Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Yankees Punch Their Ticket to the Dance Once Again

Remember that movie Thinner?

It was based on a novel by Stephen King, in which an obese family man commits a hit-and-run, only the victim is the daughter of a witch, or a wizard, or a gypsy. Listen, 1996 was a long time ago.

Anyway, the witch/wizard/gypsy casts a hex on fatty -- "You keeel my daughter, and I curse you, thinnnnnnnner" -- and the obese family man wastes away to nothing and (I think) eventually dies.

It wasn't a family movie.

I bring this up because I've been worried that Joe Girardi has a pretty horrible secret he's hiding from us. It may involve his Jeep Wrangler and a dimly-lit street in Westchester.

Joe is looking gaunt. Like, Lindsay-Lohan-on-a-Columbian-getaway gaunt. Of course, if you're not an idiot, you've probably deduced that his weight loss isn't the result of the plot line of an awful 14-year-old horror movie that nobody saw, but instead the struggles of the team he manages.

The Yankees headed into Wednesday's game in Toronto with a 11-14 record in September, by far their worst month of the season. A.J. Burnett — 4-13 with a 6.67 ERA since the end of May — crapped the bed fantastically on Tuesday, and Girardi decided to go all out a day later with his 20-game winner, CC Sabathia, on the mound and his full arsenal loaded into the lineup.

The result was a tidy 6-1 win that served as the clincher of the Yankees' 15th postseason appearance in 16 years. Hate all you want, talk about payroll all you wish, but that's quite an achievement.

Full disclosure, I may have spoke too soon last week when I said Sabathia's Cy Young chances were shot by his flameout against the Rays. His 8 1/3 innings of one-run ball on Wednesday was the epitome of an ace performance.

He likely won't pitch again until Game 1 of the ALDS next week, but his final regular-season stats — 21-7, 3.18 ERA, 197 K, 237.2 IP — are certainly good enough to earn the award.

The Yankees don't sniff the playoffs this year without him. That's as strong as an endorsement I can give to the Big Man.

With one potential crisis averted, Girardi now must decided whether it's more important to give his regulars extra rest ahead of the ALDS and potentially settle for the wild card, or push through the weekend in an attempt to win the division and secure home-field advantage throughout the postseason.

It's a tricky dilemma with no clear answer. Girardi said Wednesday night that he would "pick his spots," which makes me believe he's going to play this conservatively. If I were Joe, I would a) drink several milkshakes and eat many large bowls of Mrs. Girardi's pasta and b) rest the regulars on Thursday, then go for it in Boston.

I've been surprised by how many people believe the wild card is actually a preferable situation to winning the division. To those of you who think that, please note: Home-field advantage is a huge advantage in the postseason.

And if your logic is that you'd rather face the Twins than the Rangers in a short series, remember 2006, when Yankees fans were ecstatic that they got the free-falling Tigers over the Twins in the ALDS. Four games later, the season was over.

Obviously, Sabathia shouldn't be involved in the Boston series, and I'm inclined to rest Mariano Rivera, who seems to need a breather. But I think everyone else should be involved. Well, except for Burnett. Did they even allow him to celebrate in the clubhouse last night?

Onward and upward, Yankee Universe.

Stray thoughts

- Having recently moved back to Los Angeles and forced to survive off the package until next week, I was cut out of the postgame celebration coverage. This angered me, mostly because of the perverted joy I continue to get out of watching Kim Jones be doused with champagne and beer.

- Andy Pettitte thinks this Yankees team is as good as last year's version: “I really do,” Pettitte told The LoHud Yankees Blog. “We’ve got pretty much the same team. I feel good about our bullpen. Obviously when you’ve got CC leading our rotation you’ve got to feel good about that. How could you not? I feel good about what we’re doing, I really do. I don’t think anybody wants to face our lineup.”

- Andy Pettitte is a very nice man, and his journey to comfort is well documented, but I think that statement tells me too much alcohol seeped into his pores last night.

- The LoHud Blog also had this line from A-Rod, who wasn't seen much during the clubhouse celebration and didn't have a drop of champagne on him at the end of the night: “Nobody messes with the old guys any more. It’s all about the young guys.”

Obviously, the picture of Jeter to the right backs up Rodriguez's statement 110 percent.

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

Monday, September 27, 2010

Walk-off win keeps Yankee Universe out of panic room

Count yourself extremely fortunate, denizens of Yankee Universe.

