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 dhanzus@gmail.com. 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 dhanzus@gmail.com. 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 dhanzus@gmail.com. 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 doll...it'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 dhanzus@gmail.com. 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 dhanzus@gmail.com. Follow Dan on Twitter at danhanzus.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Yanks earn their way back to baseball's greatest stage

I liken my feeling prior to first pitch of Game Six last night to how Lindsay Lohan must feel on the eve of a mandatory probation hearing.

Unjustly annoyed. Kind of dazed. Quite nervous. Thinking about what can be ingested to take the edge off things.

I was annoyed because I knew the series should already be over. I was dazed because all those maddening off days had turned my apartment into the Overlook Hotel. (All off days and no play make Dan a dull boy.) I was nervous because of 2004. I was thinking about drinking gluttonous amounts of vodka.

The buffoons at the FOX pregame show didn't help matters any.

Eric Karros, perhaps best known as the worst player to ever hit 284 home runs, spoke of merely capable Angels starter Joe Saunders in hushed tones of reverence.

Mark Grace, a man so intelligent he once reasoned that having sex with unattractive women would make him hit a baseball further, basically wrote off the Yankees' chances with Andy Pettitte on the mound, getting in a dig on Pettitte's performance against Grace and the '01 D-backs while he was at it.

(Hey Gracey, you beat Pettitte in the World Series because he was unknowingly tipping his pitches. And by the way, seeking out fat chicks to bang doesn't lead to hits; it just shows you have low self-esteem.)

Once the game started and the hours days of pregame chatter dissipated, I immediately started to feel better. The crowd at the Stadium was great, and Pettitte was throwing strikes and generally looking like the veteran who would become baseball's winningest playoff pitcher ever in less than four hours.

The Yankees may have been tight, but they didn't look it. Instead, they gave off the vibe of a team that knew it was better than its opponent.

When the Angels drew first blood on Bobby Abreu's single in the third, you didn't feel the same sense of dread that blanketed the old Stadium when Curt Schilling, Party City blood on his sock and all, was staked to an early lead in Game Six of the ALCS five years ago.

That Yankees team in '04 redefined the idea of playing tight. The cast of the 1997 Showtime classic Joe Torre: Curveballs Along the Way could've beaten the '04 Yanks in Games Six and Seven, and they had Tori Spelling's husband playing David Cone.

This modern-day Yankees team is different.

They are a closer, deeper, and more cohesive unit than any of the post-dynasty teams.

While Joe Torre, and perhaps even Paul Sorvino, would have managed aspects of the ALCS better than Joe Girardi, the Yankees manager deserves credit for nailing two crucial decisions on Sunday.

One was sticking with Pettitte when starting a fully rested CC Sabathia was the play-it-safe move. Pettitte rewarded his manager's faith, and now the Yanks are set up this week with Sabathia potentially pitching three games against the Phillies.

The second move was to bring in Mariano Rivera for the final six outs. This was not the time to mess around, and Girardi managed decisively in a key juncture of the season. After a week of over-thinking every bullpen move with often dreadful results, Girardi simplified things and put the ball in the hands of the G.O.A.T.

The. Greatest. Of. All. Time.

I wrote before the playoffs started how this was likely the last chance for the Old Guard of Derek Jeter/Jorge Posada/Pettitte/Mo to contribute at a high level alongside the New Guard of Mark Teixeira/Alex Rodriguez/CC/Phil Hughes.

Watching Pettitte, Posada, and Mo combine on the win that sent the Yankees to the World Series was fitting in that sense. The old guys have fully embraced this unique moment in the franchise's history.

The clubhouse celebration was really cool for that reason. Jeter had a look of satisfaction on his face that you haven't seen in years. Seeing Posada and Rivera with their kids was a reminder how long we've been attached to these guys.

Work is still to be done, of course. The Twins and Angels are now history, but next up is the Phillies, probably the best National League team the Yankees have faced in the Fall Classic since the '96 Braves.

I'm sure there will be people who count the Yankees out, clowns like Eric Karros and Mark Grace who look for any reason to go against the big bad Bronx Bombers.

I wouldn't suggest it, though. The Yankees have played like champions for five months. I don't get the feeling it's going to stop now.

Dan Hanzus can be reached via e-mail at dhanzus@gmail.com. Follow Dan on Twitter at danhanzus.

Four more to go ...

Friday, October 23, 2009

Conspiracy in Anaheim: Did Girardi act alone?

In the hours since the Yankees allowed a golden opportunity to secure the American League pennant slip away, fans, media and unnecessarily loud Korean War veterans at Dunkin Donuts are attempting to assign blame for the 7-6 loss to the Angels.

Some are saying that Joe Girardi acted alone in this assassination of the Yankees' World Series hopes on Thursday, the opinion being that the second-year manager made a series of dubious decisions that doomed New York.

The Stankiewicz Commission has been assembled to prove that, while Girardi is a jackass made several errors in judgment, he was not the sole individual responsible for the Yankees' Game Five downfall.

The Commission seeks to prove that a greater conspiracy was at play on that tragic evening in Anaheim.

Consider the evidence:

Girardi, Joe

Code Name: The Overwhelmed Skipper

The accused has endured a rocky postseason, appearing to be spooked by the moment in several key situations. Thursday's actions furthered this assumption.

Girardi failed to remove starting pitcher A.J. Burnett from the game after a 22-minute top half of the seventh inning, a half inning in which a Yankees rally had bailed out the erratic and unreliable right-hander. After Jeff Mathis–perhaps better known as the greatest player who ever lived–singled sharply to begin the inning, Girardi left Burnett in the game to face, and eventually walk, No. 9 hitter Cesar Izturis.

