Friday, April 16, 2004

Game 1: Red Sox 6, Yankees 2 

Awww, who am I kidding. As disenchanted as I had become with the excecive hype surrounding this series, and as much as the dreadful FOX telecast pulled out every stop to ruin the feel of the game, I couldn't help but get caught up in tonight's action.

I was on the edge of my seat in three consecutive innings with the Yankees trailing late in the game.

1) Sixth inning, Yanks trailing 2-5. After a Jeter groundout, A-Rod is safe at first on an infield single that should have been an error (Reese bobbled the ball at short) and probably should have been an out (the replay showed that Rodriquez was out by no more than an inch). Giambi walks to put runners at first and second. Gary Sheffield steps in to face Tim Wakefield and works the count to 3-1. This is where I'm rivited. Joe Torre has seen the light and is batting Posada sixth ahead of Matsui today. The way I see it, Sheff either does some damage on this pitch or he walks and Jorge, who homered to dead center off Wakefield earlier in the game, steps in with one out and the bases loaded representing the tying run.

Sheffield misses badly on a Wakefield knuckler to run the count full, but before I can even register that, Sox catcher Doug Mirabelli fires to third to nail Rodriguez on an attempted steal. Two outs. Stupified, I've completely lost track of the count and am unable to get my bearings straight (badump bump) before an unhittable Wakefield knuckler floats toward Sheffield's head then drops into the strike zone for a called strike three. Inning over.

Wait! What just happened?! Tweedle Glib and Tweedle Dum (that'd be Buck and McCarver) posit that Rodriguez must have been running on his own. Still bewildered, I agree. Who runs on a 3-1 count to Gary Sheffield when Sheff represents the tying run and Jorge Posada is on deck? A-Rod fuming in the dugout seems to comfirm this opinion. But wait, what's he talking to Luis Sojo about? Maybe he missed a sign. Possible. He is the new guy. In all the confusion I failed to notice that Giambi moved to second on A-Rod's attempted steal of third. By golly, Torre had sent the runners!

Joe's done this with Sheffield at the plate at least twice already this season. To my recollection, the count was full both times. The logic is that Sheffield walks more than he strikes out, so it's worth the gamble to get the nearly immobile Giambi in motion in the hope of staying out of a double play. So far it worked once. Once it resulted in a strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play. And now this disaster. Okay, that's enough of that. I'll take my chances on those standard issue DPs until they become a problem. Thanks anyway, Joe.

2) Seventh inning, Yanks trailing 2-6. After Posada grounds out, Matsui and Williams walk. Realizing Enrique Wilson is due up next I groan and rest my hopes on the fact that he'll only make one out, not two. But then Joe sends up Tony Clark. Tony Clark! I thought he was a non-Yankee! Clark bats righty against the right-handed knuckler while FOX shows numerous shots of Ruben Sierra lurking on the bench. Wakefield's first two knucklers miss, 2-0. He then "fires" two "fastballs" on the outside corner. I don't think either pitch broke 80 miles per hour. Clark, expecting the knuckler, takes both of them for strikes. Clark has been set up. The count is now 2-2 and he just took two batting practice fastballs in a key game situation. Everyone watching knows Clark is swinging and Wakefield is going back to the knuckler. He does and he does, the pitch floats way outside and Clark doesn't come close, strike three. Kenny Lofton grounds out for the final out.

3) They saved the best for last. Eighth inning, Yanks still down 2-6. With Scott Williamson in in relief of Wakefield, Jeter and A-Rod ground out and line-out for the first two outs. Jason Giambi follows with a nine-pitch at-bat that ends when Williamson gets him to hit a lazy pop out to Manny Ramirez in left. Except Ramirez is even more lazy. He half-heartedly attempts to catch the ball by holding his glove at shoulder height and leaning in toward the play. The ball hits the heal of his glove and rolls away! Giambi's safe at first!

