' 1996 title, and it shows. Dear God it shows. I could talk in depth about the shoddy acting, shoe-horned plot elements and embarrassing set designs, but for the sake of covering all the bases, I'm going to break this down into four parts.

Paul Sorvino's portrayal of Joe Torre
It's hard not to think about Sorvino pondering in his trailer whether it had really been only seven years since he played a lead character in Scorsese's "Goodfellas". A pay check is a pay check I suppose, and Paul Cicero mails this one in with great aplomb. Wisely, the film's producers secured a known Hollywood entity to play the part of Torre, but this fails on two levels. One, Sorvino is a bit, ahem, robust physically, and one has to wonder if Joe was upset to be the first biopic subject to be portrayed by a less attractive person. Secondly, the ham-fisted vision of Torre and his Italian-American family is stunning, with cliched dialogue and poor plot-pacing that somehow managed to muddle the engaging real-life stories of Rocco and Frank Torre.

The portrayal of the 1996 Yankees
You seriously have to wonder if the casting director of "Curveballs" took the time to see what the players on the 1996 Yankees roster actually looked like. Baseball players are professional athletes, and professional athletes are big dudes, not scrawny weaklings. No actor looks even remotely similar to the player he is portraying, with the exception of Dwight Gooden, played by former "Gray's Anatomy" star Isiah Washington. That said, Washington throws like a 13-year-old girl, so even that's a lost cause. Wade Boggs looks like a heroin addict. Paul O'Neill looks like my mechanic. As for Darryl Strawberry, my only guess is they hired the first black dude that walked into the audition. The best of the bunch here is the guy who plays David Cone, who would later go on to marry Tori Spelling. This makes a lot of sense for some reason.

Steinbrenner-Watson dynamic
If you believed Larry David's portrayal of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was humorous, you may die laughing watching this. Predictably, The Boss is portrayed as impatient and impetuous and is decked out in a white turtleneck and blazer throughout. The actor portraying GM Bob Watson -- presumably the second black dude in line at the Strawberry audition -- only serves to stand in the background and furrow his brow as Steinbrenner rants. Also of note is Steinbrenner's office, which looks exactly what you would think the owner of the New York Yankees' office would look like ... if he was six years old.

Gameplay recreation
Here's the thing that Hollywood needs to learn about sports movies. Us fans are sticklers for details. If you don't stay true to the look, rules and feel of a game -- this is especially true in baseball -- you will take us out of your reality. We will turn on you. Quickly. "Curveballs" tries to splice in real-life highlights with the filmed scenes, an idea good in theory but shockingly poor in execution. A bullet list of errors on the field:

  • The Yankees are wearing uniforms outfitted by Majestic. The Yankees have never been officially outfitted by Majestic. (I told you we are sticklers.)
  • The Yankees' road uniforms have misshapen lettering and numbering.
  • At one point, Sorvino calls to the bullpen and a reliever appears from behind a left-field wall at Yankee Stadium that is literally 12-feet-high.
  • Shots of the Yankees dugout are drenched in light. Sorvino looks like he's in an interrogation room throughout.
  • A brawl in Seattle takes place outdoors and on natural grass. The Mariners played in the Kingdome in 1996.
  • When we get a close-up shot of Gooden following the trajectory of the final out of his no-hitter, he is looking in the wrong direction (right instead of left) and you see there are only three rows of seats above the dugout. Don't send that scene to the Academy.
  • Other shots behind the action clearly show blue seats that are nothing more than painted slabs of wood.
I'd love to ask Torre his thoughts about the movie, and how much, if at all he was consulted during the making of it. My guess is he turned it off after the opening "Welcome Home Joey" Brooklyn block party that painted his family as underlings in "The Sopranos". But who knows, maybe he loves it. I suppose I'd love any movie about me.

Unless, of course, Joe Pesci was cast in my role. That would suck.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

In support of Johnny

My favorite moment of last night's much-needed win over the Orioles also began as one of the contest's more mundane.

With the Yankees nursing a one-run lead and a potentially valuable insurance run leading off third base with two outs in the ninth, Johnny Damon pulled what looked to be a routine grounder to O's first baseman Kevin Millar. Or so it seemed. The follow-through of Jamie Walker's pitching motion took the left-hander to the third-base side of the mound, and by the time he righted himself and sprinted to take Millar's toss to the bag it was far too late. Damon had busted it out of the box and earned himself an RBI single.

Mariano kept the run as nothing more than insurance with another flawless ninth, but Damon's hustle was not overlooked ... at least around these parts.

It's easy for some to write Damon off as another Yankees free-agent signing bust of the 2000s. One of the most memorable faces of the 2003-2004 Red Sox teams, Damon bolted Boston for a four-year, $52 million contract with New York that Sox GM Theo Epstein was unwilling to lavish on a then 32-year-old center fielder.