Had your team not found a way to dig itself out of Mariano Rivera's mess on Sunday night, you'd be suffering through a brutally painful Monday morning.

If Robbie Cano was unable to pad his MVP resume with a game-tying RBI single off Jonathan Papel-blown in the ninth; if Juan Miranda couldn't heroically draw a bases-loaded walk off Hideki OkanIgobackto2007 in the 10th, your team's little slump would have quickly transformed into a national story.

People like Ian O'Connor would've written columns evoking memories of The Series That Shall Not Be Named (oh wait, he did anyway), WFAN listeners would be calling Mike Francesa from the Verrazzano Bridge, and ESPN would start covering the Red Sox's chase of the wild card with enough joy and wonder to make you think they may actually have a rooting interest.

Worst of all, you'd be on your couch Monday night counting on Allan James Burnett to keep this whole place from burning to the ground.

It would've been bad. Like, The Love Guru bad.

Regardless of the overwhelming odds in the Yankees' favor to make the playoffs, it's hard to downplay the importance of Sunday's win. You could see it in the players' faces as they battled back against Papelbon in the ninth. (Quick aside: Is it just me, or does it seem like Papelbon blows every other save against the Yankees? I'm just sayin' ...).

Those dudes were pumped. Take Nick Swisher for example: Usually a smiling, gregarious scamp, Swisher had a Paul O'Neill-level look of ferocity after his single jumpstarted the rally.

Cuts to the dugout showed a similar look on each player's face. They understood what would happen if they lost that game. It reminded me of an MLB Network special on the 1986 season I watched recently. It told the story of how, with two outs and the Mets needing two runs to keep the Red Sox from winning the title, Gary Carter, Kevin Mitchell, Ray Knight each singled then told first-base coach Bill Robinson, "I was not going to make the last f@#$ing out of this World Series."

Not to compare this Yankees team to the '86 Mets (there isn't enough cocaine distributors left in Manhattan to make that comparison accurate anyway), but the Yankees' rally on Sunday reminded me of that Mets team's stubborn refusal to lose.

This is a good trait to have as the next phase of the season approaches.

Stray thoughts:

- Am I concerned about Rivera? No, but clearly he hasn't been sharp of late. Don't surprised if he flips a switch once October rolls around, though. Remember, he is ... the G.O.A.T.

- Lost in the shuffle was another clutch homer by A-Rod, who may actually get to 30 after all. He seems to be getting his groove back at just the right time. We should find another fading female lead of the 2000-era to bring him "comfort" during the playoffs. Does anybody have Amanda Peet's number?

- Awesome job Phil Franchise. Easy cheese, my man. Easy cheese. See you in the bullpen?

- With a Rays loss, the Yanks are back within one-half game of the division lead. Still trying to figure out if this is a good thing or bad thing.

- You ever get vivid premonitions of an incensed Jon Miller beating broadcast partner Joe Morgan to death with a bowling pin, ala There Will Be Blood? Um, me either.

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

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sabathia's Cy chances wiped away by one start

Even had CC Sabathia pitched well last night, who knows if it would've been enough to lock down a second Cy Young award.

The ground swell for Felix Hernandez is building. The Mariners ace fired eight more brilliant innings in a 1-0 loss earlier Thursday, dropping him to 12-12 on the year. Nevertheless, it's hard to shake the feeling this is shaping up as a (big air quotes) statement year by voters — the season they show us how smart they are by discounting the (even bigger air quotes) flawed statistic of wins and losses.

Had that happened, and CC got shut out on a 22-win season for a division-winner, I can tell you I'd have Seagal in Hard To Kill levels of vengeance ready to spill out on this site. "I'll take you to the bank, Senator Trent Baseball Writers Association of America ... the BLOOD BANK."

But you can forget that now. There's no way in hell Sabathia is going to win the award, and he has nobody to blame but himself. The big man got shelled at home by the Rays, in a game against David Price, the other pitcher thought to be a Cy Young favorite.

It was a disappointing start on several levels for Sabathia, who had a chance to both polish his resume and keep the Yankees comfortably ahead in first and failed at both. Price was no gem himself, but he did what Sabathia couldn't by keeping the damage to a minimum without his best stuff.