Some could argue that Giambi, who jogged out the fly rather than busting it down to first, should have been on second--I've seen Giambi run and disagree. All of that is made irrelevent, however, when Williamson's second pitch to Gary Sheffield scoots past Mirabelli for a wild pitch, sending Giambi to second. Sheffield then walks. Williamson's second pitch to Posada also gets by Mirabelli, moving the runners up to second and third. Posada then walks. All of a sudden Williamson has gone from an easy 1-2-3 inning to bringing the tying run to the plate. As all of this stemmed from a classic Manny boner, I'm loooving every second of it. Once Hideki Matsui is announced, Terry Francona pops out of the Red Sox dugout to bring in Alan Embree to face him (insert Grady Little reference here). I know Matsui's cooked, but I'm just rooting for a bleeder that will get one run home. Just one run to rub in Manny's face. Embree comes with straight heat. Matsui fouls the first two off with solid swings, but just misses the third. Inning over. Drat.

One other note from that inning. Remember how everyone was wondering about Giambi's ability to handle the high heat in spring training? Well Williamson poured high fast one after high fast one to Giambi. They were all mid-90s and up around the letters and Giambi fouled three of them off before popping the last one to Manny in left. In the playoffs last year he wouldn't have touched any of those pitches. Wouldn't have even come close. Giambi's struck out just once this year while walking 13 times. He's not hitting much more than anyone else (.240), but his OBP is .525 and he's second on the club with two home runs (tied with Bubba behind Jorge), second in slugging (again to Jorge, who has just eight hits, but five home runs) and first in OPS. So far, so good.

As for the rest of tonight's game. Wakefield worked that magic that he had in his two starts against the Yankees in the ALCS. Outside of Jorge's blast in the second he allowed just four other hits, all singles, one of them A-Rod's error/out in the sixth.

For the Yankees, Javier Vazquez, pitching on seven day's rest, was smacked around in the first, no thanks to his defense or the umpires. Damon lead off with a hard-hit ball that Giambi flubbed for an error. Bill Mueller followed with a homer into the Boston bullpen. After striking out Ortiz, Vazquez gave up a long fly ball to Ramirez that hit the top of the right field wall not too far fair of the Pesky Pole. The ball was impropery ruled a home run. In reality, the call didn't cost Vazquez and the Yankees anything as Ramirez would have wound up on third had it been ruled correctly and was followed by a Kevin Millar single off the monster that would have scored him anyway. A fielders choice and a walk later, a Mirabelli grounder took a funny hop right through Derek Jeter's legs, scoring another run. Ninth hitter, Pokey Reese flied out and the Yanks were in a 4-0 hole before their fourth batter made it to the plate.

Vazquez settled down from there, even striking out the side in the third. Although he never did get Mueller out, the Yankees managed to erase him via a double play and a caught stealing so that Vazquez only faced one more than the minimum in the second, third, fourth and fifth. That one was an opposite field home run by Doug Mirabelli. All of the balls that were really hit hard off of Vazquez were very straight fastballs that clocked in between 88 and 90 miles per hour and were belt high or above. Simply a case of Vazquez either not being sharp or overthrowing. I wouldn't worry about him. His curve still had a nice hop and considering his dreadful first inning, his final line of 5 1/3 IP, 9 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 3 HR could have been a lot worse. He gets the White Sox on normal rest next time out. Expect something closer to his opening day start.

Other items of note from the game: Paul Quantril faced one batter in the sixth, using four pitches to get Pokey Reese to ground out into a nice play by Derek Jeter to retire the lead runner heading home, but was pulled immediately due to some concern over his knee. After the game, Joe Torre said that he thinks Quantrill is fine, but you can tell that he's a little concerned.

Both Jorge DePaula and Donovan Osborne, one of whom will start against the White Sox on Tuesday in Chicago, pitched tonight. DePaula got his first two batters on six pitches, including inducing Manny Ramirez into an inning-ending double play in the seventh, but after getting the first out in the eighth, walked the bases loaded on 14 pitches (one foul strike, one called strike). Osborne then relieved DePaula, inducing Pokey Reese into an inning ending double play on four pitches to escape the jam unharmed.

