Saturday, September 13, 2003

One down 

It wasn't pretty, but the Yanks won the first game of their double header with the Devil Rays. With Mussina going tonight they're in about as good a position as the could be to sweep the set.

Big day today from Bernie who celebrated his 35th birthday with a 3 for 3, two-homer day. His second was an upper deck shot to right. Good stuff. That makes four homers in the past week. Unfortunately, he's only had two other hits in that time, both singles. Aaron Boone again came through big going two for four with an RBI and two runs scored. In the fourth Boone singled, stole second, then scored when Devil Ray's catcher Pete LaForest deflected the pitch to the backstop in an attempt to catch Boone stealing third. That was the go-ahead run at the time. In the past week Boone has gone from being a non-entity at the plate to being a multi-faceted offensive weapon, raising his average as a Yankee 36 points. It's great to see (even if he does look like he's doing the robot when he runs the bases). Giambi, however, went 0 for 4 with three Ks.

Weaver struggled, but made his way through five innings allowing only three earned runs and walking just one. It wasn't impressive but he spent the whole game listening to Stottlemyre and Flaherty and trying to work through it. He should be commended for his efforts. I was concerned when the first batter of the game singled and he immediately adopted his defeatist body language (which always reminds me of the scene in Wet Hot American Summer where Paul Rudd has to pick up the spoon). When the second hitter also singled the fans jumped all over Weaver, it was gory, but he got out of the inning down only two runs and everyone relaxed after that. Heredia and White pitched the sixth, seventh and eighth. Heredia didn't look great, but White got out of a key bases loaded, one-out jam with the Yanks up by one in the seventh with a pop-up to short and a strikeout. He then let the Devil Rays tie it in the ninth, due in part to a Buckner of his own.

Ruben Sierra hit a home run to dead center to give the Yanks the lead in the bottom of the eighth and Mo finished it off with a four pitch ninth inning. Money.

One last note: Chad Gaudin, who was scheduled to pitch the second game of the double header for the Rays actually pitched in relief in the first game. Piniella will instead throw Carlos Reyes (0-2, 4.82), who has started twice in six appearances for Tampa Bay this year and last pitched in the majors in 2000.

posted by Cliff at 4:26 PM

Friday, September 12, 2003

Keep on rollin' 

The Yanks dropped their magic number to lucky 13 (with #13 Antonio Osuna getting the last three outs) as they continue to do what their supposed to: feast on last-place teams and get their players on track. The big news today is David Wells, Jason Giambi and Aaron Boone. Wells, who showed no indications that his back was bothering him on the mound, proved that Sunday was not a last gasp turning in a strong outing (7 IP, 2 ER, 0 BB) that again resembled his work in the earlier part of the season. Giambi broke out of his slump in a big way going 4 for 5 with homer and a double. That could be huge for the Yanks. Similarly, Aaron Boone, who's been showing signs of coming around of late, went 3 for 3 with a walk, a double and a three-run dinger. The Yanks even got production from Juan Rivera, who went 2 for 4 with a double of his own and 2 RBIs.

Nick Johnson had another great day at the plate, but made a pair of baserunning errors (though neither was inexcusable). Nick's discipline at the plate is so extraordinary that one tends to forget that he's a mere 24 years old and has just over 700 major league at bats. That is to say he's still a rookie in many ways, and it showed on the basepaths today and in the field on Wednesday. While his bat is invaluable, one worries that he or Soriano could commit a costly mental (or fundamental) error in the post season when every out means that much more.

Jeff Nelson struck out the side in the 8th, extending the collective scoreless streak for the Yanks four primary middle relievers (Nelson, Hammond, White, Heredia) to 9 2/3 IP. Osuna, however, gave up two runs in his attempt to get the last three outs in the ninth. Torre made excuses for him after the game, claiming he hadn't pitched in a while, but Osuna pitched on Monday in the Toronto game and then again two days before that. Nelson had an even longer period of inaction before striking out three of the four batters he faced on Wednesday. I think it's safe to say that, unless someone else completely implodes, Osuna won't make the post-season roster. Though, to be fair, Osuna's did a decent job for the Yanks during the first three months of the season (when healthy that is), and his season totals are far from ugly.