The Yankees head into the final nine games of the season with a half-game lead on the Rays and nine division games remaining against the Red Sox and Blue Jays. The Rays, meanwhile, have a far easier road, wrapping their season against the Orioles, Royals, and Mariners. Yesterday's loss gave the Rays a 10-8 win in the season series, meaning that in the case of a tie after 162 games, the Rays win the AL East.

In other words, the division title — which, just 48 hours ago, seemed reasonably secure with a 2.5 game lead and CC on tap — is suddenly inching toward long shot status. We can have a debate at another time how important winning the division actually is, but for now I'll just lament the loss of Sabathia's personal glory.

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

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Look Back: Jeter Accepts The Torch

Watching the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary "House of Steinbrenner" tonight, I was reminded that the old Yankee Stadium closed down two years ago today. Since I'm already getting misty eyed, I figured it was good time to dig through the River & Sunset archives to check out my post from that day.

Derek Jeter had already done enough to ensure he'd never been forgotten.

The Jeffrey Maier game. The backhanded flip to Posada. The walk-off vs. Kim. The head-first dive against Boston. Those four rings. In between, there have been enough jump throws from left and inside-out singles to right to build a lifetime worth of legend cred.

And yet, the Captain managed to outdo himself on a special night at the Stadium. The last night at the Stadium.

“Every member of this organization, past and present, has been calling this place home for 85 years, There’s a lot of tradition, a lot of history and a lot of memories. Now the great thing about memories is you’re able to pass it along from generation to generation.

“Although things are going to change next year. We’re going to move across the street. There are a few things that New York Yankees that never change. That’s pride, tradition and most of all we have the greatest fans in the world.

We want you to take the memories from this stadium, add them to the new memories that come at the new Yankee Stadium and continue to pass them along from generation to generation. So on behalf of the entire organization, we want to take this moment to salute you, the greatest fans in the world.”

That's pretty cool, huh?

Here's the thing about Jeter. He's 34 years old. It's quite possible that, as a player, his best days are now behind him. He's got two more years left on his contract, and it's extremely likely he'll sign another deal for two or three more that ensures he retires a Yankee. He'll get 3,000 hits, maybe even 3,500, have his number retired, probably get a monument and enter the Hall of Fame five years later.

But beyond all those hits and all those rings, I feel like Jeter has now become an equal with the Yankee greats that came before him. I now see Jeter the way I picture Mantle was viewed in his final seasons. Someone who has become bigger than his peers, but for all the right reasons. Jeter's not just the shortstop for the Yankees anymore. He represents a piece of history. He's become another link in a very exclusive chain. For me, watching him give that postgame speech in the middle of the diamond clinched that ideal.

Over the past 12 years, he has been the Yankees' most visible star despite a public profile that favored vanilla quotes and actions that served only to avoid controversy. But when he took that microphone and addressed those 57,000 fans and millions more watching on TV, it was as if he officially accepted his role as the newest Yankee icon.

I grew up worshipping Don Mattingly as my idol. He was baseball to me, and he's the only player that can rival Jeter's popularity since Mantle retired prior to the 1969 season. But despite his immense popularity, Mattingly will never be viewed the same way Jeter will be once he retires. You can make the argument that Mattingly was the better player before his back quit on him, but without any tales of October glory, he'll always be earthbound when talk turns to the legends of the franchise.

Jeter has the rings. He has the numbers. And now you can see that he finally has taken on the responsibility for what he means to America's most storied sports franchise. It was the perfect way to close the big ballpark in the Bronx.

Jeter said during his speech that some things about the New York Yankees never change. He's absolutely right. Some things will always be what they are, the history of the franchise will always give it immense meaning to millions of people. With Whitey and Yogi in attendance on Sept. 21, 2008, a new legend accepted his place amongst the satellites.

This story was originally published on Sept. 21, 2008. Dan Hanzus writes the Yankees blog River & Sunset and can be reached via e-mail at Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Steinbrenner Shrine Unveiled at the Stadium

Let's start with a serious question today: Should Monument Park be renamed STEINBRENNER SHRINE (& Assorted Other Dead Guys)?

I'm not even joking. Babe Ruth has been dethroned as the biggest star in the cave tucked beneath Mohegan Sun's bar, and he's been replaced by a guy who a) never played a game, b) had a male F.U.P.A., and c) exclusively wore white turtlenecks.

This actually happened.

Steinbrenner's monument is a beast. It measures 7 feet across and 5 feet high across its bronze face. It weighs 760 pounds, or roughly one Hideki Irabu. The plaque positively towers over monuments to Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Miller Huggins, which are 2 feet by 3 feet.