In other fifth-starter news, Jon Lieber started his first extended spring training game today, allowing two hits and no runs, walking none and striking out three in three innings. He threw 23 of 32 pitches for strikes, a 92-mile-per-hour fastball, and reported no pain in his groin or his arm. Lieber, who claimed he wasn't as sharp as he would have liked, will start in another extended spring traning game on Tuesday. Joe Torre thinks he could be ready to join the Yanks in "three or four starts," which would put his return right on schedule in the first half of May.

Travis Lee, meanwhile, could be back before the current Red Sox series is over. If not, he'll most likely join the club in Chicago on Tuesday. I dread that day.

Tomorrow's day game is the first big-name pitching match-up of the season, with Mike Mussina taking the hill against Curt Schilling. Despite Tuesday's rain out, Joe Torre wisely shuffled the rotation around Mussina to keep him on a maximum six day's rest. Moose struggled in the first inning of his last start, but seemd to put things together after that. I expect him to finally find his comfort level, taking his third regular turn and pitching in a park in which he's had a great deal of success in the past. That said, take a look at some of Schilling's stats from his first two starts: 14 IP, 12 H (.222 BAA), 1 BB (0.93 WHIP), 17 K. Moose will have to be more than just comfortable to give the still-overanxious Yankee offense a chance. I'll admit it, for all my bah-humbuging, I'm hooked on this series. That said, I'll be out enjoying the beautiful weather we're supposed to have tomorrow. If things get ugly, I suggest you do the same.

posted by Cliff at 11:37 PM

AL East Preview (part 2) 

Okay, having qualified my enthusiasm for this series, let's see what we're dealing with here.

First, let's take a look at the Red Sox in the usual BRB style:

Boston Red Sox

2003 Record: 95-67 (.586), AL Wild Card, beat A's 3-2 in ALDS, lost 3-4 to Yankees in ALCS
2003 Pythagorean Record: 94-68 (.580)

Manager: Terry Francona
General Manager: Theo Epstein

Ballpark (2003 park factors): Fenway Park (105/104)

Who's replacing whom?

Mark Bellhorn replaces Todd Walker
Pokey Reese replaces Damian Jackson
Ellis Burks replaces Jeremy Giambi
Cesar Crespo replaces Shea Hillenbrand
Curt Schilling replaces John Burkett
Keith Foulke replaces Brandon Lyon
Bobby M. Jones replaces Casey Fossum
Frank Castillo replaces Jeff Suppan
Mark Malaska replaces Scott Sauerbeck

The Boston Red Sox's current roster:

1B - David Ortiz
2B - Mark Bellhorn
SS - Pokey Reese
3B - Bill Mueller
C - Jason Varitek
RF - Kevin Millar
CF - Johnny Damon
LF - Manny Ramirez
DH - Ellis Burks


R - Gabe Kapler (OF)
R - Dave McCarty (OF)
S - Cesar Crespo (IF)
R - Doug Mirabelli (C)


R - Pedro Martinez
R - Curt Schilling
R - Derek Lowe
R - Tim Wakefield
R - Bronson Arroyo


R - Keith Foulke
R - Mike Timlin
L - Alan Embree
R - Scott Williamson
L - Bobby M. Jones
L - Mark Malaska
R - Frank Castillo

Disabled List:

R - Nomar Garciaparra (SS)
L - Trot Nixon (OF)
R - Byung-Hyun Kim
R - Ramiro Mendoza
R - Jason Shiell
R - Reynaldo Garcia (60-day)

Approximate starting line-up:

L - Johnny Damon (CF)
S - Bill Mueller (3B)
R - Ellis Burks (DH)
R - Manny Ramirez (LF)
L - David Ortiz (1B)
R - Kevin Millar (RF)
S - Jason Varitek (C)
S - Mark Bellhorn (S)
R - Pokey Reese (R)

Actually, the above line-up is what the Red Sox have been playing against lefties. Against righties they've been sitting Burks, playing Ortiz at DH, Millar at first and Gabe Kapler in right. Looking at their splits, neither Kapler nor Burks was of much use against righties in 2003, while both hit well against them in 2002. The primary difference between the two is that Burks, provided he can come back from an injury-shortened 2003, is a better all-around hitter (which is why I've chosen that version of the line-up to list above), while putting Kapler in right and Millar at first represents a defensive upgrade at two positions on the right side of the field.