The weather forecast is sketchy for the rest of this series, so let's all hope the Yanks are able to get the games in, because with the races so close for the playoff spots there's a solid chance of them being forced to make them up, which could create a scheduling nightmare and run the team down on the eve of the divisional series. Besides, I have tickets for Sunday.

Tomorrow Mike Mussina tries to match Wells with career win 199, while Jeff Weaver pitches the day game. That should be an adventure. Let's hope the White Sox start cooperating, as they didn't tonight.

posted by Cliff at 10:46 PM


Rob Neyer drops science on Greg Maddux's 15-win season streak:

Is Maddux's streak of 16 15-win seasons really more impressive than Cy Young's streak of 19 13-win seasons or Warren Spahn's streak of 17 14-win seasons?

No, not really. If we draw the line at 15, we're doing it simply to glorify Greg Maddux, (whose streak includes two 16-win seasons and three 15-win seasons), and he doesn't need us to glorify him.

Troo dat, check the run down of Maddux's "triple-crown" stats during his streak that accompanies Neyer's article. The nine 18-win seasons (or if you'd rather, seven 19-win seasons) are staggering in and of themselves, but what really blows me away are his ERAs. From '92-'98 his era was over 2.36 only once and over 2.22 (!) only twice . . . in seven seasons! Note that this was also the period when the current offensive explosion took root. Unreal.

posted by Cliff at 2:45 PM

New features 

Look to your left, I've added a couple of new features.

The first and most obvious is the Yankees' magic number, which currently stands at 14. With every Yankee win and Red Sox loss that sucker'll count down until the Yankees have won the division.

Much lower down on the left-hand bar I've added a far less relevant feature. I play on my company's softball team in the summer, and for the first time we're playing in a fall league. For yucks I figured I'd keep track of my stats down at the bottom there. Unlike our summer league, which is very low-key, the fall league has an umpire and balls and strikes (in the summer it's just three swings). Of course, a foul ball with two strikes still counts as strike three and there are all sorts of funky ground rules because of the fields were playing on (for example yesterday we played on a field that was about 180 ft. down the right field line, so any ball hit over that fence to a certain point in center was a grounds rule double), but whatever. Oh, and I won't be posting my team results because, well, we got our rears handed to us in the less-competitive summer league, so . . .

posted by Cliff at 1:44 PM

A job well done 

So it wasn't spectacular, but the Yankees did what they needed to do, completing a three game sweep of the Tigers with a 5-2 victory last night. Everyone in the line-up got a hit except Karim Garcia (yes, even Giambi!). Bernie hit another homer, as did Nick the Stick, Jorge got two more ribbies.

More importantly, the bullpen was extremely effective in this series. In 9 2/3 innings the only run it allowed was a solo home run surrendered by Jorge DePaula (that includes not allowing any inherited runners to score). Note that Antonio Osuna and Jeff Weaver were the only members of the pen not to make an appearance. Yes this was the Detroit Tigers, but having that kind of success is very important for the confidence of the pitchers and, perhaps even more importantly, for Joe Torre's confidence in them. Sure, in a big post-season situation you may not be begging Joe to signal for Gabe White, but having the confidence to go to his pen could keep him from sticking with a starter whose clearly run out of gas. Having confidence in four middle relievers (Nelson, White, Heredia and Hammond) will also protect against Torre's tendency to leave his bullets in the chamber, or to over extend Rivera.

So what we have here is 3 more games off the magic number, increased confidence in and of the bullpen, Matsui hitting, Sori hitting, Nick, Derek and Jorge still hitting, Bernie showing flashes (though he still looks like he should have stayed on the DL for a few more weeks at the very least), even signs of life from Aaron Boone. All on top of a five-game winning streak. What we don't have is anything to hang our hat on from Giambi, or much confidence in the rotation. Sure Wells came through huge on Sunday, but was that a comeback or a last gasp? We'll get some indication tonight as the Yanks begin a four game series against the Devil Rays at home. Meanwhile, neither Pettitte, Clemens nor Contreras was able to really dominate the Tigers. Let's hope this is just that mid-September slump that the starters seem to go through every year before getting their second wind for October.