I suppose this can't be considered a surprise. The "George would have wanted it this way!" sentiment probably ran pretty deep within the organization and son Fredo Hank Steinbrenner likely demanded the dimensions as one final "Am I good enough for you now...DAD?!?" gesture.

Amazingly, this may not have even been the oddest subplot of the night.

Enter Joseph Paul Torre. With the Dodgers off Monday, management invited the former Yankees manager and Don Mattingly to the ceremony. And while it was great to see a beaming Donnie Baseball reveling in his newly-minted managerial glow, this didn't seem like the right circumstance to bring Torre back.

In case you've forgotten, things have been, well, awkward between Torre and the Yankees since his departure from the organization in 2007. After making the playoffs 12 straight years, the Yankees told Torre he would have to take a paycut to stay on as manager, which prompted his exit and eventual tell-all book that basically read like a 512-page breakup note.

You could tell the fans wanted to give Torre the welcome he deserved, but the circumstances dictated a subdued response. And with Vegas listing a 283 percent probability rate of Torre managing the Mets next season, we'll probably have to wait at least a couple more years before New York's prodigal manager can properly come home.

It was an unusual night to say the least, all done in the big, loud, "Pomp and Circumstance" nature that the Yankees have perfected over the years. Oh, and they beat the Rays to increase their lead in the AL East. I have a feeling that would've been ol' George's favorite part of the night.

Actually, it'd probably still be the massive shrine. It'd definitely be the massive shrine.

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

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A-Rod gives Yankees the 'Bases Loaded' ending

Is it better to be lucky or good?

In Alex Rodriguez's case, last night he was a little bit of both.

Rodriguez should could have been rung up on a called strike three in the ninth inning to end the game last night. But it didn't happen, and moments later he hit a home run devastating enough in its effectiveness to leave Orioles closer Koji Uehara doubled over in anguish, looking like an eight-bit pitcher from the old Bases Loaded video game.

We don't know for sure what A-Rod's game-deciding three-run shot will mean to the Yankees going forward. There was talk yesterday of it being "the home run that saved the season."

That seems a little strong to me — at least for now. If CC gets lit up tonight, or the Yanks lay an egg in the ALDS, one big homer on Sept. 17 won't matter much.

But it's forgivable for the fanbase and media to be hyperbolic about the moment, because it was that exciting, that dramatic, that clutch.

Ah, clutch. There were years that went by when Rodriguez was known as the anti-thesis of the clutch player. Only a Sully from Med-fahd would say that now.

Big win or not last night, there's an overwhelming probability that the Yankees will be in the playoffs, whether it be as a division or wild card winner.

But the win was absolutely significant in how this Yankee team feels about itself as the postseason nears. Whether the players that were here in 2009 say it or not, it's clear that this team isn't as good as the one that captured the World Series a year ago.

Repeating is going to be a challenge, but home runs like A-Rod's provide a sign that these Yankees can be special, too. For all the roster's warts, there remains enough talent here to go further than anyone in October.

Last May in Camden Yards, A-Rod hit a three-run homer in his first at-bat of the season that the team pointed to as the moment the season took off. We can only hope this three-homer in the same park has a similar effect in 2010.

Stray thoughts:

- I've always found A.J. Burnett kind of unlikable, but this mysterious black eye situation ratchets up the whole experience for me. He looks like one of the henchman from that movie where truckers kidnapped Kurt Russell's wife.

- Mark Teixeira is quietly having one of the worst "good seasons" in baseball history. Can you tell me the last time this guy got a big hit? How many completely clueless three-week stretches have we been subjected to this season? Robot malfunction.

- A-Rod commented to Kim Jones after the game about the importance of going into the playoffs with a "full metal jacket." It was funny he said that, because right before he was interviewed, YES cut to a shot of Uehara in the dugout looking like Private Pyle right before he iced the drill instructor in the movie Full Metal Jacket. Tread lightly, Buck Showalter.

- Felix Hernandez's near no-no last night against the Rangers may have put him ahead of Sabathia in the Cy Young race. I think the big man is going to have to get to 22 wins to regain favorite status. Winning tonight is mandatory.

- You deserve it, Donnie. I'm now 2.3 percent Dodgers fan.

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

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Yankees-Rays: Why Won't the Cowbells Go Away?

