Monday, December 28, 2009

Time for Yanks, Damon to get on same page

In the eighties, it was all about "Who Shot J.R.?".

In the nineties, we had O.J. and A.C. cruising down the 405 in the white Bronco.

In the aughts 2000s 00s, Snookie's sucker-punch on Jersey Shore appeared to be the clear front-runner for this decade's defining TV moment.

But that was before Johnny Damon appeared as guest host of WWE's Monday Night Raw.

As a service to you, the reader, here are five quick bullet points on last week's WWE debut for the two-time World Series champion:

- The ring announcer kicked off the telecast by introducing Damon, who appeared from behind the curtain and did his patented Bleacher Creature Pointing Thing to his left and right before making his way to the ring. In a stunning lack of effort by whoever was in charge of selecting his entrance music, "Centerfield" by John Fogerty blared on the PA.

- Damon did a brief, scripted, and excruciatingly uncomfortable monologue in which he was booed lustily by the Tampa crowd. He was clearly nervous and flubbed several words. Dick Clark now is better than Johnny Damon on the mic.

- Over the course of two hours, Damon was joined by WWE talent in several backstage skits, generally helping to forward current plotlines. As is apparently the case with all guest hosts, Damon was given power to "book" matches. I found this highly improbable.

- At one point, Damon said, "That's a real home run of an idea." Seriously.

- He was sexually assailed by an 86-year-old female wrestler.

It was a surreal experience to say the least, and the whole event reminded me how much I enjoy me some Johnny Damon.

It also reminded me how close this guy is from walking out the door.

Here's the thing Damon needs to realize. Being a Yankee is the best possible fit for him. He has a ballpark perfectly attuned to his strengths. He's in the largest media market that provides the best platform for his charitable endeavors. He's adored by the fanbase. The team's spring training facility is located in his hometown.

At 36, it makes little sense for him to start over in a new city. And besides, no matter what he does from here on out, his baseball legacy is already set in stone. He's the first truly notable player since Babe Ruth to help lead both the Red Sox and the Yankees to championships. That's not a bad way to be remembered, and it's not worth tainting over a chance to play for the Washington Nationals.

And while it makes a ton of sense for Damon to return to the Yankees, it's clearly in the Yankees' best interest to bring back their left fielder as well.

Nick Johnson is currently projected as Damon's replacement in the No. 2 hole, an idea that makes a certain modicum of sense when you factor in Johnson's sparkling on-base percentage. But Johnson is also one hamstring strain away from being legally obligated have the word "FRAGILE" stamped on his forehead for eternity.

If I were Joe Girardi, I'd feel much more comfortable having my table-setter be Damon, a player who has had more than 600 plate appearances in each of his last 12 seasons. Johnson can make that claim just once in his eight-year career.

And sure, Damon throws a bit like a girl, and yes, his production grounded to a halt in September before he pulled it together for the playoffs. But he was a big part of the blood and guts of the '09 Yankees. Trade away Phil Coke, Brian Bruney, and Melky Cabrera and I'm still confident that the soul of the team remains intact. You let Damon walk, I think a big piece of what made this team different than the ones that preceded it will walk away, too.

"I'm not sure where I'll be next year," Damon said during one of his Raw skits, "but Johnny Damon will be fine."

Let's hope "fine" means he'll be in Yankee pinstripes. Now that's a home run of an idea.

Dan Hanzus writes the Yankees blog River & Sunset and can be reached via e-mail at Follow Dan on Twitter at danhanzus.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Yankees unafraid to mess with a good thing

I must admit, I didn't foresee the Yankees being so busy this offseason.

They are the World Series champions, after all. Unless you're the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals , this means you already are an excellent team. You've proven this, because, um, you won the World Series.

The logical line of thought is to attempt to bring back the team in its entirety. This is the If-It-Ain't-Broke-Don't-Fix-It mentality. It ensures you don't disrupt team chemistry and it serves as a reward to a team that did exactly what you asked it to do.

That's often not a good enough reason for general managers, however. In this modern day free-agent landscape, it's very rare to see a team come back in one piece from one season to the next, regardless of success in the prior year.

Enter the New York Yankees.

If Brian Cashman wanted to bring back the same team in 2010, he could have. Retaining Johnny Damon would've been the only real challenge, and when you're the Yankees, a few extra million dollars can be found in Hank Steinbrenner's cigarette money junk drawer.

Clearly though, the organization felt reinforcements needed to be made. It's noble that Cashman and company would take this risk, but only time will tell if it will be regarded as keen foresight or self-sabotage.

River & Sunset broke down the Yankees' winter meetings activity here. Below we'll take a look at the moves of the past two weeks.


RHP Chien-Ming Wang filed for free agency

Because Wang made $5 million in 2009, the largest pay reduction the Yankees could offer him if they tendered a contract would be 20 percent, or $4 million. With the uncertainty that surrounds the snake-bitten right-hander at this point, guaranteeing that much money would be foolish, even for the Yankees.

The underlying factor here is that the organization was clearly never in love with Wang. New York seemingly rushed him back to the mound in '09, hung him out to dry with a ludicrous time table following his foot injury in '08, and bitterly fought with him in arbitration when he was a young 19-game winner in '07. Considering the Yankees' fanboy adulation of Joba and Hughes, it's downright strange how much they took Wang for granted.

Wang can still technically re-sign with the Yankees as a unrestricted free agent. But if you were him, would you?


Signed free agent 1B Nick Johnson to one year, $5.5 million deal

Back in the late 90s, I worked with a guy who talked about Nick Johnson for entire lunch breaks. It actually got creepy after awhile; I thought about alerting Columbus Clippers security when he came to work one morning with what he claimed was a lock of Nick The Stick's hair.

Johnson was a fast-riser in the Yanks' farm system back then, and he appeared to be a natural link to Don Mattingly—a homegrown first base talent with a great glove, patient approach and smooth left-handed stroke. Tino Martinez's successor seemed to be waiting in the wings.

But Johnson never could stay on the field for the Yankees, which became a reoccuring trend for his entire career. He's 31 now, visibly overweight, and reasonably could be injuring himself as you read this.

Yes, he's still an on-base machine (an unreal .429 OBP in '09), and sure, his swing at Yankee Stadium can produce 20+ homers if he gets 500 at-bats. But what are the chances he gets those 500 at-bats? Johnson has had nine stints on the disabled list in his career. If the Yankees view Johnson as the potential replacement for Damon in the two-hole, what is the plan for the two or so months Johnson will inevitably be forced out of the lineup by injury?

Of course, the spector of Hideki Matsui hangs over everything here. Matsui, we were led to believe, wasn't in the picture for 2010 because he was strictly a DH and the Yankees were determined to keep that slot flexible for their veteran core this season. So what does it tell you when they bring in a player who will be used for little else than DH purposes this season?

If you look closer, there are layers to this onion. It's very possible that the "flexible" DH slot plan was a smoke screen for the Yankees' true thoughts on Matsui, who they believed was lucky to make it through 2009 without his knees turning into dust.

It will be interesting to see if it will be Johnson or Matsui who puts together the better season in 2010. It will be perhaps more interesting to see who spends more time on the disabled list.


Atlanta Braves traded LHP Boone Logan and RHP Javier Vazquez to New York Yankees for cash, RHP Arodys Vizcaino, CF Melky Cabrera and LHP Michael Dunn.

It's a deal that has been perceived as a heist for the Yankees by some, and a disaster waiting to happen by others.

Those in the latter camp look at Vazquez and can only see the guy who threw the BP fastball to Damon in Game 7 of The Series That Shall Not Be Named. I understand that, since I went into a catatonic shock myself as I watched from the upper deck that night.

But the truth is, Vazquez has quietly been one of baseball's most consistent pitchers for the past decade. In the nine years that sandwiched Vazquez's 2004 season in New York, the right-hander threw 202+ innings with 179+ strikeouts in each campaign.

Vazquez, 33, was 15-10 with a 2.87 ERA in 32 starts for Atlanta this past season, allowing 181 hits while striking out 238 in 219 1/3 innings. He finished fourth in the voting for the NL Cy Young Award.

The numbers are obviously inflated by virtue of pitching in the National League. But the Yankees don't need Vazquez to be a Cy Young candidate (though it'd be nice). All they really want is a dependable middle-of-the-rotation starter who can slot behind Andy Pettitte and ahead of Hughes. At this stage of the offseason, getting a pitcher with Vazquez's credentials was a steal for the Yankees.

