Posted on: October 3, 2011 11:53 pm
DETROIT -- Now comes the scariest sentence of the summer for the Yankees: Their season depends on A.J. Burnett.
Hide the women and children. Stock up on the Tums. Get a good night's sleep. As this high-octane series sprints toward Game 4, the Yankees have no room left for mistakes because they probably made their biggest in getting a 5-4 Yankee clipping in Game 3 here Monday.
That mistake? Failing to take advantage of two unexpected windfalls against Tigers ace Justin Verlander:
A two-run first inning that momentarily knocked Verlander and the Tigers off-balanced was given back by CC Sabathia in Detroit's two-run third.
Then, Verlander was absolutely sensational from the second through the sixth innings, the Yankees clawed back from 4-2 to tie the game at 4-4 in the seventh. And set-up man Rafael Soriano immediately gave it up when Delmon Young crushed a one-out fastball in the bottom of the seventh to make it 5-4.
It wasn't quite the classic battle between Verlander and Sabathia that most of us expected. Sabathia was wobbly from the beginning, walking three Tigers in the first, another in the second and one more in the third. But the Yankees turned three double plays behind him in those three innings to atone for his sins.
Verlander, after that two-run first, savagely mowed through the Yankees over the next five innings. He hit 100 m.p.h. several times. He sent curve balls that bent like bananas. He threw changeups somewhere in between. He was sensational during this time. He fanned four consecutive Yankees during the fourth and fifth, then stretched it to seven in a nine-batter stretch through the seventh.
With two out in the seventh, Jorge Posada stunned him by fighting back from 0 and 2 to walk. Then Verlander drilled Russell Martin with a 100 m.p.h. fastball in the ribs. Ouch.
What undoubtedly stung Verlander just as much, Brett Gardner lashed a 100 m.p.h. heater for a game-tying double after that.
Before the Tigers could fully digest that, Young was depositing a Soriano pitch over the right-field fence -- and the Tigers were depositing the Yankees to the brink of elimination.
With Burnett headed to the mound to start Game 4 Tuesday night.
Posted on: September 29, 2011 10:03 am
Edited on: September 29, 2011 10:49 am
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- So one of the keys to this crazy game is forgetting yesterday and zeroing in on today.
Yet as the New York Yankees work Thursday to prepare for the Detroit Tigers and Cy Young shoo-in Justin Verlander in Game 1 of an American League Divisional Series on Friday in Yankee Stadium, they can't help but look way back to March 31.
"It's funny how the season goes full circle," Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said late Wednesday after the Yankees lost to Tampa Bay and learned first-round playoff matchups. "Opening Day, we played Detroit and it was Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia, and now that's what it is to start the playoffs.
"It should be fun."
The Yankees on that afternoon prevented Verlander from obtaining one of what would be his 24 victories this season. The Detroit ace went six innings, allowed three earned runs, fanned eight, walked four and surrendered a Teixeira homer in a no-decision.
"Detroit's a great team," Teixeira said. "It doesn't matter who we play [first]. We have to beat all the best teams in the league. The Tigers, the Rangers ... we have to bring our 'A' game."
In what easily is the most intriguing first-round matchup, the Yankees may face the difficult task of getting Verlander twice in a short five-game series.
But they also are one of the few teams that can brag about cracking the Tigers with Verlander on the mound. After beating Detroit 6-3 on opening day, the Yankees faced him one other time -- and beat the Tigers again.
It was in Detroit on May 2, and they scored three runs in the first two innings against Verlander en route to a 5-3 victory. That day, they also scored three earned runs in six innings against Verlander, who, as he did on opening day, struck out eight and walked four.
Again, Verlander came away with a no-decision. But in the end, Detroit lost only nine games this season in which Verlander started -- and the Yankees handed the Tigers two of those.
Funny, Yankees slugger Robinson Cano did not remember facing Verlander after opening day this year and, as it turns out, with good reason. He was not in the lineup May 2.
"His stuff has always been the same," Cano said. "He throws hard, he's got good stuff. Friday starts the postseason, and you forget about the past."
Some of the Yankees already have.