And now, ladies and gentleman, the Aflac $100,000 Question of the Day: Who is Dan Johnson?

Hmmmm ...

Was he the dude from Miami Vice? Wait, that was Don Johnson.

Okay ...

Well, I think I went to middle school with a Dan Johnson, but he was really only notable for getting chicken pox like seven times. No one with an immune system that flawed could defeat the New York Yankees, so let's rule him out.

Let's see ...

People tell me that Boston fans know Johnson very well; apparently he's done similar damage to the Nation. Unfortunately, Red Sox fans have been harder to find than Sisqo for the past two months.

Think, think, think ...

Seriously now, who in the hell is this Dan Johnson — and why is he trying to destroy me?

As you can see, I'm not taking this well. Blowing winnable games with first place on the line can do that to a man. The Yankees were thisclose to a huge series win ... and they let it slip away.

I'm not even going to get angry with Phil Hughes. Other then two very bad pitches thrown to this Dan Johnson fellow, Easy Cheese pitched a very respectable game. Besides, it's become clear that Hughes' 2010 season is now more about steady progress as opposed to the breakout sensation potential he flashed back in the spring.

I can't exhibit the same restraint for the Yankee reserves who have received extended playing time with Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner out of the lineup with injuries.

Lance Berkman, Austin Kearns, and Colin Curtis put up a combined 5-for-28 (.179) with zero RBIs and runs scored in the three-game set.

Even worse, they seemed to come up every single time the Yankees needed a big hit. Needless to say, it didn't work out.

Berkman's double play to short circuit a bases loaded threat in the first was emblematic of the whole game. ESPN got a shot of Mark Teixeira's face as he turned back from home plate just in time to see Berkman get punched out at first.

If you could translate his expression, it would go something like this:

"Wow. I mean ... wow. I don't want to be a dick about this, because Lance has had a great career, and he's the same dude who suggested that amazing barbecue place last time through Arlington. But this guy sucks. He really and truly sucks. Super hard."

If letting Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon walk as free agents were the two scoops, and signing Nick Johnson was the hot fudge, then acquiring Kearns and Berkman represents the whipped cream and cherry on top of Brian Cashman's hot sundae of sabotage this season.

The Yankees have lost eight of 10 games, but Joe Girardi said on Wednesday that his team could have easily won five of the games they dropped during this stretch. Of course, the glass-half-empty viewpoint is two late-inning home runs are all that separates the team from a 10-game losing streak and ESPN's Bristol, Conn. campus literally exploding from excitement.

Cowbells are still ringing in my ears. I think I need the off-day more than the Yankees.

Stray thoughts:

- The real tragedy of the game is that Derek Jeter cheated, and the Yankees didn't even get a win to show for it. The captain needs to add that performance to his reel, alongside the time he wore a dress on a bad SNL sketch and the scene in Seinfeld where he rocked the mean Kid 'N' Play fade.

- The Yankees travel to Camden Yards next. You think Buck Showalter would like to extend his old team's misery? Am I insinuating that Buck Showalter is a jerk? Yes. Yes I am.

- I really don't think I could hit any worse than Kearns or Berkman. I can get on a flight tomorrow and be in Baltimore by dinner. C'mon Cash, right the wrongs here.

- Tropicana Field still makes me want to die a little.

- Big home run, Curtis Granderson. I'm not going to say you've earned True Yankee status just yet, but you're really starting to grow on me.

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

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

New Trick By An Old Dog Saves Yankees

Jorge Posada had become something of a forgotten man around the Yankee Universe this season.

He's always stayed in the shadows of New York's starry landscape when you think about it, which is pretty amazing when you realize he's one of the greatest offensive catchers to ever play the game.

If the Core Four was U2, then Posada would obviously be drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. — all brooding intensity, happy to stay in the background and do his job, but the first to call out a member of the group if they get out of line.

For posterity: Bono=Jeter (face of the franchise, polarizing, iconic), The Edge=Rivera (quiet, remarkably consistent, unique), and Adam Clayton=Pettitte (likable, gray hair, profoundly underrated).

But Posada is 39 now, and his age doesn't allow him to be the consistent factor he once was. He was shelved for most of 2008 with a shoulder injury, missed 51 games in 2009, and has sat out 38 of the Yankees' first 145 contests this season.

Meanwhile, there are approximately 14 catching prospects at various levels of the organization looking to put the old dog down for good.