Things should toughen up against the Rays, who have played exactly .500 ball since the All-Star break. In fact, all four of the Devil Ray starters the Yanks will be facing have winning records(!). Tonight sees Wells face Victor Zambrano, who walks far to many batters, but makes up for it by holding opponents to a .231 average. Tomorrow's split double-header will see Mike Mussina go after his 17th win against Rob Bell--who's finally gotten his walks down but seen his strikeouts disappear with them (35 BB, 34 K in 83.2 IP)--in the nightcap, while the day game will see Jeff Weaver get trotted out against 20-year-old rookie Chad Gaudin, making his 3rd career start. Gaudin, like Weaver, is spot-starting for the Rays who have used him out of the bullpen of late. Wrapping it up on Monday will be Jose Contreras, who reports no lingering effects from his sprained ankle against Detroit (though he's developing a reputation for not 'fessing up to his injuries), against another rookie, Doug Waechter. Waechter's first start was a complete game, two-hit shutout of the Mariners on Sept. 3. His next start against Toronto on Tuesday was more typical (6 IP, 8 H, 4 ER), though he still earned a win and his K/BB ratios suggest the 22-year-old may find a home in the Tampa Bay rotation next year. Surely Piniella and the Tampa Bay brass will be paying close attention to his performance over remaining two weeks of the season.

You assume the double header will be split, as they almost all are these days. Fitting then that Weaver's pitching one of the games. Otherwise, one hopes the Yanks can find a way to win tonight and Sunday and build on the progress made against the Tigers while Boston tangles with the very dangerous White Sox. Let's see if the Yanks can get that magic number into the single digits by the time they fly to Baltimore.

posted by Cliff at 12:42 PM

Thursday, September 11, 2003


Check out this brief, but Insightful article by Bob Klapisch on Matsui and Contreras's adjustments to the major leagues. The Contreras portions are particularly enlightening.

posted by Cliff at 5:10 PM

Spreading the word/spread the word 

I've added a new link to the left, Ben Jacob's Universal Baseball Blog, Inc.. An attractive, informative, well-written blog on all things baseball. Worth checking out, even if he is a dirty Sawks fan. Be sure to check out his Sept. 9 entry on Mike Mussina and the elusive 20-win season.

Also, I wanted to call special attention to Alex Belth's Bronx Banter and Steven Goldman's Pinstriped Bible.

Goldman does have the advantage of a pay check and a weekly schedule, but neither of those things account for the fantastic combination of no-nonsense analysis, humor, culture and history that makes up his column week-in and week-out. His column now publishes on Tuesdays. It should be required reading for all net-savvy Yankee fans.

Belth, meanwhile, was my primary inspiration for this blog. Though our differences are plentiful enough, his mind (and reading eye) often wander toward the same places as mine. Any regular BRB reader should be sure to check out his blog as well as I'll often avoid posting on subjects or, more frequently, including links that he's beaten me to.

Lastly, I've noticed that some of you out there seem to be catching on to this thing that I do here. I just wanted to ask you to help spread the word. I don't profit in any way from this thing, but it sure is a lot easier to write when I know there are readers out there. Thanks for reading.

posted by Cliff at 3:12 PM

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Dat's what I'm talkin' about! 

15-5. Now that's what the Yanks are supposed to do to the Tigers. Unfortunately neither Bernie nor Giambi came up with a hit in that 15-run onslaught (Giambi 0 for 3 with a walk and an RBI, Bernie 0 for 2 with three walks, two runs scored and an RBI). The master blaster was Jorge Posada who hit a grand slam in the 8th and went 3 for 4 with a walk, two runs scored and seven RBIs. Matsui also had a big day and I think can be officially declared slump-free (2 for 5, with a homer, a double, three RBIs and a run scored). Things went so well for the Yanks at the plate that even Aaron Boone went deep (2 for 5, HR, RBI, two runs scored).

It wasn't pretty, however, as both teams committed four errors, three of them by Nick Johnson, who dropped a foul ball and did his best Bill Buckner impression at first. At least he had the courtesy to create more runs than he let in (2 for 3, homer, RBI, 2 walks, four runs scored). In fact, Detroit first sacker Carlos Pena also committed three errors. That's six errors by first basemen in one game. Awful.

Pettitte didn't pitch particularly well, but picked up his 18th win. Things got particularly ugly for Andy in the four-run top of the third. Andy struck out the side in that inning, but in between he walked three and made a horrible play on a comebacker. That was also the inning that Nick Johnson decided to do his Buckner bit. Just ugly.