"I don't pay any attention to that stuff," said outfielder Nick Swisher regarding New York's first-round draw. "We're going to beat 'em. Hands down.
"We're excited. We're ready. It's in our house. It's going to be fun, a lot of fun, man."
Posted on: August 21, 2011 9:39 pm
The Angels suddenly are on a roll: Not only have they won four straight to crawl back to within four games of first-place Texas in the AL West, they also struck a multi-year contract extension Sunday afternoon to keep Cy Young-candidate Jered Weaver in Anaheim through at least through the end of the 2016 season.
The Angels and Weaver have agreed to a five-year, $85 million deal, according to sources with knowledge of the agreement, that also includes a full no-trade clause. The club has scheduled a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.
The deal came unexpectedly on Sunday afternoon, unexpected because as a client of agent Scott Boras, Weaver was expected to play through the 2012 season and then jump into the free agent market. But Weaver, a Southern California native (Simi Valley), has made his preference for staying at home clear.
While Boras probably could have scored an even bigger contract on the free agent market assuming Weaver remained healthy, the full no-trade clause is evidence of Weaver's desire to extend his career in Anaheim.
The deal Weaver reached with the Angels is comparable to the contracts Felix Hernandez reached with the Seattle Mariners last year (five years, $78 million) and Justin Verlander signed with the Tigers before the 2010 season (five years, $80 million).
Verlander and Hernandez each had two more years of arbitration available to them when they signed, Weaver would have had just one.
Undoubtedly, the deal will be a load off of Weaver's mind in what already is shaping up as a career year. At 14-6 with a 2.10 ERA, Weaver is on pace for a career-high in wins and a career-low in ERA. Weaver's ERA currently is the best in the AL, and he ranks third in opponents' batting average (.207), fifth in innings pitched (188 1/3) and seventh in strikeouts (158).
The contract is said to also include significant award bonuses for Weaver for winning the Cy Young Award, MVP and earning an All-Star berth, among other things.
Posted on: July 11, 2011 9:07 pm
Edited on: July 11, 2011 10:12 pm
PHOENIX -- You know what would really throw some gusto into this All-Star Game?
Except, as you may have heard, because of a new rule instituted last year, starting pitchers who work on Sunday are ineligible to play in the All-Star Game.
So Verlander is here, watching the game just like you. Only difference is, Verlander gets to dress in uniform and hang out in the clubhouse.
It is a well-intentioned rule, and the spirit in which it was instituted is right (and no disrespect to the Angels' Jered Weaver, who will start for the AL and is pretty darned good himself). But it needs to be revisited.
In most cases, a pitcher throws in the bullpen two days after a start.
So there is no reason why, say, Verlander, can't contribute one inning in Tuesday's game (in what effect would be akin to a post-start bullpen session).
NL (and Giants) manager Bruce Bochy disagrees.
"I think it's a good rule," Bochy says. "I was caught in this back in '99 where a couple of pitchers pitched on Sunday, and I was actually told that they would be available for an inning. Then once they got there, [I was told] they would prefer them not to pitch, so it puts the manager in a tough spot.
"I think that takes care of that. If he throws on Sunday, he can't pitch. And that way you don't come out short-handed. We need to have all 13 pitchers available."
There you have it, same as designating a closer and refusing to change: It allows a manager to cover his rear end and shut down all critics with an easy answer along the lines of, "That's the way it is, I didn't have a choice."
No question, managers are put in tough positions at the All-Star Game, especially in regard to pitching.
A manager's first responsibility is to return pitchers healthy to their respective teams. You can't blame clubs for getting jumpy about it. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly planned to ask Bochy to only use Clayton Kershaw for one inning Tuesday night because the Dodgers have slotted Kershaw to start their second-half opener Friday in Arizona.
Still. They can't contribute one inning on Tuesday?
AL (and Rangers) manager Ron Washington said "I'm all good with it."
The Sunday rule -- and other All-Star issues -- is being discussed by players and owners as they work toward reaching a new Basic Agreement (the current one expires after this season), according to sources.
It's too early to say whether there will be a change for 2012. But certainly, the trend has been to protect players more, not less.