Let's pretend for a moment that Nomar and Trot Nixon are not on the DL. That would force Bellhorn and Reese into a platoon at second, bump the Burks/Kapler platoon to the bench and send Crespo and either McCarty or a superfluous reliever to the minors. This way we can take a look at how this year's Sox compare to the team that came within five outs of the World Series in 2003.

The Red Sox had a historically productive offense in 2003, slugging .491 and scoring 961 runs. The law of regression alone tells us that they won't be as good in 2004. But does close inspection bear this out? The conventional wisdom on the Sox says that many of the their hitters had career years in 2003 and are sure to regress in 2004. While not false entirely false, this is clearly an exaggeration. The only Red Sock to play completely out of his mind in 2003 was Bill Mueller. A career .286/.370/.399 hitter prior to last season, Mueller hit .326/.398/.540 in 2003, his age-32 season. While Mueller was helped quite a bit by playing half of his games in Fenway Park, he still hit .309/.373/.530 on the road with 13 of his 19 home runs coming outside of Boston. He's sure to regress from those numbers in 2004, particularly the 140-point jump in slugging, though how much remains a mystery.

The second best candidate for career-year syndrome is Trot Nixon. Nixon was a .271/.349/.476 hitter before exploding with a .306/.396/.578 season last year at age 29. The key difference between Nixon and Mueller is that, while no one ever expected Mueller to put up numbers like he did last year, Nixon has long been ticketed for a big year. That it came at age 29, as opposed to Mueller's 32, could be the sign of a slightly late peak rather than a full-on fluke. Nixon should experience some correction, but if can stay healthy, it shouldn't be nearly as much as Mueller's. Curiously, both Nixon and Mueller played well below their career levels at 2002, something that likely made their break-out 2003 seasons look even more extreme by comparison.

The only other member of the 2003 Red Sox offense to have a clear-cut career year in 2003 was David Ortiz. Ortiz, however, did so right on schedule, in his age-27 year. Ortiz's break-out season was actually the continuation of a four-year pattern of improvement and maturity at the plate. Check out his slugging percentages from age 24 (2000) through age 27 (2003): .446, .475, .500, .592. I'm not convinced that Ortiz will regress at all in 2004. In fact, he lost a solid chunk of playing time to Shea Hillenbrand early on in 2003. Given a full season, Ortiz could not only replicate his rate stats from 2003, but easily outpace his counting stats from a year ago. I'd even go as far as to say that those extra at-bats from Ortiz could cancel out whatever regression is experienced by Nixon (provided the latter doesn't linger too long on the DL).

Jason Varitek had his best season in 2003, but a large part of that was simply staying healthy. He didn't play at a level that he couldn't be expected to repeat in 2004. Kevin Millar is often credited with having a career year in 2003, but his career highs in runs, homers, RBIs and walks are all directly attributable to his career highs in games and at-bats. Nearly all of his rate stats were below his career average (only his home-run rate, but not his slugging, exceeded his established norm).

Looking back at our replacements up top, Burks, an aging health question mark who is a tremendously productive hitter when healthy replaces Jeremy Giambi, who spent most of 2003 on the DL. I'll call that even for now, with a slight advantage to the 2004 team. We've already discussed the fact that it's actually more at-bats for David Ortiz, not soon-to-be Paw Sock Crespo, that replaces a partial season of Shea Hillenbrand. That just leaves Pokey Reese and Mark Bellhorn who replace Todd Walker and Damian Jackson. Reese is the best fielder of the bunch and much more useful offensively than Jackson (which tells you more about Jackson than Reese). Bellhorn had a very productive age-27 season for the Cubs in 2002, but was unable to win much playing time with the Cubs and Rockies last year and slugged just .264 as a Rocky. Walker was quite productive for a second baseman in 2003, but gave enough runs back with his iron glove to drop below light-hitting, slick-fielding Orlando Hudson and Mark Ellis in win shares for AL second basemen in 2003. My first impulse was to rate this replacement as a big loss for the Sox. Taking a closer look, I see it as a small loss at worst. If Bellhorn rediscovers his 2002 form, it could be a big gain.