The real tragedy of this deal is we have to say goodbye to the lovable teddy bear we know as Melky Cabrera. His bromance with Robinson Cano was well-documented around these parts, and it will be sad to see the Melk Man take his glow sticks out of the Boogie Down.

In all seriousness, though, Cabrera was a solid Yankee who got the most out of a limited amount of talent. The trade for Curtis Granderson put the writing on the wall, and now he'll get a fresh start with the Braves.

Say this for Melky: He stayed in the picture. Every time the Yankees tried to bury him, he refused to go quietly. They banished him to the minors in '08, then tried to take away his starting job in '09, and it never mattered. He always made it back. It's a level of resiliency that will continue to serve him well in the next phase of his career.

Dan Hanzus writes the Yankees blog River & Sunset and can be reached via e-mail at Follow Dan on Twitter at danhanzus .

Friday, December 11, 2009

Yanks take care of business at winter meetings

This year's winter meetings seemed to be a lot more active than last year's, didn't they?

This may have had a lot to do with location.

In 2008, the event was held in Vegas. This surely presently all sorts of obstacles in terms of getting actual work done.

I'm not sure Scott Boras ever ducked out of Spearmint Rhino long enough to hold his annual messianic press conference. And then there were the rumors about the Hendricks brothers, a young redhead and a snapper fish.

I don't even want to know what Brian Cashman did to try to satiate his bottomless secular appetite.

This year, the meetings shifted from Las Vegas to Indianapolis, which, in terms of a scenery change, is the equivalent of moving from ... well ... Las Vegas to Indianapolis.

I have nothing against Indianapolis, mind you. It's the midwest's third-largest city after all (thanks Wikipedia!), not to mention the humble host of Star Wars Celebration convention II and III!

And don't forget about the Indy 500, which (I believe) is a bi-annual competitive eating contest. Go Kobayashi!

ANYWAY, what I'm trying to say is that there wasn't much to do in Indianapolis this week other than sign or trade professional baseball players.

And that's exactly what your New York Yankees did.

Last year, the Yankees made the biggest splash of the Vegas meetings when they signed CC Sabathia. The Yanks were in the thick of things again this year.

Let's take a closer look at what Bomber business went down this week in beautiful Manningapolis.

I'll break it down in order of importance:

Signed free agent LHP Andy Pettitte to one-year, $11.75 million deal

Who knows where the Yankees would've been if Pettitte didn't turn back the clock in 2009?

Last winter, New York essentially brought back the veteran as a $5 million insurance policy. But when Joba Chamberlain struggled and Chien-Ming Wang became a ghoulish spectacle, Pettitte was asked to be much more. By the time the postseason concluded, the 37-year-old had delivered his club 18 wins, including the clinchers in the ALDS, ALCS, and World Series.

That is what you call "stepping up".

The starting rotation remains a question mark, particularly in the back end, but re-signing Pettitte was a big piece of the puzzle. Bringing back the staff security blanket was an essential move for Cashman.

Detroit Tigers traded RHP Edwin Jackson to Arizona Diamondbacks; New York Yankees traded RHP Ian Kennedy to Arizona Diamondbacks; Arizona Diamondbacks traded Daniel Schlereth and RHP Max Scherzer to Detroit Tigers; New York Yankees traded CF Austin Jackson and LHP Phil Coke to Detroit Tigers and Detroit Tigers traded CF Curtis Granderson to New York Yankees.

To simplify the clutter above, let's just call this "The Granderson Trade", or perhaps "The Day Melky's Glow Sticks Died".

The deal makes sense for all three teams. The outfield was a relative weak point for the Yankees in 2009, shoddy corner defense sandwiching the high-effort, middling production tandem of Melky and Brett Gardner in center.

The Tigers, meanwhile, had made it clear they were looking to get younger and cut payroll. The Yankees made a natural dancing partner.

I don't really care what the hell the Diamondbacks do, but Edwin Jackson is tall and throws fast.

The biggest departure for the Yankees is Jackson, which the club had groomed as its next big homegrown talent. He had a solid season with Triple-A Scranton, batting .300 with four homers, 65 RBI and 24 steals in 504 at-bats.

I wish the best to Kennedy, a once promising prospect who can't seem to get upright. Coke, meanwhile, is the type of middle reliever who is always two bad months away from a weekend arc-ball league. He'll always have that ring, though.

I was once a huge Granderson guy, but his numbers the past two seasons do scare me. His batting average in 2009 was a whopping 53 points below his '07 mark (.302 to .249), while his splits against left-handers sunk 76 points from '08 to '09 (.259 to .183).

Is it weird that Granderson, 28, would go into a two-year decline in what are typically known as a player's prime seasons? Well...yeah. But Jim Leyland also smoked enough cigarettes in that time to make Nat King Cole blush, so maybe we'll just mark this off as a second-hand smoke issue.

Bottom line here is that taking on Granderson is well worth the risk. The Yankees acquired a dynamic former All-Star who can hit for power, steal bases, and pick it in center. That's a rare commodity in this game.

Señor Cashman is on fire.

Traded Brian Bruney to Washington Nationals for Jamie Hoffmann

Let's give a big River & Sunset send-off to Mr. Bruney, whose taken his Nu-Metal-inspired tattoos and bad haircuts to Obamaland.

This is good news for the 27-year-old, who will now enjoy the benefit of disappointing just 12,000 home fans instead of his usual 46,000.

Bruney was always a curious case. All summer, I tried to convince my dad that the right-hander was one mechanical adjustment away from being a lockdown setup man. But Bruney never could get it together, unable to find consistency after elbow soreness led to back-to-back early trips to the DL. When Phil Hughes emerged as the Eighth-Inning Guy, Bruney disappeared faster than a latter-day Kelsey Grammer sitcom.

Call me stubborn, but I still think Bruney has the ability to succeed at the big league level. I wouldn't be surprised to see him flourish with the heinous Nationals, becoming a under-the-radar holds machine for your fantasy team in 2010.

It's equally possible, however, that he'll be what he's always been, an up-and-down middle reliever with durability issues. You can't lose to much sleep cutting ties with that.

Hoffmann was the first pick of Thursday's Rule 5 Draft. He was in the Dodgers' organization. He's a right-handed outfielder who can hit lefties. The Yankees could use one of those, and Cashman said Hoffmann will get a chance to break camp with the parent club.

I may try to Willie "Mays" Hayes it here and grab that spot in Tampa myself. Unfortunately, I can't hit righties or lefties. Big character guy though.

Dan Hanzus writes the Yankees blog River & Sunset and can be reached via e-mail at Follow Dan on Twitter at danhanzus.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Catching up with a gleeful Yankee Universe

Good news for people who like their Yankees blogs served extra rare (of course, I refer to both the content's figurative juiciness and the blog's relative uniqueness). Two meanings ... rare ... it's a homonym. Forget it.

What I'm trying to say is that the offices of River & Sunset are back in business after a month-long hiatus.

We apologize for our absence. We would've loved to provide wall-to-wall coverage of Mike Dunn's winter ball progress, but for us, November was all about basking in the glow of the Yankees' 27th World Series championship.

So what's transpired over the 26 days since our last post? It's bullet time:

