Monday, August 31, 2009

Program alert

Hey readers. Select River & Sunset posts can now also be found at I'm told the site is a combination of the best Yankees blogs around. This seems good.

We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Random thoughts from River Avenue

Have you ever wondered how old John Sterling is?

I know I have. It's pretty much all I think about when listening to the Yankees on the radio.

Based on file photos and the occasional booth shot by YES, Sterling would seem to be anywhere between 58 and 66 years old. And that would sit fine with me...if I didn't open up my 1990 Yankees yearbook recently to discover that in his picture Sterling looked anywhere between 58 and 66 years old.


My most recent lead came during the fourth inning of Wednesday's Yankees-Rangers broadcast. Sterling, in his signature baritone, sang a portion of a song I'm positive had to be released in the earliest stages of recorded music.

These were the lyrics:

"Keep your sunny side up, up!
Hide the side that gets blue.
If you have nine sons in a row,
Baseball teams make money, you know!"

I can't remember exactly why Sterling felt compelled to recite this gay ole tune (if you know Sterling, you're aware that his tangents are tied to the actual game by the slightest of threads).

But it just sounded old, like the kind of ditty "The Unsinkable" Molly Brown would sing on the Titanic. I was curious enough to scribble down the lyrics on a envelope so I could find out when the song was released.

This, I figured, would be my smoking gun. Carbon dating in the Internet age or something. It's kind of like Superman III.

I typed the lyrics into Google and it turns out they originate from a song by Earl Burnett called "Sunny Side Up". The title is from a movie of the same name released in 1956. Using my intrepid math skills, that would be 53 years ago.

I guess that would make John Sterling at least 53 years old. That didn't help me out as much as I thought.

To quote the parlance of Sterling's times, "Drats!"

I will continue this quest and get back to you with any updates.

Some other assorted thoughts while walking along River Avenue ...

- I came across an unintentionally hilarious story in the NY Post last week about the Mean Girls-esque click that is the Yankee Wives Club. Here's what I could gather:

Laura Posada is the "queen bee" of the club, which I'm totally fine with seeing as she's a 12 out of a possible 10 on the hot scale. What did strike me as odd was that Michelle Damon was entrenched in the inner circle. Michelle, as you may or may not know, seduced and stole away Johnny from his first wife.

Wouldn't that make Michelle a Rick Reed-level "scrub" within this world? Very confusing.

- It took 15 years, but Derek Jeter's signature fade haircut may finally be coming back in style. I've seen several players around baseball getting their Kid 'N' Play on of late. Jeter's stubborn follicle sense would be the equivalent of a woman buying bell-bottoms when Charlie's Angels came out and sticking with them all the way until Clueless was released.

The lesson as always? Derek Jeter is better than us.

- I noticed during the Yankees' last series with the Angels that Chone Figgins gets roughly 15 plate appearances a game. The little monster is always at the plate or on the bases.

I was just wondering if this was simply an egregious oversight by the scorekeepers or if the Angels were actually cheating and are in line for a lifetime ban from baseball. I sincerely hope it's the latter because I'd love for the Yankees to play in a league where the Angels do not exist.

- I was at Old Timers' Day last month, and Dwight Cocaine has apparently been replaced in his diet by the double cheeseburger at Shake Shack. I think this is a good thing. Right?

- Is it just me, or is that Bald Vinny guy always standing outside that kabob place on River Avenue? Does Bald Vinny even go to the games? Was there a time where Bald Vinny was Thinning Hair Vinny? I need answers.

- Speaking of River Avenue, I recently spoke with the Old Dude that works at the beer stand at the Bowling Alley Bar. He told me business has been real slow since the new Stadium went up, but the hope is that when the old Stadium finally gets torn down, the whole street will benefit. Let's hope so. Many a good times have been had in the Bowling Alley Bar.

- Finally, back to radio booth. I was watching Game Six of the '96 Series a few weeks back (random aside: Joe Girardi is a fast little sucker) and I noticed something very funny. With the Braves down to their last out in the ninth and the tying and go-ahead runs on base, FOX cut to a shot of a frantic George Steinbrenner in his private box.