Recapping the offense, Mueller should regress quite a bit, but the extra ABs given to David Ortiz should make up for a smaller regression by Nixon. I expect the rest of the offense to repeat, given the potential for improvement from guys like Millar and Damon. Factor in only a small loss at second and consider the potential of a productive Burks and rediscovered Bellhorn and the regression by the Red Sox offense should be minimal. That is, unless their current spate of injuries persist or multiply.

As for the pitching, Curt Schilling replaces John Burkett. Wow. Just using win shares from Schilling's injury-plagued 2003, that's an improvement of two wins (15 WS for Schilling to 8 for Burkett). Assuming that Curt's appendicitis and fluke broken hand will not reoccur, I'd say he'll be good for two additional wins. Schillings ERA, K/9 and BB/9 in 2003 were right in line with his incredible 2002 and 2001 seasons. In 2003, Mark Prior and Jason Schmidt had 22 WS each while Roy Halladay 23--I'm rounding down to get to Schilling's extra two wins.

Along those same lines, the difference between Brandon Lyon and Keith Foulke in 2003 was 16 win shares, or a solid five wins. That sounds like a bad comparison, but if you remember how unsettled the Boston bullpen was up until the postseason in 2003, those five wins begin to sound a lot more reasonable. So that's 9 more wins just from those two moves.

The biggest question mark on the Boston pitching staff is Byung-Hyun Kim. Kim gave the Sox 79 1/3 innings of a 3.18 ERA in 2003, which seems hard to replace until you realize that Bronson Arroyo, currently the Sox fifth starter, gave them 17 2/3 innings of a 2.08 ERA. Should these two be able to combine for about 100 innings of similar run prevention or, more likely, more innings of a slightly higher ERA, the Sox will wind up breaking even or better and could even make up for some of the muddle at the back of their bullpen (a healthy Kim would send Castillo back into the history book from which he came, which would be a nice start).

Adding those nine wins from Schilling and Foulke to the Sox's 2003 Pythagorean record we get 103 wins. Shaving off a couple for correction by the offense I'd say the Sox, if they can get and stay healthy, have a solid chance of winning 100, but little chance of catching the Yankees, whom I predicted could win as many as 110 games or more.

posted by Cliff at 2:22 PM

Didn't we just do this? 

The greatest rivalry in all of sports begins yet another chapter in its epic history tonight as the Yankees head into Boston to take on the Red Sox in a four game series that is sure to . . . uhm . . . well, it's gonna be really . . . uh. Oh, who am I kidding.

I'm sorry, it's just too early in the season for this. We're only nine games in. That's a mere eighteenth of the season. Sure, the Yankees are in first and the Red Sox are just a half-game back in second place, but so are the Orioles and the Devil Rays. The Blue Jays are a "distant" fifth, two whole games out of first. This just isn't fun yet. These teams haven't found themselves. By the end of this series these four games will have comprised a full third of each team's season. Fercryinoutloud, only two starters on each team (Mussina, Brown, Pedro and Schilling) have made more than one start!

All of your mainstream media outlets are trying to hype this series up. That's all well and good. Tonight's national prime-time broadcast is great for the sport. But the hype is almost enough to turn me off of the series entirely. Everyone's making a big deal about how Alex Rodriguez is going to be treated by the Fenway Faithful, but frankly, I could care less. Boo him all you want. I have no particular affection for Rodriguez just nine games into his Yankee career. He's hitting .212/.316/.394 and doubles are skipping under his mit with regularity. That's no condemnation of A-Rod, really. His fielding overall has been solid and his bat will come around. I'm sure by mid-season I'll be in love with his game, but right now he's a new guy who has to earn his place. And if I haven't had enough time to warm up to the new Yankees, how could I possibly have gotten my fires stoked about them taking on the big bad Red Sox.