  • Nov. 10: Brian Cashman says the roles of Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes are undefined, and that they'll enter spring training as "starters trained to relieve". Cashman then excuses himself to watch the third act of the 1990 film, Home Alone, in an attempt to find new ways to booby-trap the pitchers.
  • Nov. 11: Freddy Guzman and Josh Towers elect to enter free agency, ending their time in pinstripes. The stock market crashes and the streets are engulfed by riots. One fan unsuccessfully attempts to get store credit at Modell's on his personalized No. 47 Guzman jersey.
  • Nov. 13: Arn Tellem, the agent representing Hideki Matsui, calls the World Series MVP "ageless" in a story on the The Huffington Post. Hideki Matsui's knees respond by calling a press conference to refute the statement. Unfortunately, the comments were drowned out by the knees' constant screams of agony.
  • Nov. 14: Joe Torre says that watching the Yankees celebrate their World Series win was "surreal". You know what else is surreal? A bloated and cash-famished Paul Sorvino playing the former Yankees manager in the 1997 made-for-TV classic, Joe Torre: Curveballs Along The Way. The movie was on something called The Hallmark Channel at 2 a.m. the night of Thanksgiving. Yes, I watched the whole thing, and yes, that's maybe the ninth time I've referenced this obscure movie in the 18 months I've been writing this blog. Deal with it.
  • Nov. 15: Rumors swirl that the Yankees are interested in acquiring Tigers center fielder Curtis Granderson, who was awesome ... three years ago. You know who else was awesome three years ago? Lindsay Lohan. Things change.
  • Nov. 17: Royals right-hander Zack Greinke is the runaway winner of the AL Cy Young award, with Yankees ace CC Sabathia finishing a distant fourth. Sabathia responds to the perceived slight by eating his neighbor's dog.
  • Nov. 18: Angels manager Mike Scioscia is the runaway winner of the AL Manager of the Year award, with Yankees skipper Joe Girardi finishing a distant third. Girardi responds to the perceived slight by attempting to re-create another car accident scene in which he appears to be the hero. This leads to a marked decline in Tiger Woods' quality of life.
  • Nov. 23: Twins catcher Joe Mauer easily wins the AL MVP, with Mark Teixiera and Derek Jeter finishing second and third, respectively. Jeter could not be reached for comment, as he was making love in a super-impressive way to Minka Kelly. Teixeira, a robot incapable of human emotion, remains in storage at the Yankees' Tampa headquarters.
  • Nov. 25: Shelley Duncan declares free agency, ending his entertaining run with the Yankees. The folk hero of 2007 becomes a mortal lock to hit 26 home runs and strike out 160 times for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2010.
  • Nov. 27: Bob Sheppard officially retires. The 99-year-old was known as "The Voice Of The Yankees" from 1950-2007. He says that he has yet to visit the new stadium, but hopes to soon. I suggest Bob tries the nachos, which can be found on the main level rotunda on the first-base side. Freaking amazing.
  • Nov. 27: Don Mattingly is one of 26 players on the ballot for inclusion in the Baseball Hall Of Fame's 2010 class. Inevitably, Mattingly will fail to earn induction, proving once again that, while there may be a God, he certainly has a cruel sense of humor.
  • Nov. 30: Derek Jeter is named SI's Sportsman of the Year for 2009. Jeter could not be reached for comment, as he was with Minka Kelly at a pool hall, doing that really cool A.C. Slater move where you lean over the hot chick and help her guide the billiard stick.
  • Dec. 1: The New York Jets, desperate to teach rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez how to successfully execute a hook slide, phone the Yankees for help, who, in turn, send none other than Joe Girardi for a one-hour tutorial. The move makes two things clear: 1) Girardi is now fully embracing the celebrity aspect of managing the New York Yankees, a concept that Joe Torre once reveled in. 2) The Jets again are exposed as a clueless organization, unable to get even the simplest of tasks right. Why have a member of your coaching staff or, hell, a fellow quarterback teach your franchise player how to slide when you can get a baseball manager! (DISGRUNTLED JETS FAN ALERT!!! DISGRUNTLED JETS FAN ALERT!!!)

That should get you up to speed. The Yankees are the Yankees, which means they'll certainly be an active presence at the winter meetings set to kick off next week. Bookmark River & Sunset for continued coverage as we head toward 2010.

Dan Hanzus writes the Yankees blog River & Sunset and can be reached via e-mail at Follow Dan on Twitter at danhanzus.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Your official New York Yankees parade recap

The last Yankee ticker-tape parade I went to was in 1996. I was 16 years old and cannot recall a single thing about that day. Not a moment.

Instead of braving the elements for an event I'd ultimately forget about, I opted to watch this year's parade telecast on NY1.

I only chose NY1's coverage because my Time Warner cable box annoyingly resets to this NYC-centric station each time I turn on the TV. Had I thought it out, I would've watched the proceedings on YES. I'm on a big Kim Jones kick right now, which I think has a lot to do with seeing her get doused with champagne on a regular basis for a month.

Creepy but honest. That's my motto in life.

ANYWAY, River & Sunset is here to answer all of your parade-related questions. In fact, I've pulled several of those queries out of my imaginary inbox. If you have any other questions, feel free to post them in the comment section.

By the way, the Yankees won the World Series. How sweet is that?

Okay, onto the questions...

Which float was the best?

I'd probably have to give it to the Derk Jeter/Jorge Posada rig. Jeter was looking cool as always, rocking his trademark fade haircut from 1996. His sunglasses seemed to be an artifact of the Clinton Administration as well. He may have been listening to The Presidents Of The United States of America on his Discman.

It's possible.

Meanwhile, Charles Jeter, giving Billy Dee Williams a run for his money for the title of America's most debonair black man, was on the float with his better half, Dorothy. Girlfriend Minka Kelly was also on board, unknowingly risking her life with all those crazy-in-love Staten Island and Bronx chicks staring her down the whole time. All I could think was JFK in Dallas.

Which float had the highest net worth?

Had to be the CC Sabathia/Mark Teixeira float. $341 million buys a lot of toilet paper. And judging by Tex's wife, a Maryland dime piece.

Where was the best place to watch the parade?

On my couch in Brooklyn.

What is ticker-tape?

So easy. It's, like, tape...that's...tickered. You didn't know that?

Who was the biggest dork?

Alex Rodriguez, obviously.

A-Rod, fresh off his Biggest Dork Award from Wednesday's World Series trophy presentation ("Now we're gonna party!!!!"), again came strong with the dork vibe on Friday.

Traveling down the Canyon of Heroes with Jay-Z (nobody has a better life than Jay-Z), A-Rod repeatedly flashed the rapper's signature diamond hand sign. At one point, Jay-Z looked over at A-Rod gesturing to the crowd and chuckled.

I knew exactly what he was thinking.

Which float was most in need of Visine and Doritos?

The ride transporting Johnny Damon and Nick Swisher, of course. I could have sworn I saw Matthew McConaghey at one point. Jerry Hairston, Jr. was there, too, presumably to serve as the designated driver.

Which float was the weakest?

Hmmmmm...well World Series MVP Hideki Matsui got the Montreal Screw Job, partnered up with pinstripe legends Eric Hinske and Ramiro Pena. Hey organizers, was Lee Gutterman not available?

That said, the Yankees grounds crew also got their own float, which just pisses me off. Although it would be a fun drinking game to keep a camera on the crew to see how many times they tried and failed to get a 'YMCA' chant going. Hacks.

Did Michael Kay really get his own Cadillac to ride down the Canyon of Heroes?

Yes! And he got a key to the city during the City Hall proceedings, too!

Michael Kay has a Hank Steinbrenner sex tape, I'm convinced of it.

I didn't see Don Mattingly's float. Where was he?

I wish upon you swine flu crossed with SARS crossed with full-blown AIDS.

Which Yankees broadcaster most resembled a dominatrix?

I know, you're probably guessing John Sterling. But it was actually his radio partner, Suzyn Waldman.

Black, leather and hugging tight in all the wrong places. Let's just move on.

Who looked the most depressed on a float?

That would be Chien-Ming Wang, who tore every tendon in his body while waving to the crowd.

Who looked the most uncomfortable during Jay-Z's performance of 'Empire State of Mind' at City Hall?

That would be Hal Steinbrenner, whose perfectly-coiffed head appeared to be filled with racist thoughts.

Who was the best dressed?

That would be the Cisco Kid, Francisco Cervelli. A suave cream-colored suit straight out of Scarface. Melky Cabrera was rocking a pretty cool fedora, but it just made him look like a teddy bear wearing a funny hat.

Who had the most clearly made-up nicknames for Mariano Rivera?

That would be NY1's sports anchor Tom McDonald, who called Rivera both the "Ice Man" and "King of Close". This is why you're on NY1, Tom.

Dan Hanzus writes the Yankees blog River & Sunset and can be reached via e-mail at Follow Dan on Twitter at danhanzus.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Yankees regain their championship mojo

So many times this decade, the Yankees seemed to have a championship screenplay written only to go off-script at the exact wrong time.

There was Rivera's stunning failure in '01. Josh Beckett's coming out party in '03. The Series That Shall Not Be Named in '04. The fishy resurgence of Kenny Rogers in '06. Joba & The Midges in '07.

In each of those years, the promise of a 27th championship ultimately rang hollow. It was enough to take the wind out the sails of even the most boastful fan.

The Yankees still maintained a winning culture throughout the decade–winning more regular-season games than any team in baseball–but it was no longer a championship culture.

"Any season that doesn't end with a championship is a failure" was the Steinbrenner Doctrine during the dynasty years of '96-'01. It was a statement of intent that was as concise as it was impossible to live up to. It created a mind-set that stuck around these parts for a long time, far longer than it ever should have.

Bernie, Cone, Tino, and O'Neill were all history, but the expectations they helped create remained. It made the failures that followed all the more intense.

And then this team came along.

It began in the offseason, when Brian Cashman brought CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira on board, two players that came with a character that matched their immense skill level.