Standing right beside him, hands over her mouth like a school girl waiting for The Beatles to take the stage at Shea Stadium? You got it, Suzyn Waldman.

Homers really are everywhere in the Bronx this year.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Yankees back to square one with Joba

If the Yankees are the nursery and Joba Chamberlain the healthy, nine-pound infant being unnecessarily held in an incubator, it'd be right about now that health services would barge in and shut down the quack establishment.

"Poor Baby Joba," they'd say. "You can't treat a healthy kid as if he's in grave danger."

The deconstruction of the maddening young Yankees pitcher is once again complete. Handed a 4-0 lead before he even took the mound in the second inning on Tuesday, Chamberlain was hopeless in the Yankees' 10-9 series-opening defeat to the Rangers.

Chamberlain wasn't necessarily hammered, but he was consistently unable to put away batters in the lackluster effort. This led to a pair of damaging two-out rallies by Texas in the second and fourth frames.

Chamberlain again shied away from leading with his fastball, nibbling himself to death in a 96-pitch, four-inning wretch-fest.

That makes four consecutive poor starts on the heels of the three fine starts that began the second half. In terms of development, Chamberlain—now in Year Three of the Joba Rules—is back to square one.

When you ask any starting pitcher to perform on eight days of rest, a spotty performance is possible. When you ask an inconsistent young right-hander who tends to distrust his stuff in the first place?

Seriously now. What are the Yankees thinking?

Oh right, I forgot. This is all to help Chamberlain. Because as we all know, if the 6'2", 230-pound hoss even sniffs 200 innings, he'll never be the same again.


Meanwhile, with Joe Girardi understandably wary of blowing out his bullpen, the splendid Chad Gaudin gets the ball and lets the game get to a point where even a four-run Yankees rally in the ninth isn't enough.

This is what I can't figure out: If the Yankees planned all along to limit Chamberlain this season, why did they structure the plan so his season would be fractured in the second half?

For me, a smarter plan would've been to limit him in the season's initial months. Put him on a program in the minors, pitch him out of the 'pen, have him plow fields in Nebraska, whatever. That way, he'd be pitching in a rhythm as you headed toward the stretch drive and playoffs.

Now, with the postseason a little more than a month away, Chamberlain is a complete mess. Do you really feel comfortable giving him the ball in a 1-1 series in the ALDS? Has he proven anything in the past month that says he should be starting a potential ALCS or World Series game?

The silver lining here is that Chamberlain has shown a knack for bouncing back when his struggles seem to be reaching a tipping point. Who knows, maybe he needs to fall apart before he takes any advice from Dave Eiland and company.

His propensity for sudden face-turns makes a great start against the White Sox on Sunday a distinct possibility.

The Yankees can only hope this will be the case; a successful outing that leads to another Joba run where he reminds you of how good he can be. And if he does rip off another good stretch, hopefully the team is smart enough to leave him be.

Sometimes you just have to let your baby go.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

No battery malfunction for Burnett, Posada

On the surface, it's unlikely A.J. Burnett and Jorge Posada would have much common ground to cover at Yankee Stadium's gold-plated water cooler.

Burnett is one of those crazy, tattooed white dudes from the south. He almost definitely finds Larry The Cable Guy hilarious. I can say with absolute certainty he owns at least one Kid Rock CD. I'm positive he drives a truck with wheels large enough to make Gravedigger jealous.

Posada is serious and diligent and Puerto Rican. The only cable guy he knows is the chump who set up his lavish entertainment center, an entertainment center he never uses because Jorge Posada doesn't watch television. He works out and plays baseball. It's the totality of his existence.

So no, the teammates aren't necessarily friends. This is okay, of course, because they don't have to be.

Dwight Gooden and Gary Carter weren't hitting the NYC club scene together in 1986. There's no way Joe Girardi ever put in hours as David Wells' wing man. You can count on Jim Abbott's right hand the number of Hooters trips shared by Jim Leyritz and Mariano Rivera.