He's still our Georgie Boy after all these years, however, with those ears, that smokin' wife, and the maniacal glare that can melt an ice cap. And oh yeah, an uncanny ability to produce big hits when they truly matter.

Posada's home run to beat the Rays in extra innings last night was H-U-G-E for the Yankees. In a game shaping up to be their most brutal defeat, it became the season's greatest victory.

Not bad for one swing of the bat.

It was the type of win the Yankees haven't had enough of this season. It showed character, and a sense of the moment. It was positively 2009-esque, which is obviously a very good thing.

There's little doubt in my mind that the Yankees lose that game if Posada doesn't step up. They had already squandered a 6-0 lead, and the bullpen — with the notable exception of Boone Logan — had kept their finger in the dike for too long.

Luckily, Posada (with a little help from the G.O.A.T. and Greg "Was that Jessie Barfield?" Golson) made sure the Yankees would wake up back in first place.

Stray thoughts:

- Golson's game-ending throw to nail Carl Crawford at third was incredible — as was A-Rod's pick — but whuck is Crawford doing there? Rays manager Joe Maddon defended his star after the game, but that was just plain dumb.

- The Ivan Nova era is quickly losing steam. He was great for four innings, but didn't show much resiliency in that fifth inning. (In fact, he has a 18.69 ERA in fifth innings with the Yankees.) He should start watching some Andy Pettitte game tape.

- Speaking of Andy, he's on the journey back to the Yankees after another minor league playoff appearance yesterday. Also of note: He's on the journey to comfort.

- Give credit where credit's due: Good Joba showed up last night. And while I'm dishing out accolades, I must hand it to Brian Cashman on the Kerry Wood trade.

- Cash was still wrong about Nick Johnson though. He broke seven bones pouring a glass of milk last night.

- That was an awesome catch, Mr. Granderson. You may earn your keep just yet.

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

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Plenty of blame to go around at the Trop

I suppose the expected move today is to go on a rant about what a fool Joe Girardi is for bringing in Sergio Mitre last night against the Rays.

I'm supposed to be livid that David Robertson was overlooked, that Mariano Rivera was left on ice, that the unimpeachable Joba Chamberlain wasn't there to stop Carl Crawford Carlos Pena Evan Longoria Reid Brignac (Reid Brignac!?!) from sending the Yankees to second place.

I'm supposed to be furious that Girardi couldn't seem to grasp the enormity of the moment. That this wasn't just another game in a long regular season. That getting beat with your ace giving you everything he had could have ramifications that went beyond one evening.

I'm supposed to be angry about all that, and I guess I sort of am.

But then there's the business of Derek Jeter, who every night bats at the top of the lineup yet hasn't had a multi-hit game in 23 days.

There's Brett Gardner, who runs like a gazelle but doesn't always seem to have the instincts to harness that gift.

There's Mark Teixeira, whose knocked in two runs in the past 11 games and hasn't hit a homer in September.

There's Robbie Cano, whose very quietly been a .270 hitter for two-and-a-half months.

There's Lance Berkman, who Michael Kay can't stop gushing about and yet is now six weeks deep into his Yankees stopover without a single ball over the fence.

(Somewhere, Nick Johnson lays in a full-body cast thinking how he would've fit right in ...)

In what you can very justifiably state was the biggest game of the season, the one through four spots in the Yankees lineup—Jeter, Cano, Teixeira, A-Rod—managed two singles in 16 at-bats.

That I am furious about.

I wrote yesterday that I believed CC Sabathia would be up for the challenge against David Price, that he would likely match the Rays ace. For eight innings, that's exactly what happened. But while Sabathia proved his Cy Young credentials once again, the Yankee offense did little more than feed into the growing concern that they've grown old and stagnant at the worst time.

In a perfect world, Andy Pettitte would be getting the ball on Tuesday, ready to stop the bleeding like he has so many times before. Instead, he continues to be a ringer on minor league playoff teams, meaning a crucial September start goes to Ivan Nova.

Expecting great things from Nova may be asking too much, and perhaps that's what Girardi was thinking when he kept his best relievers in the bullpen on Monday.

The call to the offense — unanswered on Monday — goes out again today against Matt Garza. There are a lot of big names hiding in the shadows right now. It's time for someone to step out.

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

Monday, September 13, 2010

Gut check time is here for Yankees

If you're like me—which means you're 30 and still play wiffle ball way more than logic should dictate—you don't trust this Yankees team.