Hopefully the Yanks can sweep up tomorrow against Nate "Ball In Play" Cornejo. I wonder if Henson will get that start (probably not).

Some other notes . . .

Contreras (through his translator) on his ankle on ESPN.com: "Initially I thought it was a lot worse. I don't think that it really affected me. I just couldn't finish my pitches." He though it was worse? But still refused to come out of the game? Twice! Don't do us any favors, okay, Jose?

Also on ESPN.com, I love this item:

Who's got the biggest head?
For at least the third time this season, rookie right-hander Matt Roney won a "hat-off," the Detroit Free Press reported Sept. 10. Bullpen catcher Todd Maulding arranged the competition with Yankees left fielder Hideki Matsui before the Sept. 9 game. "We switched hats to see who had the biggest head," Roney told the Japanese media. Matsui weighed in with a size 8, but it wasn't big enough. Roney wears an 8 1/4

Lastly, there's been so much talk about the 2003 Tigers and the 1962 Mets that I thought I'd take a look at the two teams side-by-side. Just looking at their "starting" nine, there are some remarkable similarities. Check out these very basic stats (Tigers stats through 9/9/03, starters defined as players with most games at each position):

MetsMarv Throneberry.2441649357 AB
TigersCarlos Pena.2491842390 AB

MetsCharlie Neal.2601158
TigersWarren Morris.274429277 AB

MetsElio Chacon.236227368 AB, 12 SB
TigersRamon Santiago.220219382 AB, 8 SB

MetsFelix Mantilla.2751159
TigersEric Munson.2401850313 AB

MetsChris Cannizzaro.24109133 AB
TigersBrandon Inge.204829275 AB

Little bit of finagling in the outfield. Not a problem that there's no Met DH to compare, as Dmitri Young has the most games at both DH and LF for the Tigers (though Craig Monroe will soon pass him in left), but to make our comparison work better (alarmingly so), I've put Tiger CF Alex Sanchez up against Met RF Richie Ashburn and Met CF Jim Hickman up against Tiger RF Bobby Higginson:

MetsJim Hickman.2451346392 AB
TigersBobby Higginson.2401347

MetsRichie Ashburn.308728389 AB, 12 SB
TigersAlex Sanchez.280117328 AB, 32 SB

MetsFrank Thomas.2663498
TigersDmitri Young.2882874

(Without getting into the sabermetric nuts and bolts of it, both teams played in pitchers parks so there's no real need for adjustment there. Running these numbers with three weeks left in the season probably helps correct somewhat for the fact that we're comparing a team from the pitching-dominated '60s to a team from the homer-happy '00s.)

What I found startling about all this is how similar the production from each position is for each team, at times eerily so. Pena, Higginson, Throneberry and Hickman all have almost identical numbers. Both shortstops are offensive black-holes who can run in the rare instance that they get on base. Sanchez and Ashburn both hit for average and run well but can't drive in a run to save their lives. And the best hitter (by far) on each team is the left fielder.

Oh, and as for the team totals?


I don't know what's more amazing, the similarity between the two or just how bad these teams really are.

posted by Cliff at 10:52 PM

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

A win's a win 

The Tigers played a much better game than the Yankees tonight, but since they're a vastly inferior team they came up short anyway, losing 4-2. Not the sort of game the Yanks needed, a nailbiter decided in the bottom of the 8th on a soft single. At least that single came from Bernie Williams.

Contreras pitched well until the 5th. In that inning he lost a shoe coming off the mound on a bunt single by Alex Sanchez to the right side of the infield. He appeared to tweak his ankle. Torre and Donahue came out but Contreras said he was okay, he got the next batter to ground into a fielder's choice but then walked Bobby Higginson to load the bases. Torre & Donahue came out again and again returned to the dugout without Contreras. Jose then walked in the tying run and Joe pulled him in favor of Felix Heredia, who got the final out. X-rays on the ankle were negative, he's listed as day-to-day with a mild sprane.

Nate Robertson, meanwhile, settled down after giving up two in the first on a Posada single. He left with the score tied and still hasn't recorded a loss in five starts with the Tigers. Impressive.