Based on performance, Epstein seemed to make the right decision. Despite steady offensive production (24 homers, 25 steals, 115 runs) during his first season in pinstripes, Damon battled nagging injuries that brought into question his longterm durability. Damon admittedly came into camp in 2007 out of shape and proceeded to suffer through a dreadful first half at the plate. Mid-way through the season he was supplanted in center field by the younger, quicker and stronger-armed Melky Cabrera.

But despite this, Damon has never been a blight on the Yankees roster the way other free-agent busts (Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano et al) have been. On the contrary, his arrival brought a more light-hearted feel to a Yankees team that had fostered an increasingly "corporate" feel by the middle of the decade. His personality seems to rub off on his teammates, making him valuable in ways not calculated through statistics. And while he's not the same player he was during his Boston heyday, he remains a steady and durable leadoff man while providing good range -- if not arm strength -- in left field.

So good work by Johnny Damon last night in Baltimore. I for one am glad to have this "idiot" on my team.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Cashman's last stand?

A shocking stat line called out by Pete Abraham over on his LoHud blog last night:

"It’s amazing that Kennedy and Phil Hughes are both on the DL 52 games into the season. They are a combined 0-7 with a 7.99 ERA. The Yankees are 3-12 in the games they have pitched this season, 22-15 in their other games."

During Spring Training, general manager Brian Cashman put off talks off a contract extension until after the season. Hughes and Kennedy may now be making the decision to return for him. It's only late May, but the choice to hold on to his two blue-chip arms during the Johan negotiations is taken on the look of an epic blunder. I didn't fault him at the time, but even the staunchest Cash fan has to admit this literally could not have gone any worse.

Almost impossible to believe.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Joba Effect

Forget the mystical powers of the immortal Garrett Olson for a moment.  Yesterday's loss fell on the bullpen, which let things get out of hand in a hurry at Camden Yards.

Moving Joba Chamberlain to the starting rotation is the right move, I sincerely believe that. But it's important to remember who will be there to take his place in close games. Based on yesterday's results, it's not pretty.

The hope here is that Brian Cashman recognizes the enormity of this deficiency and acts aggressively. Kyle Farnsworth has been solid of late, but that doesn't mean he should be considered the eighth-inning solution. It's a role he failed at in 2006, 2007 and basically every other season of his career. Kyle Farnsworth is not effective. Let me type that again in case Cashman is doing Google research on the big right-hander. KYLE FARNSWORTH IS NOT EFFECTIVE. EL KYLE FARNSWORTH ES NO EFFECTIVO.

Neither is Jose Veras (stiff), LaTroy Hawkins (cadaver) or Ross Ohlendorf (zombie), for that matter. The reality of the situation is that removing Joba from the equation makes a good bullpen bad. Such is the enormous talent that is Chamberlain. But starting pitching is considered more important than the bullpen, and the Yankees just so happened to have a need in both departments due to the failures of Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy. You're essentially robbing Peter to pay Paul here, a strategy in baseball and life that commonly delivers poor results. Stay tuned to see how all this plays out, though I strongly urge you to have indigestion medication nearby until the July 31st trade deadline.

Now if the Yankees had Johan Santana in front of Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina  ... ahhh, no sense crying over spilt milk. 

Even if the milk is everywhere.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A-Rod to the rescue

It's amazing how good Alex Rodriguez truly is.

No other player in baseball has the ability to change a lineup like No. 13. His fine skill-set is obvious -- he drilled two balls over the fence last night, despite getting credited for just one homer -- but it's what he does to the lineup around him that sets him apart.

Prior to A-Rod's return, the top of the Yankees lineup was loaded with left-handed batters, creating an advantage for teams that threw southpaws at them. Now, you plug in the game's best righty hitter in the clean-up spot and the vulnerability is seriously minimized. Posada's return will further help fortify the balance of the lineup.

Even more, Rodriguez's presence changes the way an opposing pitcher must attack the teammates who bat around him. You can talk in vague platitudes about how a true leader "makes his team better" and whatnot, but A-Rod literally makes his team better. Jeter, Abreu, Giambi and Matsui are all going to get better pitches to hit as pitchers are forced to go right at them for fear of putting them on for free with Rodriguez in wait.

I flew home last night and caught the game from the left-field grandstand. It was a victory the team sorely needed, but beyond that, the Yankees seemed to have a little swagger back as well. A playoff berth may ultimately still come down to pitching for this team, but A-Rod's presence will be vital to any World Series aspirations. Complain about his personality and questionable postseason acumen all you want, but remember this. What you have right now is one of the best players of all-time playing for your team in the prime of his career.

I think we should all take a step back and enjoy that.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Is this rock bottom?

"The Yankees are in last place" is a favorite note of the tabloid and national sports media.