Verlander, who beat Kansas City on Sunday, is enjoying the scene here and said Monday he understands why the rule was put into place -- and supports it.
"I think it's probably a smart rule," he said.
Yeah, but if his Tigers advance to the World Series this year ... but have to open on the road because the NL won the All-Star Game when Verlander couldn't pitch?
Wouldn't he be angry then?
"I probably would be, in that case," he said, grinning.
Posted on: June 21, 2011 11:39 pm
LOS ANGELES -- Detroit's rotation could keep Justin Verlander from pitching in next month's All-Star Game, but an early look at the top pitchers in each league shows few other conflicts right now.
Unless weather fouls things up, both Boston's Josh Beckett (last projected first-half start: Friday, July 8) and the Angels' Jered Weaver (Thursday, July 7) should be available options for American League manager Ron Washington to start the July 12 game in Phoenix.
And in the NL, Atlanta's Jair Jurrjens and Philadelphia's Roy Halladay (both would start Wednesday, July 6) would be available to manager Bruce Bochy, as would the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw (Thursday, July 7) and, possibly, Philadelphia's Cole Hamels.
Hamels currently is projected to start on Tuesday, July 5, and the Phillies have an off day on July 6. If manager Charlie Manuel stays on rotation, Hamels would not pitch again until, possibly, the All-Star Game. If Manuel decides to skip a starter on an off day Thursday (unlikely), then Hamels could wind up starting on Sunday the 10th.
The problem for Verlander, who has one no-hitter and a couple of near-misses this year, is that, barring rainouts, he'll start the Tigers' final game of the first half on Sunday, July 10.
Looking both to keep pitchers healthy and to give All-Star managers real options, baseball last year instituted a rule prohibiting anybody pitching Sunday from working in the All-Star Game. Those pitchers named to the team are still All-Stars and can be in uniform in the dugout, they're just not eligible to play.
Really, it's a no-brainer that for a manager not to juggle his rotation to accommodate the All-Star Game, and that's essentially what Tigers skipper Jim Leyland said this week. His first responsibility is to win games for the Tigers, period.
"Our schedule is what it is," he said. "Our rotation falls the way it does."
Though his Dodgers are buried in fourth place in the NL West -- unlike the Tigers, who are battling for the AL Central title -- Los Angeles manager Don Mattingly says he will handle Kershaw the same way Leyland is handling Verlander.
"I think if his spot comes up Sunday, he pitches Sunday," Mattingly said. "I don't think we can start shifting things around because of the All-Star Game.
"It's an honor to be chosen. If a guy is chosen and he's not able to pitch, you have enough slots [to replace him] and it's still an honor."
Posted on: February 20, 2011 6:43 pm
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Justin Verlander is a three-time All-Star, has logged 200-plus innings for four consecutive seasons, has won 37 decisions over the past two and owns a career 3.81 ERA.
So what to work on in spring training?
"I'm a little more focused on some things I need to come out of the gate strong," Verlander was saying the other day in Lakeland.
Last April, Verlander went 1-2 with a 5.53 ERA over five starts.
Put those aside, and the Pride of Old Dominion University was 17-7 with a 3.07 ERA the rest of the way beginning on May 1.
It's been a disturbing pattern: Over the past three Aprils combined, Verlander is 3-8 with a 6.28 ERA over 16 starts.
That's why Verlander this spring is keeping a list of five bullet-point items in his locker.
"Every day I'll look at that list," he says. "They're just some things I worked on in April when things weren't going right. Things that helped me get to my May and June form."
In a way, Verlander is concentrating on his own Daylight Savings Time program.
"Trying to set the clock forward a month," he says, grinning. "To May."
He was not specific in what those bullet points are.
But he is specific when he's on the field.
"I don't just work on those things when I'm throwing in the bullpen," Verlander says. "I'm working on them at other times, too. Like even when I'm playing catch every day."
As they say, spring forward ... and try to avoid falling back.
Sunblock Day? Only another suitable-for-framing 85-degree day with no humidity.