They were already established All-Stars and, yes, extremely costly, but they were also the type of players that did more than compile stats. They made their team better.

In Sabathia, the Yankees now had what they had so sorely been lacking all decade, a true ace. In Teixeira, New York now had a first baseman who could change games both with his bat and his glove.

While the Yankees performed a face-lift on their roster, Alex Rodriguez was undergoing a transformation of his own. The third baseman had hit rock bottom in spring training, buried by the tag-team of his PED admission and a tricky hip surgery.

But for the first time in his career, A-Rod showed something that he always seemed to lack previously. Guts. He homered in his first at-bat back in the lineup, didn't say anything stupid in the press, did his best to stay out of the tabloids, and then turned a solid regular season into a breakout postseason that included 18 RBI in 15 games.

The arrival of Sabathia and Teixiera, and the re-shaping of A-Rod were all key factors to the championship run. But none of it would have been possible had it not been for the continued excellence of the Old Guard. Never was that more apparent than in the clinching Game Six last night.

In the game that decided the World Series, Derek Jeter had three hits, Andy Pettitte was the winning pitcher, Mariano Rivera got the save, and Jorge Posada was the catcher for both of those pitchers.

The Core Four–as they came to be known–made the most of their opportunity to perform together at a high level this late in their careers. It speaks to the type of players they are. Four potential Hall of Famers spending almost their entire careers together.

But, just as it was during the dynasty years, it's the players who fly under the radar that tend to make the biggest impact in the games that count. Enter Hideki Matsui, a Yankee who lived through all those years of disappointment since joining the team in 2003.

Playing in what may very well be his final game in pinstripes, Matsui drove in six runs in Game Six, winning the World Series MVP award despite starting just three games in the series. Sometimes less is more.

Personally, this was my favorite Yankee team ever to follow. They were talented and likable, hard-working but also goofballs. They liked whipped cream pies, and WWE championship belts, and 300, and Creed. It was fun staying up every night to watch them, and there's certainly going to be a void in my life starting tonight.

I'm actually going to miss them.

And that's what makes baseball the greatest sport to follow. When you watch your team every day for seven months, they start to become like old friends. As dependable as the dog that lays at the foot of your TV.

Last night's celebration was the culmination of that relationship between the team and its fans. So to all those Yankees that said thank you to the fans after the game, I say this:

You're welcome. Now let's do it again next year.

Dan Hanzus writes the Yankees blog River & Sunset and can be reached via e-mail at Follow Dan on Twitter at danhanzus.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

In Andy We Trust

The great thing about the postseason, and the World Series in particular, is that redemption is always just around the corner.

Alex Rodriguez knows all about that. He entered last month as a playoff pariah—his October failures as big a part of his identity as his three MVP awards.

It took just 14 games (and 18 RBI) to change all that.

Playoff baseball is convenient like that: It's a one-stop shop for re-shaping your legacy.

Andy Pettitte doesn't have nearly the same amount of October baggage as Rodriguez. On the surface, they would appear to be polar opposites. The left-hander will make his 40th career playoff start tonight, the most ever. He is baseball's all-time winningest postseason pitcher.

But that doesn't mean he's not after his own redemption.

Pettitte has been in this same exact position before. It was eight years ago yesterday that the then 29-year-old left-hander took the mound in a Game Six of the World Series.

The opponent that year was the Arizona Diamondbacks, and just as they are now, the Yankees led that series three-games-to-two. One victory from the title.

It was a game that would go down as among the worst of Pettitte's career.

Amid speculation that he was unknowingly tipping his pitches to Arizona hitters, Pettitte surrendered six runs on seven hits in just two innings of work. With Randy Johnson on the mound for the D-backs, Pettitte never game his team a chance.

The Yankees lost, 15-2, and went on to lose the next night as well. In the time since, it has remained the closest the Yankees have come to a championship—until now.

Being the intense competitor that Pettitte is, you know that game still sticks with him. It is the one blemish on an otherwise sterling playoff resumé.

Joe Girardi knows how badly Pettitte wants to wash the taste of that loss out of his mouth. The Yankees manager was Pettitte's teammate when the left-hander rose to prominence with the team in 1996. He knows that one less day of rest isn't going to sidetrack Pettitte's singular focus to bring home the Yankees' 27th championship.

He trusts Pettitte in a way that he will never trust A.J. Burnett. He may trust Pettitte as much as the 39-year-old reliever he hopes will follow Pettitte to close out the series tonight in the Bronx.

If you follow a player long enough, you learn what it is that makes them tick. What drives them to succeed. What causes them to fail. You can read their body language as they warm up in the bullpen, pick up a look in their eye as they stalk to the plate for a key at-bat.

As crazy as it sounds, you begin to know how they'll perform before they do.

If you've followed Andy Pettitte long enough, you like his chances of finding redemption tonight.

And that will call for a parade.

Dan Hanzus writes the Yankees blog River & Sunset and can be reached via e-mail at Follow Dan on Twitter at danhanzus .

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Can't blame Girardi for Yanks' starter dilemma

The pitchforks and burning torches are out for Joe Girardi today, this in the wake of A.J. Burnett's epic failure in Philadelphia.

They're saying that Girardi's decision to use Burnett on short rest has set in motion a chain of events that will now bury the Yankees.

This is all about as predictable as the failure of a Michael Strahan buddy sitcom.

In a perfect world, Chien-Ming Wang was on the mound in Game Five, coming off another 19-win season and primed for postseason vindication.

Or maybe it should've been a special night for Joba Chamberlain, the prized thoroughbred grossly coddled for two years essentially for this moment.

But this isn't a perfect world.

The Yankees do not have a fourth starter. That's the truth. Injury and ineffectiveness by the above two pitchers created that predicament. And so it was that Girardi needed to find a pitcher to face Cliff Lee for Game Five, a pitcher who at would at least give his team a fighting chance against the Phillies' locked-in ace.

Popular opinion stated that the Yankees should ensure their three starters remain on normal rest, regardless of consequence in Game Five. Keeping Burnett, Andy Pettitte, and CC Sabathia in their comfort zone was essentially worth throwing in the towel on Monday against Lee.

Again, this was popular opinion. Obviously, this was same popular opinion that once made Fred Durst a millionaire.

The consensus was that Girardi should start Chad Gaudin, he of the 4.50 lifetime ERA. Chad Gaudin, who has been on six teams in seven big league seasons. Chad Gaudin, who hasn't started a game since Sept. 28.

We're talking about Chad Gaudin here. Chad Gaudin .

Here's my philosophy on World Series games, a philosophy that I figured everyone pretty much agreed with and therefore didn't need to be expressed in this forum. Not until now, anyway.

My philosophy on World Series games is as follows: I don't give them away. I never give World Series games away. Ever.

And if my team is facing the opposition's best pitcher, I need to do better than Chad Gaudin. I don't mean to be hard on Gaudin. He could be a great American. And, who knows, maybe he could've figured out a way to survive six innings against a desperate Phillies lineup.

But probably not. That's why Girardi had to turn to Burnett, coming off the biggest and most impressive start of his career. Burnett didn't get rocked last night because he was missing that extra day off. He got rocked because he's an inconsistent pitcher who is prone to gawd-awful starts. Sadly, this was basically par for the course for him.

Again, that's not Girardi's fault either. He didn't pay Burnett $82.5 million to be the Yanks' secondary ace. He can only put him out there and hope he can perform in commensurate with his paycheck.

Obviously, Burnett came up woefully short in that regard. Don't blame Girardi for that. He's just playing the hand he was dealt.

Dan Hanzus writes the Yankees blog River & Sunset and can be reached via e-mail at Follow Dan on Twitter at danhanzus .

Monday, November 2, 2009

Live blogging Game 5 of the World Series

The Yankees are just one win from their first World Series title since 2000. This calls for a live blog, no?

7:37 p.m. -- Coming to you live from the Brooklyn headquarters of River & Sunset, we begin our blog just in time for a Derek Jeter fluff piece on FOX. No word if Tim McCarver tried to destroy the master tapes prior to the telecast.

7:40 p.m. -- The FOX pregame team of Mark Grace (known idiot), Eric Karros (freakish forehead), Ozzie Guillen (completely unintelligible) and the Best Damn Sports Show Guy (hopelessly insecure) all pick against the Yankees tonight. Hmmm....

7:45 p.m. -- Anybody else notice how quickly DirectTV replaced the Chris Farley/David Spade spot with the Kim Basinger/Dana Carvey one? I guess having 408 stories in the press painting the company as disrespectful and Spade as a scumbag sellout will do that.

