OPENING DAY U-TURN
The pomp of the first Opening Day at Yankee Stadium: The Sequel was all well and good, but in the end the club has to execute. The Yankees confronted a 2-7 Indians club led by Cliff Lee, a potential flash in the pan who had been thoroughly mistreated by his every opponent in Spring Training and his first two starts. The Yankees bowed, in part because the offense stranded 27 runners, in part because Jose Veras and Damaso Marte (who hasn’t been the same pitcher with the Yankees he was prior) played arsonist, and if you’re looking for a third culprit, point to CC Sabathia, who negated his ability to throw 120 pitches by burning through them in less than six innings.
Thanks the amazing nine-run seventh inning pitched by Veras and Marte, pitching will receive the bill for this afternoon’s debacle, but the offense could have changed the complexion of the game at any time. Despite getting the first hit at YS: TS, Johnny Damon stranded five runners. Despite hitting the first home run at YS: TS, Jorge Posada stranded six. Special credit must go to Cody Ransom. Ransom’s first at-bat came in the second inning with one out and Robby Cano at second base. The third baseman struck out. In his next at-bat, in the bottom of the fourth, he batted with Hideki Matsui on first base and flew out to right field. He came to the plate again in the fifth with runners on first and third. He grounded to short. Runners were on first and second with two outs in the bottom of the seventh when Ransom struck out again. Finally, with one out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, the Yankees just looking for some dignity, or maybe a miracle comeback, Ransom grounded into a 4-6-3 double play. He left nine runners on base, and presumably because the Yankees are carrying 13 pitchers and no bench players, Joe Girardi let him.
The Yankees’ 5-5 start is discouraging, but it’s not as depressing as is Ransom’s first 10 games as A-Rod substitute. Ransom is not a kid. He’s a 33-year-old vet. He has had six shots at a big league career since 2001 without ever catching on. We are likely looking at his last chance to have at least a single season in the major leagues, first as Alex Rodriguez’s substitute, then as his caddy. The odds were against Ransom succeeding, because his long experience in the minors showed that he would not hit with enough consistency. Despite this, his small-sample hot streak of last fall gave hope that he could make it. This is the kind of player who is great fun to root for. Unfortunately, Ransom is now 3-for-30 with 10 strikeouts, and it is difficult to see how the Yankees can afford to keep playing him, however quickly A-Rod is expected to come back, or even how they can retain him on the Major League roster once Rodriguez is active. Thursday’s defeat had many fathers, but any kind of contribution from Ransom early on might have meant a different complexion to the game.
Meanwhile, despite the best efforts of Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano, the rest of the offense has yet to click into gear. The Swisher-free components of the outfield have been a total loss, and there’s a danger that that could be a season-long affliction. Hideki Matsui has looked very sluggish, and Mark Teixeira’s wrist and penchant for slow starts has crippled his numbers. Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter have hung in, but four bats is well short of an offensive load. Take out the 11 runs the Yankees scored against Baltimore in the third game of the season and the club is averaging just 4.2 runs of offense per game. You don’t want to hit the panic button after 10 games, and some of the elements will heat up a bit, even Ransom — but heat is relative. They may not heat up enough to make a truly potent offense. That’s something that Brian Cashman is going to have to watch.
Sailor Bob Shawkey was the first starting pitcher at Yankee Stadium, and CC Sabathia will go down as the first at YS: TS. What was not noted today was that Sailor Bob’s history with the Yankees was contentious. After a very good, just-south-of-Cooperstown career, Shawkey became the manager of the Yankees in 1930, replacing Miller Huggins, who had died during the previous season. The club went 86-68, finishing third, and Shawkey was viewed as a failure because former teammates like Babe Ruth wouldn’t take him all that seriously (one wonders who Ruth did take seriously). In an especially coldhearted move, the Yankees replaced Shawkey with Joe McCarthy but didn’t bother telling him. Shawkey happened to walk into GM Ed Barrow’s office as McCarthy was heading out and put two and two together. “It was a dirty deal,” Shawkey said. In anticipation of Yogi Berra years later, Shawkey cut off all contact with the team. He didn’t return until the threw out the first pitch at the renovated Yankee Stadium — 45 years later. He was 85 years old.
I wonder if the opening day crowd of 2054 will get to see a first pitch from a 73-year-old Sabathia. Try to hang on if you can. I’ll try too, and we’ll talk about it then.