You don't have to be buddies. You don't even have to like each other. You just have to win.

Burnett got lit up like a Christmas tree on Saturday at Fenway Park. His brutal afternoon featured some obvious crossed-wires moments with Posada, and after the game the media seized on the moment like sharks circling a wounded seal.

Is there a rift between the two stars? Can the communication problems be fixed? Is Posada even the right man to catch Burnett?

Never mind the fact that Posada had caught 10 of Burnett's last 12 starts, a stretch that saw the right-hander go 9-3 with a 2.59 ERA. The only thing that mattered on Saturday was Burnett and his gruesome 0-3 record in Boston, all losses shared with Posada.

Burnett is an emotional player who has the unfortunate ability to let games get away from him quickly. Posada is no stranger to emotion either, having earned a reputation for a take-charge attitude that can border on bull-headed.

There have been times this season where I swear Posada was going deliver a big boot and atomic leg drop to Joba Chamberlain right there on the Yankee Stadium mound. The dude is in-tense.

So no, Burnett and Posada may not be a perfect match. But they are professionals with great resumes, and they'll make it work together because they know there's no other option. Posada is making $52 million and is going to catch. Burnett is making $82.5 million and is going to pitch.

Oh, the heartbreaking problems that face the rich and famous.

Burnett is known for watching the graphic battle flick 300 to get amped up before starts. Posada only thinks 300 in terms of batting average and the number of men who annually attempt to seduce away his incredibly hot wife, Laura.

This may seem like it would be a problem, but it really isn't. You don't have to be best friends to achieve the best results.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Yankees still have much work to do

Johnny Damon rented a party bus and treated some of his teammates to a Creed reunion concert in Connecticut on Thursday night.

(That was the funniest sentence I've ever written.)

This likely led to a moment during the chest-bump-laden ride down I-84 in which Damon, Eric Hinske, Brian Bruney, Dave Robertson, Phil Coke and Kevin Long slugged down Jaeger bombs before belting out the soaring final coda of "My Sacrifice". After the show, a tuckered-out Damon fell asleep on Bruney's shoulder as the reliever gently hummed "With Arms Wide Open".

God, I love this team.

I don't know what's more surprising--the fact that people are still paying U.S. currency to witness Scott Stapp emote like a mortally-wounded grizzly bear, or that I'm actually getting used to hearing all these great Yankees bonding stories.

It's certainly a refreshing change of pace after years of teams that dressed like the New York Yankees but acted like Don Draper.

Everything about this team has been refreshing. But as the national media, tipped off by the Red Sox massacre, begins to catch on to how good this team really is, it's important to note that the Yankees have accomplished nothing yet.

The Yanks have much work to do, and not just once the postseason begins in October. Let's take a look at the unfinished regular-season business facing your Bronx Bombers.

Kick dirt on the Red Sox

The Yankees all but wrapped up the AL East following the four-game sweep of their longtime rival back on Aug. 6-9. New York leads Boston by a healthy 6.5 games in the standings, a deficit that has certainly let some air out of the latest showdown between the two giants.

But despite the gap separating the teams, the Yankees must be careful not to let the Red Sox back within striking distance. The Sox are coming off a three-game beating of the free-fallin'-out-into-nothin' Blue Jays, and if they were able to return the sweep favor this weekend against the Yanks, things would suddenly be interesting again.

You don't want to aim for mediocrity, especially when you're talking about a Yankees team that is 31 games over .500. But taking even one game of this series will keep the Red Sox from getting back their mojo.

Protect your bullpen

If you read this blog regularly, you know my feelings about how the Yankees have handled Joba Chamberlain. To use a strained analogy, the Yankees are the nursery that puts a healthy nine-pound infant in an incubator. Their reluctance to stretch out their miracle baby has created a reality in which Chad Gaudin and Sergio Mitre will get regular starts from here until October.

Both journeymen are basically five-inning guys. That means in virtually every one of their starts, the bullpen will be asked to get at least 12 outs...and that's not even factoring in the usual nine to 12 outs the 'pen will pick up in Chamberlain's six remaining starts.