7:48 p.m. -- Was unaware Alanis Morissette was a Phillies fan. Scarlett Johansson must be a Yankees backer. (That was a People magazine-like inside joke. I apologize.)

7:53 p.m. -- Great stat graphic by FOX there showing how the Yankees have reached the doorstep of the title with essentially four pitchers. CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, A.J. Burnett (7-1, 2.80 ERA, 76 K, 27 BB, 13 starts) and Mariano Rivera (5/5 saves, 1 ER over 11 games).

7:58 p.m. -- Just cut to a shot of an extremely loose Yankees dugout, which included an exuberant, as in wildly jumping up-and-down, Melky Cabrera. Should be noted that Melky tore a hamstring yesterday and has been taken off the roster. Weird.

8:03 p.m. -- Johnny Damon flares a single to center off Cliff Lee for the first Yankees hit. Doesn't it seem like the Yanks have had a lot of those this series?

8:09 p.m. -- A-Rod's making his hits count in this World Series, huh? His double in the right-field corner scores Damon all the way from first and the Yankees draw first blood. I have a good feeling about tonight.

8:10 p.m. -- Perhaps it's just jitters, but perhaps not. Cliff Lee doesn't look anything like the same guy from Game One.

8:11 p.m. -- Robbie Cano does what Robbie Cano does, which is fly out with runners in scoring position. Ugh. All in all a great first half inning. Lee had to work (20 pitches) and the Yanks are on the board.

8:14 p.m. -- Mike Francesa was unlistenable today with all his pontifications about why Burnett shouldn't be starting tonight, essentially stating that this was a give-away game for the Yankees. He is wrong, and Girardi is right. Whatever Burnett (or Pettitte, for that matter) are missing in rest is made up for in adrenaline. These boys are pumped up.

8:16 p.m. -- Shane Victorino squares to bunt with Rollins on first and gets drilled on the right hand. I'm sure A-Rod feels terrible.

8:19 p.m. -- Uh oh. We may have gotten Evil A.J. tonight. Chase Utley unloads on a first-pitch fastball and suddenly it's 3-1. It didn't take long for me to remember how much I dislike Burnett.

8:25 p.m. -- For the record, Utley now has four homers and seven RBI in the World Series. That's Ruthian.

8:26 p.m. -- Man, Mark Teixeira is an amazing defensive player. He bails out Burnett by robbing Raul Ibanez with a beautiful backhanded dive. Still one out to go in the first.

8:35 p.m. -- The bottom of the Yankees lineup is positively Nats-esque tonight. Going to be a lot of outs among the Gardner/Molina/Burnett troika.

8:36 p.m. -- I'd be surprised if Victorino remains in this game. How could he not have broken a finger there? He looked extremely uncomfortable in the outfield before the inning started. Meanwhile, Burnett is blown away by Lee and we're off to the bottom of the second.

8:46 p.m. -- Good bounce back inning by Burnett, working around a two-out walk to Rollins. Victorino was in serious pain after making contact on his inning-ending pop-up.

8:50 p.m. -- The top of the lineup has a huge task ahead of them tonight. There won't be any help coming from the bottom of the order, at least until Jorge Posada enters the game. The big boys need to step up. Tex, I'm looking at you.

8:56 p.m. -- Teixeira down to .063 in the World Series. This is a problem. Meanwhile, A-Rod skies out to center and Lee appears to be settling in.

8:58 p.m. -- I will not be seeing to the John Cusack end-of-the-world film. I will not watch any episodes of Bones. Or House. I will not be taking part in The Simpsons scavenger hunt.

9:04 p.m. -- A good throw there and Utley is out by a foot at second. Mr. Molina, you're not in the game for your offense, you know.

9:06 p.m. -- I'm going to go on the record and say I have a bad feeling about this inning.

9:12 p.m. -- Back-to-back RBI singles by Jayson Werth and Ibanez and Burnett is history. All it took was three days to be reminded what a bust Burnett has been in New York. He's either great or awful and there's no in between. That's not the trait of a top tier pitcher, which Burnett is paid to be. Anyway, Phillies busting it open at 5-1 and Joe Buck just wet himself with glee.

9:22 p.m. -- Good job by David Robertson minimizing the damage, but it's a 6-1 game with the best pitcher of the postseason on the mound for a Phillies. The odds, as they say, are not with your New York Yankees right now.

9:25 p.m. -- Back to Burnett for a second. Everyone–including the aforementioned Mike Francesa–is going to pile on Girardi for starting Burnett on short rest tonight, but they'll be wrong to. Burnett didn't get rocked because he was missing that extra day off, he got rocked because he's an inconsistent pitcher who is prone to gawd-awful starts. Sadly, this was basically par for the course for him.

9:27 p.m. -- Again, Joe Buck is positively ecstatic with how things are going tonight. Must. Fight. Urge. To. Murder.

9:28 p.m. -- Robbie Cano now 2-for-17 this World Series. He had 204 hits in the regular season. Don't worry: he'll resume hitting in April once the pressure is off.

9:30 p.m. -- I'm not going to buy cars being hawked by Howie Long.

9:37 p.m. -- Burnett said his Game Two start "was the most fun time he's had on a baseball field." Using that logic, we now got to see him have the least fun right? At least we get some history!

9:41 p.m. -- The redheaded guy with the beard from the Fios cable spot is in, like, 300 commercials right now.

9:43 p.m. -- Good news for people who like watching Major Leaguers that can actually hit. You have seen the last of Jose Molina this season. Posada pinch-hits, taking over the No. 8 spot in the lineup.

9:48 p.m. -- Good baserunning by Eric Hinske, who scores from third on Damon's roller to first. Ryan Howard looked genuinely confused there.

9:50 p.m. -- Teixeira continues gagging his way through the World Series, and the Yanks settle for one run. It's 6-2 heading into the bottom of the fifth. Tex now batting .059 against the Phils. Awesome.

9:55 p.m. -- Gritty, gutty Brett Gardner makes a beautiful running catch on a Werth drive and then nearly obliterates his soul against the left-center-field wall. Joe Buck, meanwhile, is annoying amused by Werth jogging around the bases after the putout. Joe Buck must be destroyed.

10:00 p.m. -- Cliff Lee is 41-0 when given a five-run lead, the numbers guys at FOX note. This seems like a good, meaningful stat until you realize that every pitcher has an incredible record when staked to a five-run lead.

10:06 p.m. -- Tough spot for Gardner here, asked to be productive after sitting on the bench for a month. But the guy is consistently overmatched by good pitching. The Yanks only have nine outs left.

10:12 p.m. -- Oh, Charlie Manuel, you don't know what Cole Hamels meant when he said he just wanted the season to be over? I'll tell you what it means: He's a bitch.

10:17 p.m. -- I'll tell you what: I made it through the first 23 seasons of American Idol without watching, I think I'm going to keep my iron man streak going strong in '10.

10:22 p.m. -- Zero hits from the bottom third of the Yankees lineup tonight. Expected, but still depressing.

10:24 p.m. -- Meanwhile, apparently unaware of the perilous situation their team remains in, Phillies fans chant "Yankees Suck". Really though?

10:30 p.m. -- FOX showing highlights of the 1950 World Series. Imagine a time when there was no center-field camera for pitch-by-pitch coverage? And what was with all those random crowd cutaways of men and women in formal wear rising to their feet to cheer? Always found that odd.

10:34 p.m. -- Utley just tied Reggie Jackson for most homers in a World Series, icing the game with a solo shot off Phil Coke. 7-2. He now has five through five games. Somebody needs to back that dude off the freaking plate.

10:35 p.m. -- Ryan Howard makes some history of his own, tying a World Series record with his 12th strikeout. Willie Wilson fanned a dozen times in the 1980 Fall Classic.

10:41 p.m. -- Ibanez tees off on Coke and it's 8-2. I'm not certain Coke has a place on this team next year. Just not a very high talent level there. Anyway, he's done throwing BP and Girardi brings on former stud Phil Hughes. This has been an ugly night for the Yankees.

10:43 p.m. -- In the Silver Lining Dept., perhaps Hughes can still be salvaged for Game Six (or Seven) if he can use this outing to build some confidence.

10:50 p.m. -- We have a Mark Teixeira sighting. Tex doubles to left and the Yankees are on the verge of knocking Lee out of the game. A-Rod can at least make this interesting.

10:53 p.m. -- A-Rod ropes a two-run double off Ibanez's glove and it's 8-4. And now we send a special FU to Phil Coke for his hatchet-job last inning. Lee is done and the Yankees have a sliver of life. Remember, the Phillies have no discernible closer. I don't count the corpse of Brad Lidge.