The reality of the situation is that these four games count in the standings just as much as the last four games these teams play against each other in September. Chances are that these four games actually are very important. But there's no emotional investment this early in the season. There's nothing concrete to play for. Who knows how the season will shake out? These are the best two teams in baseball, but only on paper. They've yet to prove it on the field. Right now the A's, Angels, White Sox and Tigers--yeah, the Tigers--all have better records than both the Yankees and Red Sox, and that's just in the AL. Maybe one of these two teams will be destroyed by injuries and find themselves 15 games back by the All-Star break. Maybe both will and today's last-place Blue Jays will run away with the division. Maybe one team will trade for Jose Vidro or Carlos Beltran mid-season and pull away. Maybe Pedro and Mussina are going to struggle all year. Or perhaps both teams will be healthy and good and will battle it out to the end. But right now, there's nothing to root for. There's no story. Just two teams playing their scheduled games.

Grandmaster Alex Belth said it best, "This feels like waking up with a hangover and cracking a beer to start the day." I don't drink, but that's about it. In a strange way, it's depressing. And it's crappy schedule making. The Yankees and Red Sox play nineteen times this season, but just six of those games fall between April 26 and September 16. Read that last sentence again. Sure, having six games against each other in late September is great, but blowing seven of these games before the season has really established itself is a waste.

[deep breath]

Okay, having gotten that off my chest, I'll get on with previewing the series in my next post.

posted by Cliff at 1:18 PM

Thursday, April 15, 2004

The weather has lifted, but I'm still under it 

Sorry for the silence of late. Not only have I been sick, but the hamster in the wheel in my brain has also been a bit under the weather.

As I'm sure you know, Kevin Brown won his 200th game yesterday despite the rain, and with the help of a Giambi 3-run dinger, a solo blast from Jorge and an RBI double off the bat of Gary Sheffield. Tom Gordon pitched into and out of trouble in the eighth and Mo nailed it down in the ninth.

I watched most of the game but don't have much to say about it other than to continue to wonder what's going on with Joe Torre's line-ups. With another lefty on the mound, Joe sat Lofton (blaming Kenny's quad and the rain-soaked field) and hit Jeter first, Bernie second, Jorge sixth and Matsui seventh, just as he did against Schoeneweis on opening day. That's all very good. What confused me is that he had both Bernie and Giambi out in the field despite the rain and continues to start Ruben Sierra against lefties. Yesterday would have been a perfect occasion to see what Bubba Crosby can do against a lefty, using him in center to protect the fragile Bernie (who thankfully didn't rust or melt). No dice. Barring that, why not DH Giambi and stick Tony Clark at first?

Here's my conspiracy theory: Travis Lee went 2 for 4 with a walk in Tampa on Tuesday and could be activated for this weekend's series in Boston. More than a week ago, after Tony Clark followed up on his impressive spring training performance by smacking a two-run home run in the second game in Japan, Joe Torre said, "Tony Clark is a player. He certainly earned a spot on this club. We'll have to figure out what we're going to do, but we have a week or 10 days for something to make up our minds." Seems to me that what Torre "figured out" was that he could keep Clark from holding on to his spot by keeping him from playing. Since returning to the States, Clark has not started a single game, despite concerns about Jason Giambi's surgically repaired knee on the turf in Tampa and the fact that the Yankees have faced three lefty starters. In fact, he's been given only one at-bat (a pop out to third) since his game-two start.