You may feel strange for thinking this way. I know I do. They're probably going to win between 98 and 101 games. By all standard measurements of the sport, this means they're, um, pretty awesome.

But there's something missing, or at least there seems to be. The 2009 squad flashed special traits from the start—the A-Rod homer in Camden Yards, the numerous walk-offs, all those silly celebrations. They gave you the feeling as you entered October that they were different than the other failed experiments of the 2000s.

As it turned out, they were.

Other than Robbie Cano's ninth-inning game-winning homer against the Rays on July 31, I can't say this version of the Yankees has had that same flair for the special. Even before this mini-tailspin, I haven't been able to shake the vision of impending ALDS doom, a la the late-Torre Era. Yes, they've won a lot, but the signature wins, the wins that have the championship DNA, have not materialized.

That can change starting tonight. A half game is all that separates the Rays from overtaking the Yankees for the AL East lead, and CC Sabathia will face David Price in the first of three crucial games at Tropicana Field.

Let's face it, beyond losing this series and potentially the division, the Yankees don't want to set up a potential scenario where they're playing a deciding playoff game at The Big Orange Juice. It's the worst stadium in the history of baseball, after all.

To allude to something from earlier, it doesn't even pass the Wiffle Ball Field test, in which you check a potential playing area to make sure it doesn't have any overhangs, trees, or other impediments that can alter the game negatively.

The city of St. Petersburg thought it would be a good idea to build catwalks that could be reached by routine pop-ups. I have trouble even typing that without getting angry. I don't want to lose a pennant because Carlos Pena can hit the ball high.

My point being: Let's ensure deciding playoff games are played at actual baseball fields, preferably ones located in the Bronx, NY, USA.

His last start against Baltimore not withstanding, you have to feel confident Sabathia will do his job tonight, and at least keep pace with Price. The real test will come from the Yankee offense, which is battered and looking, well, a bit long in the tooth as the regular season winds down.

Derek Jeter's career-worst season trudges on, Jorge Posada is in denial about his concussion, Nick Swisher admitted his sore knee isn't getting any better, and Mark Teixeira has fallen into yet another mini-funk.

Someone needs to step up, and it's going to take more than just Sabathia.

The Yankees have proved they can win games this year. Tonight, we'll start to learn if they have the guts, too.

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

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Can greatness still be expected of A-Rod?

Alex Rodriguez locked in on a Brian Matusz offering on Monday and unleashed the instantly-recognizable swing that has always seemed too easy, too effortless, to do any real damage.

But we know better by now. Rodriguez cocked his head to follow the flight of the ball then flashed his trademark "Trust me, I'm awesome" glance into his own dugout, always the sign you know he got all of it.

If it were the old Stadium, the ball would have landed snugly in the non-bastardized version of Monument Park. In the new house, it hit the back wall of the visitor's bullpen. A flick of his wrists and the ball traveled 429 feet.

He can still be an amazing player to watch when you catch him at the right time.

Alex Rodriguez is 35 years old now, may or may not have a degenerative hip issue, and has had trouble staying on the field for extended periods this season. Looking at his numbers, it's fair to assert that the 2010 season represents the beginning of a decline.

This wouldn't be as premature as some people think. He's been in the Majors since he was 18, accumulating over 10,000 at-bats in the process. That's a lot of innings in the field, a lot of road trips, a lot of swings that look so free and easy but are really violent acts of physics.

The man who only four years ago hit 14 homers in one April now sits at 22 homers as we creep toward mid-September. Keeping his streak alive of 12 straight 30+ home runs seasons would take a tear I'm not sure is in him.

But then again, we were thinking that around this time last year as well. Then came the two-homer, eight-RBI inning that closed the regular season, setting the table for an outstanding postseason that took his baseball reputation off life support.

Make no mistake: The Yankees do not win the World Series in 2009 without Rodriguez. Mark Teixeira played that postseason like his family was secretly being held for ransom, and key role players like Nick Swisher, Phil Hughes, and Robinson Cano all struggled.

For all the crap A-Rod has taken from both the A-Rod haters, Yankees fans, and the large faction of A-Rod haters who are Yankees fans, he doesn't get enough credit for how he carried New York through three rounds of playoffs last season.

The Yankees will make the playoffs again in 2010, with a whole host of new challenges. The roster is different, and the opponents could differ as well. But New York will still need a big-time performance from Rodriguez.