10:57 p.m. -- Joe Buck sounds nervous.

10:59 p.m. -- Free ice cream sandwich to everyone reading if Cano gets a hit here.

11:01 p.m. -- It's so clear to me that Cano never wants any part of the moment, but I'll take the weak sacrifice fly. Smart baserunning by A-Rod, terrible throw by the defensive replacement Francisco in center. 8-5.

11:10 p.m. -- Good work by Hughes there, holding the Phillies scoreless and at least giving the Yankees a chance in the ninth. Like I said earlier, Hughes had a chance to get his 2009 season off the respirator tonight and he did it. It remains to be seen if Girardi has the gonads to bring him in a big spot in the Bronx, though.

11:13 p.m. -- Manuel turns to Ryan Madson (and not Lidge) in the ninth. Can't say I blame him.

11:15 p.m. -- Posada rips a double off the top of the wall in right-center and the Yankees have a great start to the ninth. Now Matsui off the bench.

11:17 p.m. -- Matsui sharply singles to left and Derek Jeter comes to the plate with no outs representing the tying run. I'll say it again: the Yankees are going to miss Matsui. Godzilla has ice water in his veins.

11:21 p.m. -- Devastating 6-4-3 DP there by Jeter. Posada scores to make it 8-6, but now the bases are empty with two outs. That one hurts. It's up to Damon.

11:27 p.m. -- Damon keeps it alive with a single, but Teixeira strikes out to end it. Too many Ks for Tex this postseason. The Phillies live to fight another day, while Girardi gets to hear for two straight days what a fool he is. Great.

11:29 p.m. -- Very odd to see A-Rod stranded at the on-deck circle there. As the old saying goes, it always comes down to A-Rod, and you got the feeling he was going to get his shot there.

Oh well. Andy will take care of business on Wednesday. Andy will take care of business on Wednesday. Andy will take care of business on Wednesday. Andy will take care of business on Wednesday ...

Dan Hanzus writes the Yankees blog River & Sunset and can be reached via e-mail at Follow Dan on Twitter at danhanzus.

Damon enters other side of Yankees folklore

Every Yankees championship season in recent memory has had a signature moment that defined that particular postseason run.

Let's take a look back, shall we?

1996: The One With Jim Leyritz (World Series, Game Four)

The Yanks were down two-games-to-one against the defending world champion Braves and trailing by three runs in the eighth when Leyritz stepped into the box with two on against closer Mark Wohlers.

That's when Wohlers made the Wohlers-like error of going away from his dominating fastball, and Leyritz made him pay by hammering a hanging slider over the left-field wall to tie the game. The Yankees went on to win in 10 innings.

The Leyritz blast became known as the turning point of the series.

1998: The One With Tino Martinez (World Series, Game One)

The Yankees were an unstoppable juggernaut in '98, having won 114 games during the regular season. Nobody told the Padres that, however, who went into the seventh inning at Yankee Stadium with a three-run lead.

Chuck Knoblauch tied the game with a three-run homer, however, and Martinez would eventually come up with the bases loaded and two outs against veteran Mark Langston. After home-plate umpire Rich Garcia appeared to miss an apparent called strike three (see, the umps always sucked!), Tino launched a full-count fastball into the upper deck for a grand slam.

The homer restored order for the Yanks, who went on to sweep the series and enter the pantheon of all-time great teams.

1999: The One With Chad Curtis (World Series, Game Three)

In the business-like '99 season, the Yankees cruised through the first two rounds of the playoffs and were up two-games-to-none on the Braves.

Curtis' walk-off solo shot off off Mike Remlinger in the 10th buried Atlanta's hopes of getting back into the series and secured the Yankees' designation as Team Of The Decade...whatever that means.

The homer also confirmed that Jesus did indeed love Chad Curtis.

2000: The One With Paul O'Neill (World Series, Game One)

The 2000 team was running on fumes as it reached the postseason, and so was O'Neill, his body betraying him near the end of a great career.

The Yankees trailed the Mets by a run entering the ninth inning when O'Neill led off against closer Armando Benetiz. O'Neill fell behind in the count, but battled back before working a walk in a 10-pitch at-bat.

This sparked a Yankees rally and O'Neill went on to score the tying run. The Yanks won the game in 12 innings. Mets fans cried. It was a good day.

And now we have The One With Johnny Damon. Sure, there were other heroes in the ninth inning that shouldn't be forgotten. Alex Rodriguez deserves much praise for the the clutch two-out double that drove Damon in, and Jorge Posada's two-run single effectively ended the game.

But if the Yanks do indeed close out the Phillies, it will be Damon's at-bat and ensuing trip around the basepaths that will be remembered as the signature moment of this World Series. It was a brilliant display of pure baseball, the nine-pitch at-bat, the sharp opposite-field single, the stolen base, and then a second steal on the same play.

I mean, have you ever seen that? And Damon pulled it off in a World Series game? It was astonishing.

This all was too much for poor, embattled Brad Lidge to take. Afraid to allow the tying run to score on a wild pitch, the basketcase closer abandoned the slider (his signature out-pitch), hitting Mark Teixeira in the shoulder with a fastball and then pumping two more in to A-Rod, the second of which was laced against the wall in left.

Prior to last night, Damon's most prominent place in Yankee folklore was not what he did for the team but what he did against it, hitting the grand slam that sealed New York's fate in the 2004 ALCS against the Red Sox. He's come full-circle now, earning "True Yankee" status, to steal a line from The Boss.

The Yankees have consistently shown throughout this special year that they rise to the occassion when challenged. The big hits, the great pitching, each of those walk-offs. It's all been indicitive of something bigger.

Damon led the charge this time, providing the latest example that this team looks every bit a champion.

Dan Hanzus can be reached via e-mail at Follow Dan on Twitter at danhanzus.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

World Series enters Twilight Zone on Halloween

Perhaps it's fitting that Game Three of the World Series will be played on the night of Halloween.

Some strange, downright scary, developments played out in the first two games of the series, developments that make this matchup nearly impossible to predict going forward.

I wouldn't be surprised if the ghost of Rod Serling introduced the starting lineups at this point.

You are about to enter another dimension. A dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination. Next stop, the Twilight Zone! Jerry Hairston Jr. starts for your team in a World Series game!

We all knew Cliff Lee was a great pitcher, the guy is a Cy Young award winner after all, but there was no way to predict he would pitch like Brendan Fraser in The Scout.

Lee's exploits meant that CC Sabathia was a losing pitcher, which is kind of freaky to think about in its own right.

And did I mention that Jerry Hairston Jr. started for the Yankees in a World Series game? Again, Jerry Hairston Jr. started for the Yankees in a World Series game. Like, on purpose. It was a manager's decision and everything!

Seriously, there's weird stuff going on here.

How else do you explain the sudden downturn of Alex Rodriguez? On the eve of the series, I surmised that it was impossible to imagine A-Rod slowing down at this point. He was seeing the ball better and hitting the ball harder than any time in his five years in pinstripes.

Of course, A-Rod has responded to my endorsement with an 0-for-8, six-strikeout gagfest in the first two games. Thanks, bud.

On Thursday night, I sent the following message to my friend Howie, and avid Yankees fan but also a big apologist of Ryan Howard, who whiffed four times in Game Two.

My text: "And that's why Ryan Howard will never be considered an all-time great."

Howie's retort?

"Then what does that say about A-Rod?"

Ugh. I hate devastatingly accurate counterpoints.

The point is, I don't think Rodriguez is back to square one in his attempts to resurrect his postseason legacy. But he can't take a third straight oh-fer, either. Finish it out strong, A-Rod. You're thisclose to being a New York hero.

I'm ready for anything tonight. Andy Pettitte can take the mound in a dress. Derek Jeter can be outed as a communist. Charlie Manuel can be seen in a dugout shot without grease stains on his jersey. Phillies fans can be civil and non-douchey.

Well, scratch that last one. Some things are just too far-fetched to ever be true.

Dan Hanzus can be reached via e-mail at Follow Dan on Twitter at danhanzus.

Friday, October 30, 2009

World Series, Game 2: Who Was That Guy?

Sometime around the sixth inning, I think it was the exact moment Ryan Howard asked home-plate umpire Jeff Nelson if he could hit off a tee, I realized who the guy pitching for the Yankees reminded me of.

The wirey build, the ink, the lizard-like features, that insane curve ball. This guy was just like A.J. Burnett, the Toronto Blue Jays star.