Starting Sierra over Clark against lefties is foolish. The splits are pretty clear cut there. Clark's usefulness to the Yankees is as a lefty-killer and a defensive replacement at first. Playing Sierra against lefties and Giambi in the field regardless of the surface or weather indicates to me that Tony Clark has already lost his spot on the Yankees 25-man roster. In his place we'll get Travis Lee, who might be a modest defensive improvement at first (if Torre ever plays him there), but who can't play the outfield because his shoulder will explode, and is a redundant offensive performer, yet another lefty bat to add to Lofton, Crosby and Sierra's uneven switch split, with less power than Sierra and perhaps even Crosby and certainly less than Clark.


The Yanks head to Boston for Round 1 this weekend. The rain has fooled with both rotations, but the schedule on the side-bar has been properly updated to reflect the changes. I'll preview the Sox and the series a bit later. Right now I'm going to curl up with the cat on the couch and watch Games 6 and 7 of the 1952 World Series on ESPN Classic (part of their Jackie Robinson anniversary programming).

posted by Cliff at 2:52 PM

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Rock the Rain Away 

The Yanks and D-Rays are rained out. That suits me fine as I'm sick as a dog (cue the vintage Aerosmith track) and trying to catch up here at work after staying home sick yesterday.

I am however going to be on stage at the Mercury Lounge tonight (10:30, details on the sidebar). If you want to brave the rain and a late night, come see how much I can rock out from underneath the layers of mung. Seriously, my eyes are so glazed over it's like I'm looking at the world through a layer of vaseline. Really delicious.

"Fellahs, I got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell!"

Yanks should get a game in and I should get a post up tomorrow once I awake from my rock-induced coma.

posted by Cliff at 4:30 PM

Monday, April 12, 2004

Hubba Bubba 

Sorry for the delay on this post. I had to get my taxes done last night and am a bit under the weather today (the two are supposedly unrelated).

I was at yesterday's 5-4 Yankee victory over the White Sox, but don't have any photos for you because I didn't want to bring the camera out to the park with the forecast calling for rain. Indeed, it was a cold, overcast day at the park. The lights were on at the Stadium throughout the game and it seemed ready to rain at any and every moment. But despite some "spitting" (as my mom, who joined me in the bleachers on this day, so descriptively put it), the rain never came.

Mike Mussina had a similar experience. He gave up three runs in the first and the game seemed to be on the verge of getting away from him on several occasions. Moose recorded only one 1-2-3 inning. That came in the third thanks to a spectacular catch in right center by Bubba Crosby (more on him in a moment). In only one other inning--that being the sixth, his final full inning of work--did Moose prevent the White Sox from getting a runner past first base. Still, he held on to get his 200th win and post a semi-respectable line of 6 1/3 IP, 7 H, 4 R (3 earned), 2 BB and 6 K. That's about what I was expecting from Moose last week in Tampa.

In Mussina's defense, that three run first was worse than it should have been. He started off the game by striking out Willie Harris on three pitches. The next batter, Jose Valentin, grounded back to Mussina, but Moose botched the play, allowing Valentin to reach first on what should have been an easy 1-3 groundout (in his own defense, Mussina made a great play later in the game, diving for a low pop to the third-base side of the mound in the fourth, a play that seemed as much a result of frustration and desperation--there were two on and none out at the time--as it was a demonstration of his gold-glove fielding). Magglio Ordonez then singled to make it first and second. Frank Thomas followed with a slow bouncing ball up the middle that Jeter and Wilson watched go by as if they had never seen a baseball behave that way before. That should have been the third out, something in the order of a 4-6 putout at second. Instead, it scored a run and kept runners at first and second. Given a long leash, the White Sox capitalized with a Carlos Lee 2-RBI double (could have been a triple, but Lee showed respect for Sheffield's arm by holding at second). Flabbergasted, Moose walked Konerko on five pitches, but got Crede to hit a weak grounder to Wilson, who had little choice but to tag Konerko and toss to Giambi for an inning ending double play.