The question becomes, does he have it in him? The pessimist in my wants to say no, that A-Rod will struggle in an ugly ALDS knockout, come into camp in February and proclaim he never was healthy in 2009.

"I never really felt comfortable at the plate last year," he would say, repeatedly pursing his oddly-shaded lips. "But I've worked hard with K-Long all winter and I've never felt better heading into a season."

It's almost too obvious.

But then again, hasn't A-Rod earned the right for us to purge these negative thoughts associated with him and October baseball? I'm sure he would say yes, but there are probably many people—myself included—who would like to see him do it again before clearing him of past sins forever.

The bigger question may be this: Is A-Rod still a top-tier player at this stage of his career? His season has been an anomaly: He's on pace for the worst power and slugging numbers of his career, but he'll still finish with well over 100 RBIs.

Call the RBI a flawed stat if you want, but it represents physical proof that he's still a premier run producer. What's now unclear is if he be a dynamic player anymore, the type of guy he was last October, where you thought something special was going to happen every time he came to the plate.

The Yankees put all their weight on A-Rod to bring home a World Series in 2009 and he delivered. If they lean on him again in 2010, can he deliver at that same level?

Just 12 months later, it's not unfair to ask for similar greatness. But the possibility exists that the weight is too much for a body that remains willing but is no longer be able.

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

Friday, September 3, 2010

Forget Cy Young, CC Sabathia is the AL MVP

One of the more annoying aspects of 21st century baseball fandom has come by way of the dreaded stat geek.

You probably think I'm going down the route of "The RBI is the only stat that matters", "VORP is only for loners and dudes who really hate the Discovery Channel", or some other get-off-my-lawn type rant, but you'd be mistaken.

I'm actually all in on much of the new statistical analysis that has taken baseball by storm in the past decade. Anything that helps you understand the game better has to be considered a good thing.

I just wish stat geeks weren't so obnoxious about it all.

Having successfully tarnished the image of oldie-but-goodies like batting average, saves and runs batted in, the geeks are now on a crusade to diminish the significance of the win.

Seriously. The win.

You have to admire their gusto, going after the very thing that the idea of sport revolves around. It's almost as if people have forgotten the wise nice man with really poor clock-management skills who taught us the one indisputable fact that drives the engine of competition...


CC Sabathia took the A's behind the woodshed—whatever the hell a woodshed is—on Thursday, allowing just one hit over eight innings to collect his 19th win of the season. Those 19 victories stand against just five losses, and his ERA sits at a tidy 3.02.

You would think numbers like that—all within the prism of being the unquestioned ace of the best team in baseball—would make Sabathia the hands down favorite in the American League Cy Young race.

But the stat geeks say otherwise, and they may even make fun of your educational background as they do.

The geek is convinced that Mariners right-hander Felix Hernandez has been the AL's best pitcher in 2010. They say his mediocre 10-10 record is purely the product of playing for a last-place team, and that if Hernandez and Sabathia switched places, it would be King Felix who would be knocking on the door of his first 20-win season.

That these statements are 100 percent true is beside the point. It's like me saying, "If I were a world-class tennis player with a bottomless bank account and astounding bone structure, it'd be me and not Andy Roddick watching Brooklyn Decker get out of the shower in the morning."

Again, this would (probably) be true. And part of me wants to die after crystallizing the limitations of my life simply to prove a point on this stupid blog. But ultimately it's just an example of how ridiculous it is to disparage what Sabathia has done this season just because he's better setup for success than King Felix.

Now to get the geeks really fired up, I'm about to take it a step further. I'd like to make the case that in addition to the Cy Young award, Sabathia is the American League's MVP in 2010.

Don't scoff. Think about it. Even without Josh Hamilton putting up monster numbers, the Rangers are beating out the weak competition in the AL West. Miguel Cabrera is a bonafide stud, but his team will be lucky to break 80 wins. Robinson Cano has enjoyed a breakout season in the Bronx, but it's safe to say the Yankees were still a playoff team even if he didn't make the leap.

Sabathia, meanwhile, is the one constant on a Yankee rotation being held together by spit and the last shreds of Javier Vazquez's dignity. Without their ace, are the Yankees even a 90-win team this season? Do they win 80?

He's been the rock, the slump buster, the very definition of what an ace is supposed to be. He is, in so many ways, the most valuable player.

Don't let the geeks tell you otherwise.

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