Girardi finally relieved Burnett, though oddly made the decision to bring in the untrustworthy Damaso Marte in favor of the far more reliable left-hander Phil Coke.

He completed his head-scratching night by lifting Alex Rodriguez, a 12-time All-Star on a historic run of postseason dominance, for pinch-runner Freddy Guzman in the ninth. This led to open speculation within the Commission if Girardi was addicted to crack.

The Stankiewicz Commission recommends that Girardi burns his trusted matchup binder along with the hand-written love letters he never sent to Suzyn Waldman.


Burnett, A.J.

Code Name: Alice Josephine Burnett

New York Yankees organization signed Burnett to five-year, $82 million deal to be key cog in rotation. The accused responded by allowing first five batters to reach in first inning on Wednesday, burying his team in a 4-0 hole before an out was recorded.

The poor effort led to this Commission to post the following note on Twitter: "Burnett is emotionally checked-out of Game 5 of the ALCS. That bodes well for the rest of his massive contract."

The Commission was not happy.

Burnett (predictably) settled down after the first inning, following the blueprint of several similarly-egregious starts during regular season. When the pressure was back on Burnett in the seventh, his knees quaked and body quivered like a 13-year-old girl at a Hanson concert in 1997.

The Stankiewicz Commission recommends Burnett stop watching 300 before starts and start watching film of opposing batters' hitting tendencies in first inning.


Hughes, Phil

Code name: Golden-Boy-turned-Turd-In-Punch-Bowl-turned-Golden-Boy-turned-Turd-In-Punch-Bowl

The accused failed again in a big spot on Thursday, continuing his free-fall in October. His 1-2 fastball to Vladimir Guerrero was terribly located, and his subsequent meatball to Kendry Morales was lucky not to end up in the seats.

Once thought to be the best middle-reliever in the American League, Hughes can no longer be an assumed part of Girardi's eighth-inning plan. His stuff appears to be there, but his confidence perhaps not.

The Stankiewicz Commission recommends Hughes grows back his Chester Molester 'stache.

Swisher, Nick

Code name: The Fallen Frat Boy

The Commission is not sure what's more troubling here: The fact that Nick Swagger hasn't updated his Twitter in nearly a week or that he couldn't make good contact on a Brian Fuentes fastball that was actually–and the Commission turned the volume up real loud–begging to be pummelled roughly 458 feet.

Swisher's ninth-inning at-bat played out like a Greek tragedy. Judging by the first two swings, the accused appeared to be doomed, but then hopes were raised that Swisher would somehow get out-horribled by Fuentes.

Swisher is in an brutal slump, now just 3-for-29 with one RBI in the postseason. That's .103. The Commission feels that those that say the sample size is too small to make a change in right field need to wake up. This is the playoffs, any sample size will appear small when measured against the context of a 162-game regular season.

The Stankiewicz Commission suggests long phone conversation with Creed frontman Scott Stapp about the nature of life and why the best strip clubs all seem to be in Tampa.


Dan Hanzus can be reached via e-mail at dhanzus@gmail.com. Follow Dan on Twitter at danhanzus .

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Yanks can chase some demons against Angels

There were four references to the 2004 ALCS in one hour of SportsCenter this morning. Your friends who are Red Sox fans have joked about the series on Facebook and Twitter since Tuesday. If you step outside your home or office, there's probably a single-engine plane flying overhead with a '2004 ALCS: You Blew It' message tailing behind.

You had to expect this. This is the Yankees' first opportunity to clinch an American League pennant since the team's infamous collapse against the Red Sox five Octobers ago. It would be weird if it didn't come up.

I was at Game Seven in 2004. That's the only way I still know for sure that it actually happened. It was a game that forever changed the franchise. For the first time ever, it gave the Yankees baggage.

Today's Game Five against the Angels won't rid the Yankees of that baggage. Just as winning in '04 didn't wipe away Grady and Boone and Buckner for the Sox. The baggage is still there, it just isn't as heavy anymore.

The good news is that this Yankees team is far better equipped to deal with adversity. The '04 team had a ton of bad character guys (Kenny Lofton, Ruben Sierra, Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown), a set-up man who was throwing up in garbage cans before appearances (Tom Gordon), a first baseman who hit like a corpse (Tony Clark) and a Game Seven starter with less guts than a stuffed antelope (Brown).

By contrast, this Yankees team is loaded with good character guys that keep things loose (Damon, Swisher, Sabathia, Hughes), a set-up man who is a proven postseason performer (Hughes), a first baseman, who, while slumping, is a stud waiting to breakout (Teixeira) and a Game Seven starter that most teams would kill for (Sabathia).

The plan, of course, is never to let things get to a Game Seven. In '04, we learned about the dangerous power of momentum. By Game Six of that series, you already felt the Yankees were in deep trouble.

It falls on A.J. Burnett to make sure momentum is something the Angels don't feel for months. Burnett was erratic all season, and he carried that right into the postseason. He spiked curveballs into the dirt over and over again and clearly looked uncomfortable with runners on base in Game Two. He needs to be sharper...it's time for this guy to start earning his money.

You will hear the ghosts of '04 in the distance tonight in Anaheim. If the Yankees have to fly home with the series still undecided, the ghosts will only get louder this weekend in the Bronx.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Race for ALCS MVP: A-Rod or CC?

If 2004 taught us anything, besides how to properly apply fake blood on a sock for profound effect, it would be to assume nothing.