Mussina's next start will come in Fenway this weekend. If the top four in the rotation go in turn, Moose will pitch on Saturday against Curt Schilling, but he'll be on normal rest for Friday night's nationally broadcast prime-time hype-fest. I would not be surprised to see someone politely suggest to Joe that he save Contreras for Saturday and put Moose on the hill to face Pedro on FOX. Either way, Mussina owns in the Fens. Having gotten his feet under him yesterday, I'm looking for him to put it all together against the short-handed Sox, be it Friday night or Saturday afternoon.

Back to yesterday's game. If you haven't already heard (not bloody likely), the big story of the game was Bubba Crosby. Crosby got the start (his first as a Yank and just his second in the biggs) in center place of Quaddy Lofton (Bernie DHed) and quite simply put on a show. As I mentioned above, Crosby made a spectacular catch in the third on a deeeep fly by Magglio Ordonez to right center. The not-quite 5'11" Crosby reached up and caught the ball on a full sprint on his last step before smacking face-first into the wall. Two innings later he made a similar play in straight-away center on a blast by Frank Thomas, this time awarding the wall his backside rather than planting his kisser. In the previous inning, Paul Kornerko hit a deep fly to right that evaded Gary Sheffield at the wall. Before Sheffield could retrieve the ball, Bubba had bolted over from center, slid past the ball, picked it up and fired to second to hold Konerko to a single. In the bottom half of that inning, he came up with one out following walks to Sheff and Posada, took two balls, then blasted Dan Wright's third pitch off the facing of the upper deck in right for a three-run home run that temporarily put the Yankees ahead 4-3. Crosby earned a curtain call for that home run and was treated to countless chants of "Bubba! Bubba!" from the bleachers, which spread throughout the entire stadium by his last at-bat. Crosby has now homered in two of his five Yankee at-bats. He was so on his game yesterday that I actually anticipated his fifth-inning home run and cleared the bench in front of me during that at-bat in expectation of jumping up on it after he had parked one in the seats. I was not disappointed.

So the question is, what now for Bubba? He's quite obviously the best defensive center fielder the Yankees have (not that he has much competition). Whether or not he'll continue to hit like he did in the spring and has in his very limited opportunities thus far remains to be seen. Still, I'd love to see the Yankees package Lofton and Wilson for a real-life second baseman (Brian Roberts? Junior Spivey?) and stick Bubba in center for the foreseeable future. Even if his hitting falls off, Torre will not be tempted to lead him off and he'll be a significant upgrade defensively. Besides which, he's 27. If he's ever going to be very good, it's going to be right now. So why not give him the chance to play his way out of the line-up. The biggest question about Bubba is, can he hit lefties? I don't have access to his minor league or spring-training splits and his last two at-bats in yesterday's game, both resulting in outs, were his first two against lefty pitching in the major leagues.

Moving on, Gary Sheffield seems to have found his stroke as he drove in the other two Yankee runs with a pair of bee-bees to the power alleys for an RBI-single in the first and a game-winning RBI-double in the fifth. Meanwhile, Alex Rodriguez got his first taste of death valley, having finally really creamed a ball only to see it fall for an out in deep left center in the fifth.

In injury news, Travis Lee went 2 for 5 with a double while playing first base in an extended spring training game on Saturday and began a rehab assignment with Class A Tampa today. He's still considered a week to 10 days from rejoining the team. Frankly, I'd be happy to put him in that trade package to try to get an even better second sacker. Instead, his return will present a very real threat to the major-league status of Bubba Crosby and Tony Clark. I'd rather see the Yanks clear space by demoting Donovan Osborne, but unless Felix the Dog gets his act together between now and then, Oz may actually have some value of his own. Besides which, the Yankees don't really have another long man in the pen right now. It will be interesting to see what happens, but I'm fairly certain I'll be disappointed regardless of who loses his spot to Travesty Lee.

Saturday's extended Spring Training game also saw an appearance by Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, who allowed one run on two hits and a hit batsman while striking out four in two innings of work, throwing 25 of his 33 pitches for strikes.

Back with the big club, Torre expects Kenny Lofton to be back in the line-up on Tuesday against righty Paul Abbott. Drat.

posted by Cliff at 8:43 PM

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