Some other notes on the game: Giambi didn't play against the lefty Robertson despite having his first multi-hit game since Aug. 16 yesterday, breaking a 1 for 40 rut. Odd choice by Torre there. Jeff Nelson struck out the first three batters he faced including Craig Monroe looking with the bases loaded and two outs in the 7th (on a very close pitch). The Tigers loaded the bases twice (thrice if Contreras walking Dmitri Young with the bases loaded counts as re-loading them) tonight. According to the CBS-TV broadcast, the Tigers had loaded the bases 64 times this season coming into the game . . . in 142 games. By comparison the Yanks have loaded the bases 155 times this season. The Yankees didn't get a single extra base hit in the game.

Meanwhile, I'm thinking if the Yanks win tomorrow they should give Drew Henson (the guy who took a tumble off the third base bag on his way to score the winning run for Jorge Posada tonight) the start at third on Thursday. I mean, Cornejo doesn't strike anyone out and Aaron Boone isn't exactly the key to the Yankee offense right now. Could be a good move for him, even if he has no future in this sport.

posted by Cliff at 10:37 PM

Cure for what ails 'em? 

The Yanks picked up that half game in my big-picture scenario yesterday thanks to a very timely offensive explosion that involved big contributions from two of the big-three slumpers, Jason Giambi (2 for 3, 2 BB) and Hideki Matsui (3 for 5, 2B, 3 RBI). Add that to Bernie's decisive dinger from Sunday and all the pieces are in place for this team to build up some momentum against the abysmal Detroit Tigers.

The Yanks won't see 20-game loser Mike Maroth, but the three pitchers they will face (Nate Robertson, Gary Knotts and Nate Cornejo) have their fair share of ugly numbers. Robertson, who's started just four games and has actually managed a winning record (1-0) in those four, is the only of the three with more strikeouts than walks (!), but his WHIP is 1.68. Cornejo is the only Detroit pitcher other than Maroth to remain in the rotation throughout the season (20 year-old rookie Jeremy Bonderman was, wisely, removed from the rotation last week to spare the strain on his young arm--and possibly to keep him from joining Maroth with 20 loses, he has 18 loses and 149.2 innings pitched this season). Cornejo has also been the Tigers' most successful starter. His 4.40 ERA is well over a run better than those of Bonderman and Maroth. In fact, lefty specialist Jamie Walker is the only Tiger pitcher with more than 20 innings pitched and a better ERA than Cornejo. For his efforts Cornejo has been rewarded with a 6-14 record. His most notable stats, however, are his BB/K numbers:

167.2 IP 50 BB . . . 38K

That is not a typo. Thirty-eight strikeouts in 167.2 IP. Only three other Tiger pitchers have more than 100 IP (Maroth and Bonderman and current Colorado Rocky Adam Bernero), but nine pitchers have struck out as many or more men in a Tiger uniform this season than Nate Cojerno has in 167.2 IP, and it's very possible that Chris Spurling (33 K/67.2 IP) will become the tenth (tenth!) before the season ends. Cornejo is currently averaging 2.04 K/9IP. As Nate Silver pointed out on ESPN.com back in early June in this column about low strikeout rates, "no pitcher has maintained a strikeout rate of fewer than two batters per nine in a season in which he started at least 25 games since 1949."

What does all this mean for the Yankees? Well, in real-life terms nothing really. Any one of these guys could flip a coin onto its side and pitch a shut-out. Such is baseball. But on paper this means that there has never been a better time than right now for the stumbling Yankee offense to find it's stride. Tacking a few productive games against the Tigers on to yesterday's outburst and Sunday's emotional victory could easily carry over into their 14 remaining games against Tampa Bay and Baltimore, leaving the three in Chicago as the season's only remaining test. Remember the Yanks have to be no more than three games worse than Boston against (essentially) identical competition through the remainder of the season. I see this as a "wouldn't it be nice?" Larry Mahnken over at the Replacement Level Yankee Weblog sees it as absolutely essential to the Yankees season.