I remember him dominating the Yankees with relative easy the past couple of years, but I guess the Yanks were fortunate to miss him when they played the Jays this year. Cashman should really look into acquiring that guy. What a beast.

We have an A.J. Burnett, too, but he's never been anything like the stud in Toronto. Our A.J. looks the same, acts the same, also compartmentalizes violent tendencies by watching 300.

But our Burnett has always been a bit of a mystery.

The type of pitcher who can look like an All-Star for four starts and then look like a career minor leaguer for the next eight. His previous three outings in the postseason provided a condensed version of his 2009 season: bursts of brilliance mixed with epic ugliness.

It was, well, annoying.

That's what made Burnett's outstanding performance (7 IP, 1 ER, 9 K, 2 BB) against the Phillies on Thursday all the more refreshing. After a season in which he teased you with his talent, dangling the carrot in front of Yankees fans, Burnett finally showed why Brian Cashman wanted him so badly in the first place.

New York paid $82.5 million for the A.J. Burnett who pitched like the guy in Toronto. He showed up about six months late, but say this for him, he knows how to make an entrance.

Burnett was locked in from the first pitch of the game, and he needed to be. The Yankees offense continued to struggle this postseason, mystified by Pedro Martinez and his 88-mph fastball.

Two big swings and Mariano Rivera ensured that Burnett's effort wouldn't be wasted.

Say this for Mark Teixeira: he hasn't had many hits in the postseason, but he's made them count. He only has nine hits in 46 at-bats, but they include the single preceding A-Rod's game-tying homer off Nathan in Game Two of the ALDS, the walk-off homer that followed that night, the bases-clearing double in Game 5 of the ALCS and the game-tying homer off Pedro last night.

And then we have Hideki Matsui, who showed again why the Yankees will miss him next year when he's batting in the middle of the Mariners lineup.

Matsui has gotten a ton of big hits over the years. If last night proves to be his last big hit as a Yankee, it's only fitting that it was against Pedro. Matsui's first signature postseason moment came in the famous eighth-inning rally of Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS.

I think we remember who was pitching that game as well.

The series shifts to Philly on Saturday night, right in the middle of thousands of Halloween parties. Andy Pettitte gets the call opposite the effeminately-voiced Cole Hamels, a game that shapes up like a potential classic.

Keep your focus on the game, people. The girls in the slutty costumes will be there after Mo closes things out in the ninth.

Dan Hanzus can be reached via e-mail at Follow Dan on Twitter at danhanzus.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

World Series, Game 1: Yanks pick wrong time for bad night

In the minutes preceding the Yankees' miraculous, positively 2001-esque, one-run rally in the ninth inning last night against the Phillies, my friends and I attempted to glean any positive developments from a disheartening evening.

The conversation went something like this:

Dan: Um, CC battled through without his best stuff.

Howie: Yeah, definitely.

(Awkward silence)

Howie: Marte did his job.

Dan: Oh yeah.

(Extended pause of sorrow)

Dan: That Jeter can still hit.

(One beat)

Bob: Handsome, too.

(Half a beat)

Dan, Howie, Bob: Oh yeah, definitely.

How bad was last night? Stationed at the Upper West Side bar, Blondies, I was interviewed by a NY Post reporter for your standard "fan reaction" piece . The bastard didn't even use my quote! What kind of Yankees blogger can't even get his Yankees perspective printed in the freaking Post ???

Nobody had a good night on Wednesday.

The negatives are far easier to come up with than the positives. Cliff Lee, whose nonchalant pop-up grab and "Look-how-cool-I-am" behind-the-back fielding skills make him genuinely unlikable, pitched a remarkable game. I watched nearly every Yankee inning this season and never saw them look as bad as Lee made them look last night.

And we can potentially see him two more times in the next week! Awesome.

Phil Hughes, meanwhile, has entered Section 8 territory on us, the latest chapter in a career with more weird twists and turns than a Passions marathon on Oxygen. He walked both men he faced to lead off the eighth, setting in motion the Phillies rally that buried any hopes of a comeback.

What do you do with Hughes at this point? The logical move would be to bury him in the back of the bullpen, but are you really going to try to win this series without the guy who was so instrumental to getting you to the playoffs in the first place?

It's truly a disappointing career development for a guy who had truly seemed to make The Leap.

I'm cautiously optimistic looking ahead to tonight. The Phillies offer up Pedro Martinez, who the Yankees always found a way to beat, even in his scary-good days. Do I expect Pedro to roll over tonight? No way. But if this Yankees team is as good as we think they are, they should be able to get Pedro out of the game by the sixth and put up some runs as they do it.

Oh, and one more thing, Pedro. You did beat up that old fat bald guy in 2003. It happened. Denial is not the route here. Just accept it and move on.

And then there's the issue of one Allan James Burnett. This is the exact moment the Yankees have tried to avoid all month, putting the right-hander in a high-pressure spot with a lot on the line. It seems kind of ridiculous to think that, seeing as New York paid Burnett $82.5 million to basically be a secondary ace for the team.

But it didn't work out that way during the regular season, and it hasn't worked out in the playoffs either. Burnett isn't going to earn his money this year, but he can at least salvage some respect with a strong showing tonight.

And this is the exact moment where I fully realize we're putting the season in the hands of A.J. Burnett. Excuse me while I go find a fire alarm to pull at Yankee Stadium.

Dan Hanzus can be reached via e-mail at Follow Dan on Twitter at danhanzus.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

11 Reasons Why The Yankees Should Get to 27

Put on your old Donnie Baseball jersey, pour a cold beer, and get out your Tim McCarver voodoo's time for the World Series! River & Sunset has 11 reasons why the American League champion Yankees will topple the National League champion Phillies in the annual Fall Classic.

11. Home-field advantage

The Yankees went 57-24 at Yankee Stadium during the regular season and are undefeated in five home games during the playoffs. The Phillies, meanwhile, were the only playoff team that played better on the road (48-33) than at home (45-36) during the regular season. They are 4-1 at home in the postseason.

10. Less humiliating fight song

This is a lesser of two evils type of thing; like deciding if you'd rather be boiled in a vat of acid or torn apart by rabid pitbulls.

The virgins over at Z100 unveiled a re-worked version of the Jay-Z/Rihanna single "Run This Town", boasting of the Yankees' greatness.

The chorus of "Yankees Run This Town":

"Winning games like it's not fair/Yankees rule so we don't care/26 World Series rings/Time to pop some more champagne/Victory is within the mile/Almost there don't give up now/Only thing that's on my mind/Yanks gonna run this town tonight"

Oh boy.

Somehow, the simple-minded folk over at Philadelphia Q102 managed to out-gay the Yankees, using a Miley Cyrus sample to prove they actually root for the team that is superior at the game of baseball

The hook of "Phillies Going All The Way":

"So I put my hands up, the game is comin' on/The Phillies goin' all the way/Noddin' my head like yeah, movin' my hips like yeah/I put my hands up/Hits the pitch and it's gone/The Phillies gonna save the day/Yeah, it's the Phillies goin' all the way"

So, yeah, both kind of disgraceful, but Jay-Z > Miley Cyrus. Let's just move on.

9. CC, CC, CC

I typed Mr. Sabathia's name three times because that's how many times the Phillies may have to see the beefy ALCS MVP this series. The Yankees have leaned on their big man all season long, so it's only right they do it again tonight in Game One. Cliff Lee is a more than capable adversary, but he's not squaring off against Hiroki Kuroda anymore.

8. Jimmy Rollins is .250 hitter

The Phillies shortstop talks a lot. Like, a lot. It always seemed cute when he would mess with those poor, defenseless Mets, but this isn't the Mets, pal. And again, you're a .250 hitter. Let's leave the trash talk to the big boys, okay J-Roll?

7. Charlie Manuel vs. Joe Girardi

It was hard not to jump from the Girardi Bandwagon after his rocky ALCS, but at least he, well, prepares for games. Manuel makes Joe Torre look like Buck Showalter in comparison. I imagine Manuel's most impressive asset as manager is his ability to clear out the right side of the dugout after a seven-course meal at Charlie Brown's.

6. Philadelphia fans are the worst

Trust me, these guys are awful humans. When I was living in L.A., we used to go to this sports bar in Hollywood called Big Wangs. It's a great place, where games start at 10 a.m., they have DIY bloody marys, you can order buffalo chicken quesadillas with tater tots for breakfast, and if you're lucky like me, a busboy will steal your watch.

Anyway, as a Jets fan, I went to Wangs to eat, drink, and watch my team disgrace itself in peace. But the Eagles fans can't just sit and watch a game like regular fans. They need to scream and yell and sing their horrible fight song after something as nondescript as a three-and-out on defense.