Likes: Love Josh Beckett wondering if Boston can win 100 games and Philadelphia's Jimmy Rollins is predicting 100 wins for the Phillies. We'll see. ... The gulf at Punta Gorda off of I-75 is a beautiful sight on a sparkling, sunny day. ... Things are going much better on the drives since I picked up an iPod plug-in for the rental car's auxiliary jack instead of relying on the cigarette lighter cable that tunes to a particular radio frequency. Crystal clear music for the drives now, instead of intermittent static.
Dislikes: So at 7 Sunday morning, I'm in Circle K getting coffee (OK, there's the first problem). I head to the men's room. It's locked. The gal behind the Circle K counter sees this and instructs me, "Use the other one." Really? The ladies' room? "Nobody's in it," the gal says. At this point, it sounds like the men's room is out of order. So still in an early-morning haze, I open the ladies' room door and take a step in. And there's a lady sitting there on the toilet, pants at her ankles, and she immediately throws up her hands and lets out a scream. Rightfully so. The Circle K woman apologizes profusely. I get my coffee, pay and get the hell out of there as quickly as I can before the lady emerges from the restroom.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"It was 1990 give or take I don't remember
Posted on: April 5, 2010 12:37 pm
Edited on: April 5, 2010 4:08 pm
As colleague Danny Knobler chuckled when we talked not long ago, not bad for a pitcher with a 9.64 ERA. That's where Beckett's stands now after the Yankees clubbed him for five earned runs in 4 2/3 innings Sunday night.
In all seriousness, though, the larger meaning of this beyond New England's boundaries is that it continues to emphasize the most important thing in today's game: You'd better build your team with young pitching, because less and less of it is available on the free agent market. At least, fewer impact pitchers are getting out there.
Beckett and Roy Halladay each was supposed to be a free agent next winter. Not now: The Sox have locked up Beckett, and the Phillies over the winter acquired Halladay from Toronto then signed him to a three-year, $60 million deal.
Two other key pitchers had their free agency delayed over the past several months, too, with Detroit signing Justin Verlander to a five-year, $80 million extension and Seattle signing ace Felix Hernandez to a five-year, $78 million deal in January.
Posted on: April 5, 2010 12:24 pm
Edited on: April 5, 2010 4:09 pm
Welcome to the last day of the best sports weekend of the year: Opening Day, and Final Four weekend. And yes, we count the Monday of the NCAA championship game and 13 baseball openers as part of the weekend.
If you haven't called in sick today, I have just one question: What's wrong with you?
While we count down to the Butler game (yes, it's the Butler game, not the Duke game, and I'll get to them in a separate blog in a little while), colleague Danny Knobler and I will be blogging throughout the day, sending quick hits regarding today's 13 openers. So check back often.
A couple of quick opening thoughts heading in:
-- Coolest moment: President Obama set to throw out the first pitch before today's Philadelphia-Washington game in D.C. I don't care whether you're Democrat, Republican, Independent, Libertarian or a leftover reguee from the Whig party. You don't see presidents dropping the first puck, making the first handoff or tossing up the first jump ball. Just one more reason why baseball remains the best and most important sport going.
-- Most interesting home debut: Let's see what kind of ovation Atlanta right-fielder Jason Heyward gets when the Braves open against the Cubs this afternoon. I'm guessing it will range somewhere from raucous to exceptionally raucous.
-- Most interesting road debut: OK, so we never notice hitting coaches unless one of our favorite players delves into a slump. But when the Cardinals open in Cincinnati today, and they introduce the teams pre-game, let's just see what kind of reaction St. Louis hitting coach Mark McGwire gets as things begin again for real for him.
-- We're still unwrapping the season and: The Red Sox and Yankees already checked in with their first sub-4 hour game! They played Sunday night's opener in 3:46. Now the raging question becomes, can they do it again?
-- Opening day boos to: The Angels and the A's. Two things I know about Opening Day: It should always be a day game, and clubs should never schedule it opposite the NCAA title game. What, you think your fans don't want to watch the basketball championship? Why not just schedule an afternoon game?
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"The Cubs made me a criminal
-- Steve Goodman, A Dying Cubs Fan's Last Request