The point is, big lead or not, the bullpen is going to be very busy down the stretch. And as we learned in 2004, it's generally not a good thing to have a blown-out bullpen pitching in games that decide your season.

The expanded rosters on Sept. 1 will help here, but forgive me if I'm not sold on Edwar "79-mph changeup/81-mph fastball" Ramirez serving as a cure-all here.

This is definitely a subplot to keep an eye on.

Get A-Rod going again

It was in the aftermath of the greatest moment of the Yankees season when we finally stumbled across the smoking gun on the physical state of Alex Rodriguez.

A-Rod had just connected on the 15th-inning walk-off homer that vanquished the Red Sox on a wild Friday night at the Stadium. After reaching the plate and getting swallowed up by his celebrating teammates, YES cameras caught a smiling A-Rod fleeing the celebration while clutching his hip.

It was a revealing glimpse into the impaired health of the slugger. The evidence has been there all season, of course: his range at third is non-existent, the second-gear on the basepaths has disappeared, and he can't seem to find those missing 50 points on his lifetime batting average.

But this was the first time when you saw how close to the surface the situation is.

The Yankees need A-Rod to be as healthy as he can possibly be heading into the playoffs. We're not going to see him at 100 percent, only offseason surgery will manage that, but it's important he returns to being a consistent slugger who can adequately protect Mark Teixeira in the lineup.

Rodriguez has just one RBI in the past eight games and has homered just twice in the past month. Perhaps the man could use a 15-day respite? Maybe a Chien-Ming Wang-sanctioned "weakness in the hips" sick note is in order?

A little bit of R&R could end up doing A-Rod, and the Yankees, a whole lot of good.

Take a stand against the Angels

Despite all the noble things the Yankees have accomplished this season, one truth has remained, seemingly unconquerable for seven years and counting...

The Angels are the Yankees' daddy.

The Halos damn near ruined the first half for Bombers fans; the excruciating three-game bloodletting in Anaheim representing the worst-possible way to go into the All-Star break.

The Yanks have lost five-of-six overall to the Angels this season, and you just get the feeling these teams are destined to meet again come playoff time. But before that, they will square off for a three game series in Anaheim on Sept. 21-23.

It would behoove the Yankees to take at least two of three in that set. It's time to make a statement that these aren't the same old Yankees of the 2000s.

A winning series in September can be a building block for a winning series in October.

Secure home-field advantage

After a slow start, the Yankees have morphed into a juggernaut at home this season. Their 41-18 mark at the Stadium is the best in baseball; they have lost just twice (twice!) in the Bronx since the All-Star break.

So seeing as they have become virtually unbeatable at home, it makes complete sense that the Yankees put themselves in position to play as many games at Yankee Stadium as possible.

But it goes beyond that. As Stephen over at Heartbeat of the Bronx detailed, the team with the league's best record gets to choose between two schedule layouts in the ALDS: one with extra off-days and one that more closely mirrors the regular season in pacing.

With the Yankees loaded at the top of their rotation, they would likely opt for a series with the extra off-days. In the event of a five-game series, it's likely they'd want their rotation to break down like this:

  • Game 1: A.J. Burnett
  • Game 2: CC Sabathia
  • Game 3: Joba Chamberlain or Andy Pettitte
  • Game 4: Burnett
  • Game 5: Sabathia

You have to like your chances with Sabathia on the mound at the Stadium for a Game 5. But you have to get there first...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Yankees tamed by...Brett Tomko?

It won't be remembered along the same lines of USA 4, USSR 3 or Jets 16, Colts 7, but the Yankees' loss to the Brett Tomko-led Oakland A's on Monday night certainly deserves its place somewhere on the Upset Scale.

You remember Brett Tomko, right? The 36-year-old right-hander served as New York's mop-up man during the first half. He is perhaps best known for being unspeakably awful in his 15 appearances in pinstripes.

Tomko was upset with the organization upon getting DFA'd last month, feeling he hadn't been used enough to be effective. I don't even think he was joking.