What you're about to read assumes absolutely nothing. Zilch. Nada. It lives solely in the moment.

The Yankees played one of their best all-around games of the season on Tuesday night, a 10-1 win over the Angels that put them one victory away from their 40th American League pennant.

Until that one victory is attained, I will not gloat, or celebrate, or openly mock Vladimir Guerrero for having the knee composition of Mr. Glass from Unbreakable. My team still has much work to do.

Since I respectfully assume nothing, and I live in constant fear of Kevin Brown and Javy Vazquez being added to the postseason roster, I deserve some leeway in foresight on a smaller scale.

All of which leads me to Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia, who have made the ALCS their personal playground. For that, I will now try to figure out who is the favorite for series MVP.

Assuming nothing, of course. You never know if Curt Schilling sent some red dye John Lackey's way. I really, really hate Curt Schilling.


Pure production

A-Rod the hitter and CC the pitcher makes this a bit of an apple and oranges debate.

In two starts, Sabathia has gone 2-0 with a 1.12 ERA, striking out 12 over 16 innings. With A.J. Burnett a constant liability and no fourth starter to be seen, CC's value is almost uncalcuable to that staff. His win on short rest Tuesday may end up being seen as the turning point of the season.

Rodriguez has carried the middle of the Yankees' lineup, batting .375 with three homers, five RBI, five runs scored and a 1.450 OPS. When you realize Teixeira is hitting like he's spent too many late nights with Jimmy Leyritz, A-Rod has done the work of two men. Maybe more than that.

Advantage: Even


The Salvation Effect

Heading into October, no player on any of the eight playoff teams had more pressure on him than Alex Rodriguez.

He was a postseason pariah, a goon, a lost cause. But he said over and over before the ALDS that he "was in a good place". Then he went out and proved it.

He had a pair of run-scoring singles against the Twins in Game 1, bettering the RBI total of his previous 16 playoff games. After getting the RBI gorilla off his back, the Rally Monkey was nothing.

CC had his share of doubters as well. His postseason record was spotty heading into this month, though I think most people agreed that his struggles were more the product of over-use by past teams than any type of playoff anxiety. He has obviously now cemented himself as one of baseball's greatest big-game pitchers.

Sabathia might actually be the most relaxed person I've ever seen. I get more worked up over wiffle ball games.

Advantage: A-Rod


Significant other

I think we're all pretty much in agreement here that Kate Hudson's private parts are magic.

Amber Sabathia is likely a fantastic catch in her own right, the strong and independent black woman that keeps her husband grounded. But Kate has done some miraculous work here.

Her dad is also Kurt Russell, who starred in Breakdown, one of the most under-appreciated thrillers of the 90s. Warrants mentioning.

Advantage: A-Rod


Historical context

The Yankeeography guys probably have to wear bibs to keep the mess of their salivating to a minimum here. If New York can win five more games, and A-Rod and CC continue their outrageous play, the Yankee brand will have two more October icons to work into their deep catalogue.

A-Rod will become the new Reggie, a modern-day Mr. October. CC will enter that upper echelon of pinstriped pitching greatness, standing along side Guidry and Ford.

Tim McCarver doesn't want this to happen. Chip Carey really doesn't want this to happen. Joe Buck is still pissed off about Randy Moss.

Advantage: Even


Bottom line

If you can go the co-MVP route, that's the move. They both deserve accolades for memorable performances.

If you have to choose one, I think the award has to go to A-Rod. He's overcome so many hurdles (many of them self-imposed, but still) that he deserves that moment on the podium. It will represent the culmination of a 180-degree image turn none of us ever saw coming.

Except for Kate Hudson, of course. She's magic.

Dan Hanzus can be reached via e-mail at dhanzus@gmail.com. Follow Dan on Twitter at danhanzus.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

ALCS: Yankees, Girardi must break deadly habits

During the 11th inning on Monday, seconds after Dave Robertson had registered the second out of what seemed to be an uneventful half inning, FOX cameras cut to Joe Girardi.

The Yankees manager looked discombobulated...even frantic. He took three quick steps toward his matchup binder sitting on the dugout bench, hurriedly flipped through the first few pages, and then he quickly turned around and shot up the dugout steps to pull Robertson from the game.

That was the precise moment when I knew for sure that Girardi was in over his head.

It goes without saying that Girardi had his toughest day as a manager in Game Three of the ALCS. It very well may have cost his team the privilege of a 3-0 series lead. Another way of saying it was the Yankees may have lost Game Three because their manager was watching the game with two hands wrapped around his neck.

Giardi made three crucial errors that helped bury the Yankees on Monday. Let's count them off:

  1. Aceves for Robertson in the 11th. Neither pitcher had a real track record against the upcoming hitters. Robertson looked good to that point. Leaving him in wasn't just baseball smart, it was commonsense smart.
  2. Double-switching Damon out of the game was completely unnecessary for a number of reasons. a) It took Damon's bat out of the lineup (he had already homered in the game). b) You were only getting a minimal arm-strength upgrade in left field with utilityman Jerry Hairston. c) You eliminated the chance of having Rivera work a second inning. d) You emptied out your bench prematurely, putting yourself in position to have pitchers bat if the game went further.
  3. Girardi is not protecting A-Rod late in games. Removing Matsui as a pinch-runner late in games is understandable, but by having Matsui bat behind your hottest hitter, you are leaving yourself vulnerable. Girardi has been burned by this in back-to-back nights. Angels manager Mike Scioscia intentionally walked A-Rod with two outs and nobody on in the 11th because he knew Girardi had nobody to hit behind him. The likes of Freddy Guzman and Hairston aren't going to scare anybody. The Yankees bench seems stunningly thin right now. Makes you long for the days when Boggs and Strawberry were waiting in the wings.