Due to the Yankees' success over the past 15 years, this place in the standings hasn't been often or for long. But in 2005, 2007 and now 2008, early-season struggles have landed the Bombers in the AL East cellar. I never took the stories and headlines seriously, because I knew the Yankees of '05 and '07 weren't a last-place team.

This Yankees team looks like a last-place team.

I'm not saying I believe they're going to stay that way. A team with this much talent and resources would be hard-pressed to finish with less than 80 wins. But the lethargy of this unit is certainly alarming. How do you look flat playing a home game in front of a full house, in a nationally-televised game facing the prospect of a sweep against your crosstown rivals?

The Wanger didn't get it done last night. His fourth inning hearkened back to last October's ALDS, when the right-hander looked like a spot starter for a Little League team. I'm not going to make too much of it, or get on the bandwagon of saying Wang isn't an ace, but it does worry me that every so often the wheels come flying off.

Meanwhile, the offense continues to be an abomination. I'm going to rip out my own eyes if I have to see Alberto Gonzalez bat with runners in scoring position again. And despite connecting for a double last night (before, of course, being stranded), Jose Molina continues to look overmatched. I disagree with the notion that you can't put all the Yankees' struggles on the fact that A-Rod and Posada have been out of the lineup. The loss of the All-Stars didn't have to be devastating, but it has been due to the utter incompetence of the players that took their spots. Did you know that Gonzalez, Molina, Morgan Ensberg and Chad Moeller have combined for two homers and 12 RBIs in 227 at-bats? This may be the worst Yankees bench in 20 years. In the current economic climate, how is that possible? Are you there Cash?

One last note about the game ... Joe Morgan is still an idiot. Yesterday, Morgan's long-suffering play-by-play announcer, Jon Miller, remarked that the new Yankee Stadium will have the exact field dimensions of the current park. Morgan, so old school he probably has a tail, interjected that if the dimensions were the same they should have just stayed where they were.

I'm 99 percent sure he was being serious.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

I'm just sayin' ...

I know the Yankees bench is short right now with A-Rod and Posada on the shelf, but was Joe Girardi really forced to call Morgan Ensberg off the bench to pinch-hit against Billy Wagner with the game in the balance yesterday? Mr. Ensberg, ye of the .257 slugging percentage? Really, Cash? This is what $240 million gets us?

This led to me having a dream last night where the Yankees were playing in the World Series and Hall of Famer Wade Boggs was called off the bench to work a game-deciding bases-loaded walk.

Wait. I think I'm going to be sick.

Where have you gone Andy Pettitte?

You can call him unlucky, snake bitten or whatever else, but I'm just going to say Andy Pettitte didn't get the job done yesterday against the Mets.

Pettitte's ineffectiveness has been an alarming development, coming at a time where the Yankees' pitching staff needs him most. The left-hander is 0-4 with a 6.26 ERA in his last five starts. I don't have to tell you this is dreadful, but it's important to note that if not for the resurgence of Mike Mussina, the Yankees may have been buried in the division by now.

There are certain things you've come to count on as a Yankees fan for the past 12 years, which makes Pettitte's struggles especially jarring. All players have peaks and valleys during a season, but there are other factors that should be taken under consideration. This is a nearly 36-year-old man with an iffy elbow who just so happens to be coming off a horrendous offseason of controversy. As presently constituted, this Yankees team was still built with the need for him to win 14-16 games.

Me thinks the lefty has some work to do.

Welcome to the blog ...

This blog's mission statement is rather self-serving, though I assume that is the nature of most blogs. I'm a lifelong New Yorker who recently moved to Hollywood, Calif., for career reasons. Being a fan of an East Coast team out here is bizarre, a scary world of 10 a.m. first pitches, blacked out games and complacent baseball fans. The Dodgers draw 40,000 a game -- though I suspect they mostly go to tell Andruw Jones he's fat. At the end of the day, this is Lakers country.

The impetus of this blog is as follows: In New York I never missed a Yankees game. But with the time difference and general apathy toward things not show-business related, I felt disconnected from the Bombers for the first time in my life. This gave me an uneasy feeling in my stomach, so I started to ramp up my Yanks coverage, watching every game on MLB.TV, scouring blogs, and reading as much beat coverage as possible. I view this blog as the final step in closing the gap between the fan I was in '07 and the one I will be going forward.

Lastly, I'd like to thank Peter Abraham of The Journal News in Westchester. His Yankees blog is a daily essential read for me, and was a motivator to get this little side project off the ground.

So that's it. If anything, maybe the start of this project will coincide with a Yankees resurgence ... one that features Jason Giambi not hitting into the shift, Kei Igawa successfully tying his shoes and Carl Pavano's triumphant return to riding around in sports cars with models.

A boy lost in Hollywood can dream, can't he?