But there he was at the hideous Oakland Coliseum on Monday, dancing through five innings unscathed to pick up his first win with the A's. Special thanks are in order to A-Rod for his splendid bases-loaded at-bat in the third inning. The 1-2-3 double play set the tone for the game.

I'd be interested to know how the Yankees felt about losing to their disposed mop-up man, but I'm not entirely sure they were even at the game. This was a poor effort by the team, the second straight stinker after an unreal four-week run.

This is no time to panic, of course. The Yankees are 74-45 and seven games ahead of the Red Sox in the AL East. But with a three-game series looming at Fenway Park this weekend, the Yankees shouldn't mess around against a lowly Oakland team.

CC Sabathia gets the ball on Tuesday. The big lefty is coming off back-to-back excellent starts and looks to be on the precipice of one of his classic second-half rolls. In his last two outings, Sabathia has allowed one run over 15 2/3 innings, striking out 19 and walking four. His ERA is down to 3.64.

Sabathia is the one player that separates this Yankee team from the others that failed this decade. He is a true stopper. Following a pair of ugly losses coming off a long winning run, logic dictates the Yankees are heading toward a losing streak.

It's in Sabathia's job description to make sure stuff like that doesn't happen. He punches in for another shift tonight.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Joba Fools: Yanks still coddling Chamberlain

It may be hard to imagine this now, but there was once a time when the "Joba Rules" didn't exist.

I know, crazy right? We've heard and read so much about it by now that it seems hard-wired into our fan experience. Like U2 or The Simpsons, it just seems like one of those things that has always existed and always will.

Joba Chamberlain was a 21-year-old rookie in 2007 when the famous phrase entered the baseball lexicon. It was the unofficial name for an internal team memo explaining how Chamberlain should be used, a hard-line strategy to protect the young pitcher.

The Cliffs Notes version of the Joba Rules: We. Cannot. Mess. This. Up.

It was hard to get on the Yankees for being so cautious.

Chamberlain had splashed down on Yankee Universe like a creature from another galaxy, after all. The team hadn't produced a half-decent pitching prospect in over a decade, when, seemingly out of nowhere, this big ole country boy, this hoss, started blowing people away out of the bullpen.

Joba was the difference-maker in the Yankees' run to the postseason in '07, and if not for the Indians' home-midge advantage and some impressive sabotage by Chien-Ming Wang, he may have been the town's new Doc Gooden, his own 70-foot pinstriped likeness plastered on the side of a Manhattan high-rise.

Things didn't work out in '07, but no matter, the Yankees believed they now had the face of their pitching staff for years to come.

The team pain-stakingly transitioned Chamberlain from reliever to starter in the early months of the 2008 season, pitching him three innings at first, then four, then five. It was all very cloak-and-dagger, and it didn't seem to matter that they were sacrificing the bullpen to stretch out their prized thoroughbred.

Unfortunately, the kid gloves transition routine failed. Joba came down with shoulder tendinitis during an August start in Texas, the final nail in the Yankees' 2008 coffin. He returned a month later, finishing the season in the bullpen.

For the Yankees, it was back to square one.

The 2009 season represents Year Three of the Joba Rules. And while you'd think that the restrictions would loosen as the soon-to-be 24-year-old Chamberlain got older, the Yankees have instead remained fully committed to an inorganic approach to his career.

The argument can be made that this is for his own good. He has already surpassed his career-high with 121 2/3 innings this season, and as Cole Hamels has shown for the Phillies this year, obliterating your high-inning total in one season typically bodes poorly for the next.

But there's protecting a young star, and then there's coddling him. Chamberlain finally seemed to find a groove coming out of the All-Star break, ripping off three consecutive strong starts. But the Yankees decided after that third start that it was time to pull the reigns back in the midst of what may have been a breakout moment.

Chamberlain was given two extra days or rest before a poor start against the Red Sox. He was better, but not great, on regular rest against the Blue Jays on Tuesday. Now he will get seven more off days before facing the Athletics next Wednesday.