Worst of all, when things turn sour (and with the Eagles, they always do) these buffoons are suddenly nowhere to be seen. They probably skip out on the bill, too.

Judging by how much Mets fans despise Phillies fans, I can only assume these guys are the same way with baseball.

5. A-Rod is A-God

You can't imagine Alex Rodriguez letting up at this point, right? I mean, did you see him in Game Six? He's on every single pitch. A-Rod has used this postseason to reshape his legacy to this point. A huge World Series can cement it.

4. Closer breakdown is not even close

Let's see. In Mariano Rivera, the Yankees have the greatest relief pitcher ever to put on a uniform, both in the regular season and the playoffs. The Phillies have Brad Lidge, a guy who was publicly raped on national television by Albert Pujols a few years back, has a bum knee, and blew nine saves during the season, including one to the Yankees.

His name is also Brad. Warrants mentioning.

Phillies fans contend that Lidge is all better after going 4-for-4 in save opportunities in the playoffs. I'm going to say he blows at least one save in this series, and he may sniff Byung-Hyun Kim territory with another.

3. Better mascot

The Phillies have the Philly Phanatic, a fat, furry green creature that has been a staple of Phillies home games since 1978. The Yankees don't have a mascot, because mascots are fucking amateur hour.

2. Celebrity edge

Notable Yankee celebrity fans: Jack Nicholson, Rudy Giuliani, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Billy Crystal, Tom Brady, Adam Sandler, Bruce Springsteen, Jesus Christ, Kate Hudson, Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, LeBron James, God, Jennifer Lopez, Chris Rock, Jay-Z, Bruce Willis, Denzel Washington, Bono, Donald Trump, David Letterman

Notable Phillies celebrity fans: Kevin Eubanks, Jamie Kennedy, Art Garfunkel, Ali Larter

Put it this way: If Wham! liked baseball, we'd get George Michael and they'd get the other guy.

1. The Yankees are the better team

I don't think this is going to be a cake walk. The Phillies are a good team, the best team the Yankees have faced in the World Series since the '96 Braves. That said, this has been a special season in New York, and I just don't see this train crapping out this close to the station.

The Yankees in six. See you at the parade.

Dan Hanzus can be reached via e-mail at Follow Dan on Twitter at danhanzus.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Yankees Glossary of Terms: World Series Edition

The Yankees are back in the World Series for the first time in six years. For those not familiar with the American League champions, River & Sunset has provided a brief rundown of each player.

Aceves, Alfredo: Earned "Seventh-Inning Guy" designation over the course of excellent regular season in which he went 10-1. Was unceremoniously dumped from team's plans in postseason based solely on the idea that Joba Chamberlain used to be good.

Burnett, A.J. - Highest-paid pie thrower in recorded history. Entire fanbase, and Burnett himself, is fully aware of unmerciful assault about to come at hands of the Phillies.

Chamberlain, Joba - One-time apple of organization's eye, burly right-hander is running low on fan goodwill following maddening 2009 season. Inability to throw in upper-90s anymore has him dangerously close to JAG (just another guy)-status.

Coke, Phil - Earned left-handed specialist tag with steady regular season. For reasons unknown, has lost Joe Girardi's trust during postseason. Steve Howe would have been annoying teammate.

Gaudin, Chad: Presumed No. 4 starter. May get World Series ring and huge salary bonus simply on merit of warming up in bullpen occasionally.

Hughes, Phil - Precipitous drop in performance is in direct correlation to shaving of porn mustache. Team's World Series hopes may hinge on if he can recover from recent struggles. Periodically-updated blog reveals affinity for really shitty nu metal (and Collective Soul).

Marte, Damaso - Doomed in 2008 when Girardi channeled predecessor's Reliever Abused Perpetually Everyday (RAPE) strategy. Further injury problems derailed this season, but has improbably entered Girardi's circle of trust during playoffs.

Pettitte, Andy - Another strong postseason has fans finally realizing he is among best pitchers in franchise history. FOX shows roughly 31 extreme closeups of face and/or profile per telecast. My gf enjoys this.

Rivera, Mariano - Has been goat twice (2001 World Series, 2004 ALCS). Has been G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All-Time) in all other instances.

Robertson, Dave: Strikeout machine has not been plugged in enough during postseason. May provide new bridge to Rivera if Hughes and Joba continue descent into mediocrity.

Sabathia, CC - ALCS MVP was everything Yankees could have hoped for and is probably the most amazing bear ever in the gay Yankee fan community. Is the Nintendo RBI Baseball champion in clubhouse and will likely lure LeBron to Knicks as well. Basically the greatest dude ever.

Cervelli, Francisco: Called into emergency duty when parent club was besieged by injuries at catcher position. Was lauded for not making fool of himself. A hit with ladies.

Molina, Jose - Defensive-minded catcher has earned playing time in postseason solely because A.J. Burnett wants to straight-up murder Jorge Posada. Would likely snag bronze medal in foot race with Bill Parcells, Lieutenant Dan.

Posada, Jorge - Bounced back from shoulder surgery with typically ho-hum 20-homer, 80-RBI campaign. May actually be a future Hall of Famer. Guaranteed to have at least one huge hit in every postseason series. Has one of those wives who is so hot it actually makes you angry.

Cano, Robinson - Enjoyed season of 204 hits and countless wee-hour dance-offs with Melky Cabrera. Fear of hitting with runners in scoring position is equal to or greater than fear of local discotheques banning glowsticks.

Jeter, Derek - Further entrenched sainthood by breaking Yankees' all-time hits mark in September. Sees Friday Night Lights starlet Minka Kelly nude on regular basis. Has opportunity to win fifth World Series ring this week. Has the life you have always wanted but will never, ever, ever attain.

Rodriguez, Alex - Channeled powers of Kate Hudson's private parts to finally become postseason goliath. Public image has undergone complete transformation over the course of six months. Managed to remove secret stipulation in landmark contract that had previously exposed him as a jackass every 90 days.

Teixeira, Mark - May or may not be T-800 Terminator model. Hits like a machine, fields like a machine, but will never know what love is or why babies cry.

Cabrera, Melky - Thousands of fans downgraded "Got Melky?" t-shirts to cardio workout and garage-painting status after awful 2008 campaign. Bounced back with steady '09 and strong ALCS. Kind of looks like a teddy bear.

Damon, Johnny - Affable and productive No. 2 batter who guaranteed new contract offer from Yankees with strong ALCS. About two years away from getting RV with Matt McConaghy in Malibu and "just seeing where life takes him."

Guzman, Freddy: Put on ALDS and ALCS roster solely because he has a name that makes him sound fast, not unlike Benny "The Jet" Rodriguez.

Gardner, Brett - Supposed to be Girardi's secret pinch-running weapon in postseason, but keeps on getting thrown out at second base. John Sterling dying for a reason to break out "The GARDNER plants HIS SEED!" catchphrase.

Hairston Jr., Jerry: Scored most dramatic run of playoff run in Game Two of ALCS. Constantly trying to prove to his father that he's good enough.

Swisher, Nick - Sweet-natured goofball who has earned much of the credit for changing the culture of Yankees clubhouse. Inability to obtain base hits in ALCS overshadowed by season-full of goodwill earned through daily doses of "Swisher Salute" to Bleacher Creatures.

Matsui, Hideki - Though knees are only knees in theory at this point, Matsui was among American League's most productive designated hitters in 2009. In all likelihood, playing his final games with the Yankees. Organization will have trouble finding another Japanese icon with intense affinity for pornography.

Girardi, Joe - Straight-laced second-year skipper lightened up in 2009 and earned respect from players and media in the process. Has endured rocky postseason in which 75 percent of fanbase has wanted to inject him with swine flu at times. Invokes God's name a lot more than typically necessary. Hides his braces well.

Cashman, Brian - Respected GM who has become somewhat of a Teflon Don in organization once defined by turnover and front office unrest. Deft signings of Sabathia and Teixeira brought kudos from fans and scorn from contemporaries and salary-cap enthusiasts.

Steinbrenner, Hal - Yankees part owner bares passing resemblance to late Superman actor Christopher Reeve, sames share sensibilities as blustery father and has (probably) bailed big brother Hank out of drunk tank 10-12 times since 1992.

Steinbrenner, Hank - Kind of like the dude at the party who start fights with people then pretends his friends are only thing holding him back from actually kicking some ass. Resents little brother for being better looking; actually having defined power in organization.

Dan Hanzus can be reached via e-mail at Follow Dan on Twitter at danhanzus.