We all knew the Girardi-Scioscia showdown was a mismatch from the start, but now you have to wonder if it's something that can actually swing the series. Girardi has looked hesitant and jumpy the entire postseason, but Alex Rodriguez and a superb pitching staff had continually let him off the hook.

Girardi finally got hung out to dry on Monday.

Joba Chamberlain and Aceves both folded in big spots, and Pettitte allowed a broken-down Guerrero be a difference-maker again.

The Yankees offense, meanwhile, continued their disconcerting drift into the abyss. If I had the number to the Elias Sports Bureau, I'd love to find out if a team had ever hit four homers in a game and lost to an opponent that scored just five runs. Not enough people are getting on base, and when they do, you have the likes of Nick Swisher, Robinson Cano, and yes, Mark Teixeira coming up small when it counts the most.

How bad have the Yankees been in clutch situations? The answer is pitifully bad. They were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position and left 10 men stranded on Monday. The Game Three performance followed up an 0-for-8 with 12 men left in Game Two, and a 3-for-12 with 11 men left in Game One.

The Yankees have once again slipped into the offensive strategy that has doomed them so many times this decade. Waiting and waiting and waiting for that three-run homer that will save them. But what works against the Orioles in June doesn't work against the league's top teams in October. Not by a longshot.

Girardi was sheepish after the game, perhaps aware of his blunders and just hoping for a new day to begin. Fair enough. Hopefully this will be a wakeup up call for him. Both Girardi and the Yankees need to be much better, or this season will quickly meet a bitter conclusion.

Monday, October 19, 2009

ALCS Game 3: Yanks look to play gravedigger vs. Angels

The Yankees outlasted the Angels in Game 2 of the ALCS on Saturday, taking a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. The series continues this afternoon in Anaheim. River & Sunset takes a look at some of the subplots orbiting Yankee Universe.


We're not close to the celebration yet

They say in sports that a playoff series doesn't truly begin until the home team loses a game. I'd suggest Yankees fans should take heed. As the Wolf in Pulp Fiction once so eloquently said, "Let's not go sucking each other's *#%@ just yet."

As Yankee teams in 1995 and 2004 proved, winning the first two games at home isn't necessarily indicative of anything. A good start doesn't always guarantee a good finish.

The ever-trustworthy Andy Pettitte is on the mound this afternoon, which gives you confidence that 3-0 is near. But as those Golfing BoSox once taught us, even that lead is not safe.

There can be no let up now. The Yankees need to go Drago on Creed here.


The Bronx Bombers offense need to stop bombing (the bad of bombing)

The Yankees can't hit.

Not right now, anyway. It's a pesky little truth that's easy to forget when the team is undefeated in the postseason. But the Yanks have gotten this far solely because of two things: 1) A-Rod and 2) their pitching.

Think about where this team would be without the heroics of Rodriguez right now. We know all about his clutch homer to save Game Two on Saturday, but the Yankees might not even be here if not for his blasts in Games Two and Three against the Twins.

New York has been sleepwalking on offense all postseason. A-Rod has outperformed the entire team in terms of run production. The guy needs help.


Where have you gone Al Aceves? A bullpen turns its lonely eyes to you

You can't get on Ace for nearly coughing up Game Two on Saturday. The poor guy has barely pitched the last two weeks, in what has to be the most unfair exile to the dog house in pro sports history.

Think about it: Aceves spent the entire season as the Yankees' most dependable reliever not named Rivera, amassing 84 innings with a 3.54 ERA that doesn't even properly indicate how good he was. He was the seventh-inning guy, a presumed key to playoff success.

But on the last day of the season, Joba Chamberlain, golden boy that he is, changed everything. Officially a failed starter in '09, Joba looked good in a brief bullpen appearance in the season finale against the Rays, and three days later, Joe Girardi gave Ace's job to Joba.

I'm not saying it was the wrong move by Girardi. He's got a pennant to win, and Joba has rewarded his manager's faith thus far. It's just kind of cold, you know?


I love this new version of Chone Figgins

I almost hesitate writing about this because I fear the Figgins in the same way I fear prostate cancer or America Ferrara. But, 11th inning single aside on Saturday, Figgins has not been the same player who has killed the Yankees for years now.

He seems extremely tentative at the plate, and his inability to hit his way on base has severely hampered what the Angles like to do against their opponent.

The same can be said about Vlad Guerrero, who runs around the bases like my 89-year-old grandfather at this point. Do I still fear him? Of course. But the cracks are definitely showing.

Whether the Angels get back into the series or not, I'll say this: Without 2003-07 Vlad or K-Rod, this team is significantly less scary. It's as simple as that.


Hey Mark, care to join us now?

Robot that he is, Mark Teixeira is probably the last guy I'd ever expect to go into a postseason tailspin.

But that's exactly where we are right now. Teixeira took a brutal 0-for-5 on Saturday night and is now hitting just .136 (3-for-22) with one RBI in the playoffs. He did make one of those hits count, a line drive walk off homer in ALDS Game Two, but overall he's mostly been an albatross in the lineup.

(This is the time where we must again bow at the feet of A-Rod. He has saved this team).

I worry that Tex will be pressing in Game Three, with his slump being compounded by a return to the home of the team he spurned in the offseason. We definitely need May-Sept. Tex to replace April Tex. A-Rod cannot do it all by himself.