On a less pressing subject: Moose's victory last night was the 198th of his career. Wells' win on Sunday was his 198th as well. Throw in Clemens and Pettitte and the top four members of the Yankee rotation have 847 career wins. That means they average almost 212 wins. That's insane. I wonder what Jayson Stark would make out of those numbers. There's a strong chance both Boomer and Moose will win their 200th by year's end. Just for fun the Tiger's top four (Maroth, Cornejo, Knotts & Bonderman) . . . 35 career wins, led by Maroth's 12. The grand total of career wins to date by every pitcher who has thrown a pitch for the Tigers this year: 226. 152 of those belong to Steve Avery (96) and the departed Steve Sparks (56), leaving 74 for the remaining 18 Tiger pitchers, an average of just over 4 career wins each (admittedly that number is skewed by September call-ups with 0 wins).

posted by Cliff at 3:27 PM

Monday, September 08, 2003

How the other half lives 

The Sports Guy (Bill Simmons of ESPN.com's Page 2) officially and irreversibly jumped the shark when he moved to L.A. to write for Jimmy Kimmel's Chevy-Chase-level late-night talkshow, but he's still capable of the occasional gem. His running diary of yesterday's Sox-Yanks matchup isn't one, but it's close. A great slice of life from the point of view of a Boston sports fan.

posted by Cliff at 3:00 PM

All's well that ends Wells 

What a perfect day at the ball park! Beautiful weather, a great pitchers duel that wasted no time getting to the good stuff (scoreless late innings), good stadium eats, my girl at my side, Yankees v. Sox with playoff implications. Doesn't get much better.

Go figure that the Wells-Suppan matchup would be the gem of the series. Go figure how Wells was suddenly able to return to his early season form (7.1 IP, 0 ER, 1 BB). Most, including Torre, have attributed it to Wells' ability to come through in big situations. I can't say I have any other explanation. That's why Yankee fans love Boomer. You can't get much better than this storyline: Forty-year-old veteran pitcher who helped lead the Yankees through their greatest season looks washed up due to a deteriorating back. In what is likely one of the final regular season starts of his career he's saddled with the job of salvaging the final game of the season against the team's most bitter rival, to help the team hold on to first place, to decide the season series. Meanwhile, the Yankee offense is in a crippling slump coming off two games against that same rival in which they were outscored 20-3. Slumping so badly that they make journeyman opposing pitcher Jeff Suppan look like a master through the first six innings, collecting just one hit against him. The Red Sox, meanwhile, are surging offensively, but Wells . . . well he blanks 'em for 7+ innings. Stupendous. In addition to Wells, how great is it that the big blast came off the bat of Bernie Williams, who's looked nearly crippled on the field of late, who had hit just one homer in the Bronx this season prior to yesterday, whose slugging percentage had dropped below .400 and whose batting average had dropped nineteen points in his last fourteen games? Never mind the fact that the ball landed no more than 10 feet to my left (schweet). What about Captain Derek Jeter forcing his way back into the line-up despite his manager's objections, determined to play in this crucial game, and then collecting that lone early-inning hit against Suppan and adding a stolen base to boot? Slentaculiferous.

[Check out Jay Jaffe's The Futility Infielder for a nice combination of myth-making and recapping]

So the Yanks win the season series against the Bosox 10-9 (which in addition to bragging rights, gives them a tie-break over the Sox in the event of a regular-season tie in the standings) and hold a 2 1/2 (3 in the loss column) game lead in the East. All they have to do from here on out is play as well as (or, really, no more than two games worse than) the Red Sox against the same second-division teams. Hopefully the offense can right itself and Wells can build on yesterday's start. If the starting pitching can eat up innings against the league's weaker sisters it should help the bullpen get itself sorted out (wishful thinking to say the least).

I'm tempted to try to track the rest of the season by opponent (comparing the Yanks seven games against Baltimore against the Red Sox seven against Baltimore etc.) but as they face them in almost exact opposite order, it's just not very practical. At the same time, looking at the big picture tonight's game is the odd game that will erase the 1/2 game from the standings (even though that won't actually happen until the Red Sox off-day on Thursday, after which it'll reappear with the Yanks double-header against the Devil Rays on Saturday, and then finally disappear when the Sox play Baltimore on the 25th . . . you see how this doesn't really work?), which means tonight's game puts the Yanks in sole control of a full-game swing in the standings. It's a rematch of last week's 4-3 loss at Skydome, a solid pitchers' duel between Moose and Kelvim Escobar that the Yanks lost due to some sloppy play around second by Alfonso Soriano and Toronto's ability to make the most of their outs, scoring half of their runs on sacrifice flies. It's anybody's ballgame . . .

posted by Cliff at 10:18 AM

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