As a result of the shake-up, both Chad Gaudin and Sergio Mitre will start this weekend against the Mariners. This is an interesting strategy seeing the Yankees are just 6 1/2 games ahead of the Red Sox, not 16 1/2.

To his credit, Chamberlain has been a good soldier. He isn't necessarily on board with the latest incarnation of the Joba Rules, but he isn't getting involved in the discussion least not publicly.

"That's for the smart people to worry about," Chamberlain said. "I just go out and pitch as much as I can."

That's a good way to look at it. We can only hope the smart people aren't outsmarting themselves.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Five thoughts on a great weekend

The Yankees ripped the guts out of the Red Sox on Sunday night.

It's one thing to win the first three games of the series in the way that the Yankees did. But to allow Boston to get its hopes up only to suddenly and powerfully snatch away the Salvage Card last night?

That's just full-on Temple Of Doom-level innards expungal work by your local Bronx Bombers.

This is all excellent, of course.

I've always wanted to (metaphorically) show the Red Sox their still beating heart before they perished a shameful death, and Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira did just that when they connected on back-to-back homers to clinch the victory.

I have no idea why my sweep-induced giddiness has manifested itself into violent fascinations. I promise to check myself into the local psych ward upon completion of this blog.

Without further adeiu, here are five thoughts on the Yankees' four-game sweep of the Red Sox.

5. Spin, Papi, Spin

It's odd enough that David Ortiz used Yankee Stadium as his forum to formally deny steroid use. But then to use the old, "I was careless with the supplements I took back then" card? That was just disappointing coming from one of baseball's supposed good guys.

Say this about the Yankees: Their two high-profile cheats—A-Rod and Andy Pettitte—at least had the guts to man up and admit their mistake.

4. Girardi owes beer to Damon, Tex

Joe Girardi messed up.

I understand he values protecting his pitching arms—particularly his young ones—but the Yankees manager showed no sense of the moment on Sunday night.

Six outs away from sweeping the Red Sox in a huuuuge series and you hand the ball to Phil freaking Coke? Phil Hughes had faced only two batters in the previous two games and 49,000 other people in the building would have made a wiser decision.

Luckily for Girardi, the Damon/Teixeira heroics saved a lot of second-guessing after the game.

3. Red Sox on the brink

Can you imagine a more frustrating existence than being a Boston fan this weekend?

You were treated to the end of the John Smoltz era, a 15-inning shutout, a nine-inning shutout, and then the aforementioned Temple of Doom finale. Jason Varitek's bases-loaded at-bat against Andy Pettitte in the fourth inning on Sunday night perhaps best exemplified the frustrations.

Varitek smoked a 1-0 pitch to left—exactly where Johnny Damon was standing. Five feet to the left or right and it's 3-0 and the Red Sox are off and running. Instead, the scoreless streak trudged on.

The Yankees swept the Red Sox over five games around this time in 2006 and Boston never recovered. This is a superior Red Sox team, but this is certainly a season on the brink. I look for them to bounce back big, starting with a sweep of the Tigers at Fenway.

2. It always comes down to A-Rod

Watching the 15-inning classic on Friday night, I just had a feeling A-Rod would be the hero. Each time he came to the plate, and each beer deeper I got, my refrain got louder. "A-Rod's going to win this game." It took him seven at-bats, but the goofball proved me right.

I know the media has a habit of sometimes running with story lines that aren't necessarily true—Joba finds himself in Nebraska! being a particularly strong example—but the well-reported idea that A-Rod is a different player this season is actually true.

He appears more relaxed and confident, which is ironic since that bum hip has made him a less productive player.

But that weight-of-the-world look is off his face, and there's no denying how much better this team is with him in the lineup.

And that's why you should all go out and buy multiple copies of Almost Famous. Kate Hudson deserves those residuals for the work she's put in here.

1. CC Sabathia & A.J. Burnett are officially Yankees

A lot has been made that this series served as the unofficial opening of Yankee Stadium III, as the crowd energy finally reached heights that matched levels once heard across the street.

CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett vouched for that, saying the thunderous ovations they received were goose bump-worthy at the highest level.

Yankees fans are a sophisticated baseball lot. The power of those cheers represented the fans' realization that we have two studs at the top of the rotation. The Yankees haven't been able to say that for a long time.

Sabathia and Burnett can potentially start four games of a seven-game series, with Hughes and Joba setting up Mariano Rivera. If things stay the way they are, I think I like our chances.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Eight is enough: Yankees make a statement

The Yankees said all along that the Red Sox had not gotten into their heads.

To a man, the party line was this: Yes, Boston has beaten us in eight straight, and yes, we understand the importance of defeating our top rival, but, no, the struggles will not affect us in future meetings.

It was a logical stance to take, a way to admit their previous shortcomings while at the same time dismissing them.

But there's saying the right thing and doing the right thing...and the Yankees hadn't done much of anything right against Boston this season.

The Yanks blew leads big and small, at home and on the road, the goat horns even finding their way to the great Mariano Rivera.

The Yankees desperately needed to make a statement last night in the opener of the pivotal four-game set between the two teams. And they did.

It wouldn't be quite fair to say that one win could wipe away the sins of eight previous losses, but Thursday's 13-6 wipeout of John Smoltz and the Red Sox came pretty close.

Even the most ardent wicked ahh-some Saux fan will admit that the teams are on even psychological ground now. If anything, it's suddenly Boston's mind-set that's being tested. Physically beat up and with a patchwork rotation, the Red Sox look nothing like the juggernaut of the first half.

The Red Sox are 7-11 since July 17 and just 24-21 since June 13. They are suddenly the weakened prey in the AL East safari, the predator Yankees primed for the kill.

The Yankees, meanwhile, are on fire again. Four straight wins have them at a season-best 24 games over .500. They are 15-5 in their last 20 games. If you take out three-game skids against the Angels and White Sox, they've been virtually unbeatable.

That's not to say it was all sunshine and rainbows for New York on Thursday. After seeing Good Joba for the first three starts after the break, Bad Joba made his unwelcome return against the Sox.

Chamberlain's ability to turn from good to bad is almost impressive at this point. You have to respect how instantaneously it can happen. It reached Shawn-Michaels-super-kicking-Marty-Jannetty-proportions last night. No warning at all, just an instant heel turn. Joba's next interview should be from the Barber Shop.

Which reminds me, can we ship Joba back to Nebraska for a few days now so he can "find himself" again? (One of the dumbest media-created subplots of the season for me.)

Things get really interesting tonight, as A.J. Burnett gets his third crack against the Red Sox, facing off against Josh Beckett.

Burnett was signed by the Yankees in part because of his success against Boston. That hasn't translated thus far. In two starts against the Sox, Burnett has allowed 13 runs (11 earned) on 13 hits in 7 2/3 innings. That's a 12.91 ERA, a mark only Chien-Ming Wang could envy. (Too soon?)

Burnett famously coughed up a 6-0 lead at Fenway back in April, a head-shaking effort that came on the heels of Mo's blown save against Jason Bay. He has been much better of late, though he was battered by the White Sox last Saturday.

Burnett will need to step up tonight and make a statement, just as the Yankees did on Thursday.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Yankees have close reminder of urgency

Carlos Beltran was the All-Star center fielder for the Mets when he dug into the batter's box against Cardinals rookie Adam Wainwright in Game 7 of the 2006 National League Championship Series.

There were two outs in the ninth inning, the Mets down two runs, the bases loaded. The stage was set for Beltran to become a New York legend.

But it wasn't to be. Wainwright quickly got ahead in the count before dropping a devastating curve ball, freezing the Mets star for a called third strike. Seconds later, the underdog Cardinals were celebrating the pennant at Shea Stadium.

The Mets would squander opportunities to advance to the postseason in two subsequent years, despite a nucleus of veteran stars consisting of Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Jose Reyes and David Wright.

Then, just as suddenly as it seemed to open, the window closed on the New York Mets.