He can't, can he?

Dan Hanzus can be reached via e-mail at dhanzus@gmail.com. Follow Dan on Twitter at danhanzus.

Friday, October 16, 2009

ALCS Game 1: What to look for in Yankee Universe

The Yankees had little trouble disposing the over-matched Twins in the ALDS, but things get serious starting tonight in the Bronx. The Angels have eliminated New York from postseason play twice this decade, and now they're the only thing standing in the way of a Bombers trip to the World Series. River & Sunset takes a closer look at what to watch for in Game One of this pennant-deciding series.

Can A-Rod continue his playoff resurgence?

Heading into the ALDS, people were less skeptical of the Balloon Boy than Alex Rodriguez. He was a certified postseason bum. But in a stunning turn of events, A-Rod became a media darling following his destruction of the Twins in the ALDS. That begs the question: Will he keep it up?

To find a similar scenario, you have to go all the way back to the pre-ALCS meltdown of 2004. A simpler, more innocent time. Rodriguez was a huge contributor in a four-game series win over the Twins and he carried that straight through the first three games against Boston. He had three home runs and eight RBIs in the seven games that preceded Game Four at Fenway Park. In the infamous four-loss stretch that followed, he had one hit. Uno.

The Angels, like Boston in '04, won't roll over and die. The Yankees will be pushed this series, and the pressure will reach heights that will dwarf what A-Rod faced against the Twins. How will he react?

Hey Phil, you can come back to us now

Somewhat lost amid the wipeout of the Twins was the disappearance of Phil Hughes. The shutdown setup man of the regular season was replaced in the ALDS by a shadowy figure who wasn't good at getting people out. In three appearances, Hughes allowed two runs on five hits over two innings.

Maybe it was a bad idea shaving that Amber Alert mustache.

The re-emergence of Joba Chamberlain as a bullpen force helped to cover Hughes' struggles against Minnesota, but the Yankees will need the right-hander to return to form starting in Game One. If Hughes struggles again tonight, the likely plan would be to bump Joba up to the eighth-inning role and rustle Alfredo Aceves out of exile...if they can find him.

Perhaps an Alfredo Alert is in order?

Is Johnny Damon playing himself out of a contract?

Man, did Damon look bad against the Twins. Like 1-for-12 bad. Like taking-the-Golden-Sombrero-against-Carl-Pavano bad. Yikes.

Damon has said and done all the right things this week regarding his slump, but what's disheartening here is that his decline in production wasn't limited to the ALDS...not by a longshot.

Damon was hitting .289 with 24 homers and 73 RBI at the end of play on Aug. 30. By the end of the regular season on Oct. 3, he was at .282 with 24 homers and 82 RBI.

All of which begs the question: Has Damon's extended slump simply been the product of bad timing? Or has the toll of the season led to a physical breakdown?

If the latter is the case, don't the Yankees have to seriously consider letting him walk after the season? This may very well be a key stretch of baseball in Mr. Damon's life.

Some unsolicited advice to Johnny: Before first pitch tonight, get your iPod, crank up a little "Higher" by Creed, and just let the soothing voice of your buddy Scott Stapp lift you to the place with golden streets.

If it works for Swisher, it will work for you.

Hey weather, stop being a dick

The Yankees have qualified for the ALCS for the first time in five years, and now New York is getting hit with a nor'easter this weekend. I'm so over 2009, and Mother Nature has a lot to do with it.

A rainout would reek havoc with Joe Girardi's plans, of course, liking leading to the scrapping of the three-man rotation plan and a scenario where Chad "I'm Just Happy To Be Here" Gaudin faces off against Yankee Slayer Scott Kazmir for Game Four in Anaheim.

The Yankees are obviously at a big advantage if CC Sabathia can start three games in this series, it could very well be the difference between two very evenly-matched teams. If God is a Yankees fan, and we know he is, play will go on as scheduled this weekend.

The Stadium faces another test

The House That George Built performed quite admirably over the two games against the Twins. It got loud (though that might have been the clinking of all the wine glasses in the Legends Seats) and, more importantly, it was intimiditating (as the panicked look on poor Joe Nathan's face proved).

The venue seems to share the same DNA in its ability to spook the opposition, even when they're All-Star veterans.

The fans will face a much taller order tonight, as cold, wet and windy conditions have the propensity to keep people bundled up and quiet. That said, I wouldn't count out Yankee fans, especially fans that can sniff that trip to the World Series.

Bring it on, Mother Nature.

Dan Hanzus can be reached via e-mail at dhanzus@gmail.com. Follow Dan on Twitter at danhanzus.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

October magic may be brewing again for Yankees

Watching Nick Punto face reporters on Sunday night was almost hard to watch, even for a Yankees fan.

Almost.

A fringe player who looks more like a plumber than a professional athlete, Punto sat ashen and bleary-eyed in front of his locker trying to explain why he had barrelled around third base in the eighth inning like Rex Ryan toward a buffet table. His blunder had doomed the Twins, and now he was the man responsible for turning the lights out for good at the Metrodome.

If it would make him feel better, someone should tell Punto that he has company. After all, the Minnesota infielder is only the latest in a long line of players that famously abetted recent Yankee October runs.

Punto now joins the likes of Mark Wohlers, Trevor Hoffman, Timo Perez, Jeremy Giambi, Byung-Hyun Kim, Byung-Hyun Kim (again) and Tim Wakefield, all individuals whose blunders (either physical or mental) led to improbable Yankee victories.