Always interesting to see who gets a hand and who doesn’t when players are announced individually. There wasn’t even polite applause for Indians coach Joel Skinner, who caught for the Yankees for three seasons. I guess fans have forgotten his amazing inability to make contact — in 556 at-bats with the Yankees he struck out 158 times, hitting .214/.299/.253. In comparison to Skinner, Jose Molina is Mickey Cochrane. Maybe they do remember, but are still mad that the Yankees gave up Ron Hassey for him…
…They definitely remembered Carl Pavano. That was clear.
THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
- Another depressing bit: many fans and pundits held out hope that this would be the year that Royals’ third baseman Alex Gordon really took off. Instead, he’s headed for surgery with a cartilage tear in his right hip. No word on when he’ll be back as of yet.
- I keep forgetting to mention Dewayne Wise separating his shoulder and thus exiting the Chicago White Sox’ lineup. He was another player, like Nady (though a far lesser talent than Nady), whose use I railed against. As with Nady, I’d rather he take a seat than take a surgeon…
- Unless Tony LaRussa gets caught taking betting tips from Pete Rose, he’s going to the Hall of Fame. If he manages to keep his Cardinals winning at anything like their present (8-3) rate with the roster he has, he’ll have gone an extra length towards earning his plaque. Of course, today’s game against the Cubs was their first against a team of any real talent.
ONE MORE QUICK NOTE ON JETERIAN DEFENSE
Last year, opposition batters put 4,351 balls in play against the Yankees. They turned 68 percent of them into outs, which is a low rate. Boston turned 70 percent of balls in play against them into outs. The Rays turned 71 percent of balls in play against them into outs. These differences may seem small, but over the course of a season they can make a difference in a pennant race. Had the Yankees caught balls at the rate that the Red Sox did, for example, they would have retired an additional 74 batters. Had they fielded them at the Rays’ rate, they would have put out an additional 122 batters. The Yankees only allowed 1,170 fly balls all season long, so you can’t blame the entire shortfall on Bobby Abreu letting balls drop at the base of the wall. Their rate of line drives allowed was actually on the low side. Only so many balls were pulled down the lines past Jason Giambi or Alex Rodriguez. No one is to blame, apparently, and yet the balls weren’t caught. This happens year after year — the Yankees don’t catch as many balls as the opposition does, but no one is to blame.
This isn’t an argument. This isn’t subjective. Weak Yankees defense is a fact. You can choose not to see it when you watch a game. In the end, though, you have to account for what actually happens in those games. If the fielders weren’t at fault, then what happened? Unexpected stadium tilt? The moons of Saturn get in their eyes?
WE KNOW A REMOTE FARM IN LINCOLNSHIRE WHERE MRS. BUCKLEY LIVES… EVERY JULY, PEAS GROW THERE
The moment the Marlins bagged on former Angels’ prospect Dallas McPherson, the 28-year-old who led the minors in home runs last year, his name was circulated as a potential A-Rod sub. McPherson clearly has left-handed power, and the Yankees can use all the power they can get this year. There are two problems: First, McPherson strikes out so much that he would have trouble maintaining a .300 on-base percentage in the majors. Second, his defense at third is suspect. I’ve been skeptical of Cody Ransom’s ability to hit for average as well, but he should be able to field the position and hit a couple of home runs of his own. I figure the added defense makes Ransom a better fit than McPherson, or at least makes the two a wash. Now, you can argue about McPherson being a better bench asset than Angel Berroa or Ramiro Pena, but until Rodriguez comes back you might be forced to actually play him at third base if Derek Jeter leaves a game early, requiring Ransom to slide over to short.
It just occurred to me, reading what I just wrote in the context of our first item, above, that the Yankees worry an awful lot about defense but get very little out it.
If there’s a market for Gary Sheffield’s services, there’s a market for Nick Swisher or Xavier Nady. One also wonders if the Phillies would like to adopt Melky Cabrera — now that Geoff Jenkins has been released, their only reserve outfielder is Matt Stairs. They have rookie John Mayberry on the 40-man as well, but like Stairs he seems to be strictly corner material. Former Yankee Chad Moeller is going to back up Gregg Zaun for the O’s, at least until Matt Wieters comes up. Henry Blanco is going to be the starting backstop for the Padres. Consider those two pieces of information and feel free to speculate about a possible Jose Molina trade market. Say the Yankees brought up Frankie Cervelli halfway through the season, and… but no.