Delgado, then Reyes, then Beltran all went down with longterm injuries this season, and the top-heavy roster was unable to cover for the absence of its stars. The Mets, Vegas' preseason favorite to reach the World Series, were essentially out of contention by the All-Star break; a franchise going from the precipice of glory to absolute uncertainty in three short years.

It's a sobering saga that we can only hope has caught the attention of the Yankees.

Derek Jeter is 35. Jorge Posada is 37. Alex Rodriguez is 34. Mariano Rivera is 39. That each of these players are healthy is a blessing. That they all remain high-level performers is a minor miracle.

This may be the last chance the old guard gets to win a title. In the PED culture of the 90s and early 2000s, 40 became the new 35. Now, with greenies and other stimulants banned from the clubhouse and strict drug testing in place, 35 has become the new 35. Reach that magic number, and you're destined for a steep decline...that is, if you haven't started to fade already.

This would be a good time to take another look at the ages of the Yankees' veteran stars. Go ahead, it's two paragraphs up. Yep.

The Yankees that we know are already on borrowed time. It made Brian Cashman's decision to stand pat at the trade deadline all the more frustrating. This is the ultimate win-now team, and the Yankees should be doing everything in their power to make this a championship season.

The Yankees have the resources and feeder system to sustain a winning culture into the next decade, but this may be their last opportunity to field a team that combines the skills of the old guard with the club's young talent.

The lethal 1-2 combination of Phil Hughes and Rivera is a one-shot deal. Same goes for a rotation that allows Joba Chamberlain to soak up knowledge from Andy Pettitte. The presence of A-Rod and Teixeira hitting back-to-back will never be more potent than it is right now. Jeter and Johnny Damon will never set the table like this again.

The Mets provided a clear example of how fleeting opportunity can be. Take heed, Yankees. It's now or never.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

While Yanks sleep, enemies grow stronger

In his 11 seasons as general manager of the Yankees, Brian Cashman has been called many things, both good, bad, and ugly. "Inactive" has never been one of them.

But when the dust cleared on yesterday's non-waiver trade deadline, "inactive" was the only way to describe the Yankees' state. As contenders throughout the American League wheeled-and-dealed to prepare themselves for the stretch run, Cashman traded a low-A ball catcher for Jerry Hairston Jr., a role player best known for having a dad and brothers.

The Red Sox added a three-time All-Star to their lineup in Victor Martinez. The Tigers brought in a consistent veteran left-handed starter in Jarrod Washburn. The White Sox finally landed 2007 NL Cy Young winner Jake Peavy.

The Yankees? They called up a guy named Shelly.

This wasn't the first time Cashman had been silent at the deadline. In 1998, his first season as GM, the Yankees didn't make any moves, though being 50 games over .500 to that point probably had a lot to do with it. There have been other quiet seasons as well.

But in most instances, Cashman has acted when necessary. As I pointed out in Monday's post on the Yanks' recent deadline history, Cash has never been afraid to pull the trigger to improve the team. In fact, no team has been more active than the Yankees this decade: trades for David Justice, Shawn Chacon and Bobby Abreu all instrumental in respective runs to the postseason.

But Cashman didn't like something about the market in 2009, a season in which the Yankees are legitimate favorites to return to the World Series. It's the reason Sergio Mitre was on the mound last night, his start falling on the evening when he should have been replaced in the rotation.

Predictably, Mitre was battered by the White Sox, looking tentative and generally terrible. Joe Girardi said after the game he wasn't sure the Yankees had options in terms of replacing Mitre in the rotation.

“He has got to get it done for us," said Girardi, barely able to hold back the tears.

Apparently, the organization remains conflicted on the abilities of Triple-A legend Kei Igawa.

Cashman will continue on; he knows as well as anyone that upgrades are necessary for Mitre, Brian Bruney and possibly even the conspicuously shaky Alfredo Aceves. But with the deadline passed, any player involved in a deal would have to clear waivers.

In other words, the Yankees have left themselves vulnerable. In a pennant race that promises to be a dogfight, that's not a good thing to be.