Punto isn't even the only player from his own team to join the roster of Yankee Abettors. Carlos Gomez committed a similarly egregious baserunning error during a tight Game Two.

Left-field umpire Phil Cuzzi, meanwhile, can talk shop with Jeffrey Maier Game umpire Rich Garcia about how much they suck at their jobs.

The ALDS had a very nostalgic feel to it, like I was watching a I Love The 90s marathon on VH-1. The Yankees trailed in each of the three games, but you never got the feeling that they were in any real danger. It was almost as if it was the Yanks' divine right to win.

It's been awhile since I felt that sense of Yankee Destiny. The breaks that marked Games One and Two were the exact types of breaks that happened all the time from 1996-2000.

No one is ever going to feel bad for the Yankees, but the truth of the matter is that it's been some time since you got the feeling the Baseball Gods were smiling on New York. After a five-year period marked by bad hop Tony Clark doubles, Randy Johnson and Chien-Ming Wang meltdowns and Joba Chamberlain bug attacks, the universe appears to be returning to orbit.

Well, Yankee Universe anyway.

Time will only tell if this good fortune will follow the Yankees into their ALCS throwdown with the Angels. If all this karma portends a Chone Figgins felony-arrest scenario, I'm a very excited guy right now.

Friday, October 9, 2009

ALDS Game 2: Yankees look to seize control

The Yankees put forth a workmanlike effort in their 7-2 victory over the Twins in Game One of the ALDS on Wednesday. As he we head toward Game Two tonight in the Bronx, River & Sunset takes a closer look at the subplots to watch.

It's all about Allan James

As in Allan James Burnett, who will finally give us some true insight into whether or not the Yankees made a mistake in bringing him aboard this winter. We certainly didn't learn much during the regular season, a dizzying mix of strong starts and Matt Holliday-level pukefests.

This will be Burnett's first postseason start. An amped up personality by nature (he watches the ultra-violent 300 before every game he pitches) Burnett will need to keep his adrenaline under control, especially in the early going. Perhaps for pregame he should fore go 300 in favor of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants? You know Swisher has the DVD in his locker.

We'll know right away tonight if we get Good A.J. or Evil A.J. The tip-off will be if he gives up six runs in the second inning.

I'd stay away from Mr. Posada today

Joe Girardi's decision to have Jose Molina catch Burnett has provided the The Hills-esque gossip in Yankee Universe. Jorgie Boy hasn't handled it too well, which is understandable when you take into account that he's insane. Molina, aka The Big Panda, is lying low on the issue, as in lying face-down playing dead in a darkened corner of the Yankees clubhouse since Wednesday night.

When a reporter gently poked Panda in the belly to see if he had spoken with Posada, he mumbled this while on his stomach.

“We haven’t had much time to talk. We really don’t have much time in the playoffs. We have love for each other. I don’t think there’s anything wrong about all this. I think Jorgie just wanted to play, you can respect that.”

I love how he says they haven't had time to talk. They were off Monday and Tuesday, played a nine-inning game on Wednesday, met with the press three or four times...and that's it. Nobody on Earth has more time than a baseball team during the postseason. All you have is time. It's like being in a really awesome prison.

Here's the actual translation: Panda is scared for his life.

Is the Yankees bullpen good...or scary good?

It's all starting to point toward a seventh-inning bullpen role for Joba Chamberlain from here on out. I still think it's incredibly premature to say Old Joba is back just because he got four outs over two appearances. The guy only threw like 10 pitches.

Though, maybe that's the point. Let's say that Joba can simply throw the switch when it comes to his starter-to-bullpen mentality. This would tell me two things: a) Joba should absolutely, undoubtedly be Mo's setup man in 2010 and b) The Yankees have a bullpen this postseason that can stack up against any team...ever.

Put it this way, if Joba-Hughes-Mo are all rolling, this team will not be beat this month, barring some starting pitching breakdown of Wang-esque proportions.

I miss Wang

Not pertinent to the series, or even really the team's future in general, but warrants mentioning.

A-Rod may be ready for his close-up

So he got his mojo back on Wednesday, knocking in a couple of runs, even as he witnessed his girlfriend subtly caressing Jay-Z's thigh all night.

As an aside, I said this on Twitter yesterday, but I'll mention it again. What could Kate Hudson and Jay-Z possibly talk about over the course of an entire baseball game? How awesome piles of money are? Does that really cover 3.5 hours of ground? Sadly, I would not know.

But back to A-Rod.

The stage is set for him to bust out in a big way. The RBI Monkey (which is the polar opposite of the Rally Monkey) is off his back. He's playing in a postseason series, but it's not against the Red Sox or Angels. The two hits give him some slack with the fans, who will be 100 percent behind him tonight.

Most of all, I think he's convinced himself of this, "I'm just having fun now"-angle, which will serve him quite well. A-Rod has always had that look in the playoffs, like he's trying so hard that his head's about to explode. I didn't see that all year, and I didn't see it Wednesday.

This could be his Bonds-in-'02 breakout.

Are the Twins checked-in emotionally here?

I certainly didn't get that vibe on Wednesday. They looked like a challenge early, but after Jeter's homer, the air quickly left the Twinkie balloon. It reminded me of the Peter McNeeley-Tyson fight in 1997, Iron Mike's first bout out of the can. McNeeley came out of the corner in round one like a madman, desperately trying for the early knockout. Once it didn't happen, he just waited to be floored so he could star in soul-destroying pizza commercials.

The Twins had a great September, then that instant classic one-game playoff with the Tigers. With no Morneau, a pitching rotation of nobodies and freaking Carl Pavano, aren't they the classic case of we're-just-happy-to-be-here?

In other words, the Twins are the Peter McNeeley of the 2009 MLB postseason. Now's the time for the Yankees to make like Tyson.

Well, minus the rape-iness.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

ALDS preview: The stage is yours, Mr. Rodriguez

Alex Rodriguez began his final regular-season game of 2009 with 28 homers and 93 RBI, very respectable numbers for a 34-year-old guy who had missed a month of action following hip surgery.

But for Rodriguez, there was undoubtedly disappointment.

He had fallen short of the 30-homer, 100-RBI plateau for the first time since 1997. Behind all those stale, controversy-avoiding, positively Jeterian quotes he had given all season about just wanting to fit in, we knew the truth.

Alex Rodriguez still desperately wants to be regarded as The Man. El Hombre. His ego won't have it any other way.

What he went on to do that Sunday afternoon in St. Petersburg was nothing short of remarkable. He hit two homers and drove in seven runs (in one inning, no less) to finish the season with 30 homers and 100 RBI on the nose.

There's little doubt Rodriguez took immense satisfaction in that achievement. It was a reminder of the El Hombre skill-set he still possesses, on display for all the people who now believe Mark Teixeira is the best player on the Yankees.

There's a lot of buzz of late that this will finally be the year that Rodriguez shakes his postseason doldrums. He hasn't had a meaningful October RBI in five years, but many believe that's about to change, maybe as soon as tonight against the Twins.

Rodriguez has said himself that this is the best offense he's ever been a part of, and the working theory is that he'll thrive when the pressure to produce isn't squarely on him.

This is ridiculous, of course.

In each of the four seasons Rodriguez failed in the postseason with the Yankees, he was in a lineup that any cleanup hitter would kill to be part of. There were All-Star players hitting around him in '04, '05, '06 and '07, and he still fell woefully short.

The depth is greater this season, but that doesn't change the pressure on the No. 4 hitter. If you're looking for a good sign, that responsibility doesn't seem to elude Rodriguez. Here's what he told The Journal News this week.

"We have a unique lineup this year. We have a very deep lineup. I'm biased, but I think it's one of the best in baseball, if not the best," Rodriguez said. "With that said, I also know I'm hitting cleanup for a reason. I know it's going to be important for me to come up with some big hits when my number is called. I'm looking forward to the opportunity, like I have all year."

He's saying all the right things, which, let's face it, hasn't always been easy for him. But saying the right things and doing the right things are completely different.

Will it be The Bum or The Man batting cleanup in the Bronx? We'll find out starting tonight.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Primetime for future Yankees Old-Timers

Derek Jeter batted .334 this season. He had 212 hits, 18 homers, 30 steals, and 107 runs scored. He also played Gold Glove-caliber defense at shortstop, the game's most demanding position.

Think about that for a second.

Of all the subplots of a superb 2009 regular season for the Yankees, this is by far the most welcomed and unlikely development.

This was the season when Jeter was supposed to trend downward, his 35-year-old legs doing to him what they do to everyone else. Jeter refused to let that happen, however, rededicating himself and staying healthy to put up one of his best all-around seasons. He also made lots of sensual love to Minka Kelly.

Jeter wasn't the only Yankees veteran to stare down Father Time in 2009.

Jorge Posada, 38, came back from major shoulder surgery to put up his typically solid .285/.363/.522 campaign, clubbing 22 homers with 81 RBI. Mariano Rivera, who turns 40 next month, was magnificent again, registering 44 saves with an unreal 1.76 ERA. Andy Pettitte, 37, was projected as the No. 5 starter and ended up winning 14 games.

This won't happen again.

It wasn't supposed to happen this year, but it really won't happen in the future. The odds of all four of those players remaining healthy and effective in 2010 are about equal to the chances Miguel and Rosangel Cabrera will celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary.

It's a wholly unique moment in the history of the franchise. In DiMaggio's rookie season in 1939, Ruth was retired and Gehrig's career and life were being cut down by ALS. By the time Mantle made his entrance in 1951, DiMaggio was a .260 hitter playing his final season. When Winfield, and eventually Mattingly, arrived in the early '80s, Reggie was clubbing homers in California and Munson was gone.

History tells us that the Yankees have a golden opportunity in front of them as the postseason kicks off on Wednesday night. You have the Old Guard of Jeter/Po/Mo/Pettitte performing at a high level alongside the New Guard of Tex/A-Rod/CC/Hughes.

It's a special moment for baseball's most historic franchise. We'll know by the end of the month if this version of the Yankees can take advantage of their unique place in time.

Monday, October 5, 2009

No excuses for Yankees as ALDS dawns

We can get all worked up into a lather about how the ALDS is a crapshoot, but at the end of the day, sanity must prevail here. The Yankees have no business losing this series, regardless of opponent.

New York has certainly struggled in this setting in recent years, having been bounced rudely from the first-round in '05, '06, and '07. But all the evidence points to a different result in 2009.

Consider these irrefutable facts:

a) The Yankees completed the regular season with a record of 103-59. Had they shared a division with the Tigers and Twins, they would have ended the season with a 17-game lead in the standings.

b) Having clinched the division 10 days prior to Wednesday's Game One, the Yankees will have a rested roster and a pitching rotation set exactly to their liking. The Twingers, on the other hand, will have no such R&R. In fact, the winner of the one-game playoff will have to leave for New York pretty much immediately after the final out. We're talking about one of the weakest champagne celebrations since the alcohol-free Yankees celebrations of the late-90s.

c) I'm not sure where the following fits in, but it warrants mentioning. Tigers star Miguel Cabrera was engaged in a drunken brawl with his wife at 5 a.m. on Sunday. At that exact moment, Derek Jeter was sleeping peacefully in a bed that included a) imported satin sheets, and b) Minka Kelly.

d) The Yankees finished the regular season with a combined record of 12-1 against the Twingers. They outscored the cream of AL Central Casting, 71-40.

e) Kenny Rogers is no longer on the Tigers, which will cut down on the Eddie Harris-level cheating on exhibition in the 2006 ALDS.

"You sayin' Jesus Christ can't hit a curve ball?

f) The Twins sent Carl Pavano, the Carl Pavano, to the mound—on three-days' rest—with their season on the line Sunday. I'd laugh very hard at that if I wasn't so angry that the American Idle made 33 starts for the Indians and Twinkies in '09. He made 26 starts in four seasons with the Yankees. What a heel.

As you can see, it's all in front of the Yankees this year. Now, if they choke again, this entry will be deleted from my blog and never get mentioned again. Seems fair to me.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Random thoughts from River Avenue

I'm traditionally very cautious when it comes to joining social networking sites.

I was once, and possibly still am, a member of Friendster, which was basically modern social networking's caveman to Facebook's fully-evolved human. I like to think being on the ground floor for this stuff makes me a groundbreaking Jackie Robinson-type (minus the whole "brave black man" angle and ability to steal home on Yogi Berra).

Being on Friendster also means I'm old. Well, not old old, but at 29, definitely Internet Old. Put it this way: there was a time when no outgoing phone calls could be made at my house when I was trying to look up Yasmine Bleeth stills from Baywatch Nights. Gruesome photo galleries on Rotten.com once dominated lunchtime conversation at the local Taco Bell. You get the idea.

Like most old people, I resist change. I didn't want to leave MySpace when it gave way to Facebook, but like a sheep, I eventually followed. But I drew the line at Twitter. Sneering like a crusty old man, I barked, "What does the Twitterer offer that Facebooks doesn't?"

The answer to that is Nick Swisher.

Swishalicious himself has been tweeting since February. With this information in hand, I immediately joined up and have been entertained ever since.

Without further adieu, my Top 10 Swisher Tweets of the regular season:

10) Let's do the damn thing - 12:13 PM, Aug 21st

I can only assume this is in reference to a Gossip Girl.

9) coolest name in baseball. Do it Sergio - 4:01 PM, Aug 29th

I can't really disagree with Swish here. It definitely beats Sidney Ponson.

8) Thank the good lord for mothers. Obviously if it weren't for them we wouldn't be breathing. Give your mom a hug &tell her you love her. - 9:11 AM, May 10th

In what amounts to the closest he will ever come to penning a novel, Swish gets all heavy on us. I can only imagine his deeper thoughts on the topic, though that almost certainly involves an off-day and a three-foot bong.

7) Check out my buddy Chris Isaak's show with Michelle Branch at Beacon Theater in NY Wed night. Cool guy, new CD, awesome entertainer! - 8:56 PM, Aug 3rd

A glimpse into a recurring theme in Swish's life; his random acquaintances with quasi-celebrities of America.

6) i love the underdog! you can't ever measure what's inside the heart. did you see that 50-1 longshot win in the Kentucky Derby? - 8:51 AM, May 3rd

Professional athletes love talking about heart. Especially Swish.

5) Texsual Healing baby. Do it Tex. Huge bomb.2 more to go - 8:14 AM, Aug 15th

This one cracks me up. Especially when you remember that Mark Teixeira is the biggest square alive and probably felt it was wholly inappropriate.

MT: "Uh, hey Swish? Would you mind toning down your comments about me on the Twitter? (Lowering voice to whisper) The Texual comment was a little blue for my taste."

NS: "Awesome bro! Never again! You have such HEART! Wanna shotgun a Red Bull with me?!?! AWESOME!"

4) check out my boys from Staind and Creed live in Houston tonight on mycontent.com. And root us on tonight against the Red Sox - 4:21 PM, Sep 25th

Is there anything less appealing than a Staind/Creed double bill in Houston? You know Swish and Damon have had earnest discussions on the lyrical meaning of "With Arms Wide Open". It got misty on those cross-country flights, no doubt.

3) Looking for a new tune to walk up to the plate...any ideas? - 2:00 PM, Jun 22nd

The "Will You Take Me Higher" song? "My Sacrifice"? (only in sacrifice bunt or fly situations, of course). "Wicked Games", perhaps?

2) heading to dinner with CC and a bus of his family! met michael jordn and tori spelling,,,,and we won! great day! - 5:13 PM, Apr 17th

So let me get this straight. Over the course of 24 hours, Swish played right field and won for the New York Yankees, and then met CC Sabathia's mom (and we know how Swish feels about moms), the star of "Space Jam" and Donna Martin Graduates? I want to be Swish for one day. ONE DAY. Are you listening, God???

1) HELL YEAH! AL EAST CHAMPS!!! It's party time! - 6:52 PM, Sep 27th

If you were wondering why the Yankees' clubhouse celebration after clinching was roughly 400 percent more rambunctious than in year's past, look no further. It's all about Swishalicious. And that's a good thing.


Dan Hanzus can be followed on Twitter at danhanzus. His tweets are not nearly as impressive in arc and scope as Nick Swisher's. Click here to read the first edition of "Random Thoughts From River Avenue".