Posted on: October 4, 2011 11:47 pm
DETROIT -- The scariest sentence of the summer for Yankees fans turned into the most surprising sentence of the year.
From "The season depends on A.J. Burnett" to "Good Lord above, look who saved the day!" in 81 pitches on a gorgeous night at Comerica Park for everything and everyone but the Tigers.
Mark it down. Burnett rides in on a white horse. The Yankees blast Detroit 10-1. This Division Series is headed back to New York even-steven at two games apiece, with the winner Thursday spraying champagne.
All hail A.J.
Maybe it was his 2009 World Series victory frozen in time inside of his laptop that spurred him. Perhaps it was getting kicked one too many times while he was down, getting taunted one too many times in public, getting spurned one too many times from the Yankees' brass.
Whatever it was, after a wobbly first inning in which he loaded the bases with walks -- including an intentional pass to Miguel Cabrera -- Burnett was, dare we say it, ace-like. He lasted 5 2/3 innings, the perfect amount for a bullpen that includes Rafael Soriano, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera.
And the thing is, after New York's six-run eighth, the latter two weren't even needed.
"You can't count me out," Burnett had said on the eve of his latest make-or-break start. "I'm going to bring everything I've got and just let A.J. loose out there."
Good thing for him, they let Curtis Granderson loose, too. That bases-loaded first inning? Two out, and Don Kelly smoked a screaming liner dead ahead to center field. Granderson broke in at first, then quickly recovered, scrambled back and made a leaping stab that ended the inning.
It was a spectacular catch made possible by an initial misread. Bottom line, it saved Burnett at least two runs and possibly an inside-the-park grand slam.
Granderson would make another sensational catch to end the sixth. But, by then, the Yankees led 4-1 and thanks to Burnett, they were out of the rough.
"I've been proving people wrong my whole career, it seems like," Burnett had said on Monday evening. "People are entitled to their opinion.
"Obviously, I give them reasons here and there do doubt."
In Game 4, Burnett gave them reasons neither here nor there to doubt. The dude was stellar, just in the nick of time.
Tuesday was a very, very good night for the Yankees also in that the blowout allowed Robertson and Rivera to watch idly from the bullpen and maybe get some crucial rest for what should be a terrific final act to what has been a riveting series.
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 27, 2011 10:05 pm
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- It took the Rays 125 days this season to pull back into a share of the American League wild-card slot.
So no way was the streaking, gutsy crew from Tampa Bay going to surrender it 24 hours later.
It was close, it was a battle, but when they write the story of the 2011 Rays, two huge monumental moments from Tuesday night's 5-3 nailbiter over the Yankees in The Trop will be at the top.
The first came with nobody out in the seventh when Matt Joyce bashed the game-winning homer, savagely attacking a pitch from former Rays closer Rafael Soriano and driving it into the right-field seats for a three-run blast.
The other moment was an honest-to-goodness triple play, which came in the sixth, during a tense time when the Yankees were threatening to blow this game open.
Leading 3-2 with runners on second and third and, of course, nobody out, the Rays elected to intentionally walk Jorge Posada to load the bases.
And then came a moment screaming that Tampa Bay is living right: Russell Martin scorched a ground ball to third, about one step from the bag. Evan Longoria was all over it, took the one small step for the Rays and one giant step for the AL wild-card race.
His foot on the bag, he wheeled and whipped the ball to Ben Zobrist at second, who turned and fired a strike to Sean Rodriguez, who was playing first after Casey Kotchman was scratched from the lineup pre-game and taken to the hospital with discomfort in his chest.
There was no question. Martin easily was out at first.
You could hear Boston groaning all the way from Baltimore. Given a reprieve from imminent disaster, the Rays turned it over to Joyce in the seventh, and Tampa Bay had done the impropable: The Rays have pushed their season to Game 162, still very much in position to push the Red Sox over the cliff and dance into October themselves.
Posted on: December 7, 2010 1:02 pm
Edited on: December 8, 2010 12:41 am
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Paging the Los Angeles Angels, attention Angels.
Free agent Carl Crawford is still out there. So are free agent third baseman Adrian Beltre and free agent closer Rafael Soriano ... and, yes, free agent ace Cliff Lee.
After getting aced out of Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia two years ago and failing to produce a leadoff hitter to replace Chone Figgins last year, the heat is on the Angels to swing and connect this winter. On something.
Crawford has been a high priority, according to sources, though late Tuesday night it was confirmed that the Angels were in contact with Lee's agent, Darek Braunecker, and that that dialog is expected to remain ongoing.
"We're conducting business. What other clubs do doesn't affect how we operate."
Maybe that helps explain why the Angels, who took hard runs at both Teixeira and Sabathia two winters ago, have swung and missed lately. What other clubs do does affect the rest in this game, because market values are set.
Here in Florida, Crawford's market is still taking shape, and you bet the Werth contract will be a barometer.
The Angels are one of the few teams with pockets deep enough to pull up a chair at Crawford's table. One break they may have gotten in the past few days is that in acquiring Adrian Gonzalez, the Red Sox may be out on Crawford -- at least, at seven or eight years.
The Red Sox are said to have agreed with Gonzalez on the parameters of a seven-year deal worth between $161 and $168 million that likely will be finalized sometime around Opening Day. It's hard to see Boston signing two players to contracts that long in one winter.
Other than the Angels' interest, things have been awfully quiet here regarding Crawford.
The Angels always operate with the secrecy of a CIA spy, but until Tuesday night and the Lee revelation, there was little indication that much of anything was happening.
Beltre? The Angels currently are not taking an aggressive path there, according to a source with knowledge of the club's thinking.
Soriano? No indicators there, either.
Reagins, scrambling because of a flight delay Monday, was among the last GM's -- and, far as anybody can tell, the last -- to arrive at the Winter Meetings.
Owner Arte Moreno is known for being aggressive. But over the past couple of years, he hasn't been aggressive enough.
The Angels got worse last year. They looked old. They were slow.
The decision to let Figgins walk backfired when Erick Aybar did not develop into a leadoff hitter. The decision to let Guerrero walk blew up when he had a great year and Hideki Matsui was disappointing.
Suddenly, the shift of power in the AL West is becoming evident.
Texas not only won the division, but the Rangers are loaded with good, young talent. They're not going anywhere.
The A's have the kind of good, young pitching that has them poised to recapture some of the glory of old.
Seattle? Well, let's not get carried away here. Not everybody in the division is on the move.
Right now, though, in terms of forward momentum, the Angels are more Seattle than Texas.
Mike Scioscia said Tuesday that the return to health of first baseman Kendry Morales, who slammed 34 home runs and collected 108 RBIs two summers ago before suffering a season-ending broken leg early in 2010, will be a boon in 2011.
Looks like a whole lot of scapegoats. And so far, not much else.
Posted on: December 2, 2009 9:09 pm
Question is, is Wagner the right guy?
I don't see a lot of middle ground here: I think this is either going to work out extremely well ... or it's going to backfire badly.
The Braves signed Wagner for $6.75 million in 2010 and a $6.5 million club option for 2011 and, because Boston was smart enough to offer Wagner arbitration, the Braves also forfeit their first-round draft pick to the Red Sox next June.
That's a lot of freight to pay for a 38-year-old closer who missed most of last season following Tommy John ligament transfer surgery. And that's why I think the final verdict will be black or white, without shades of gray.
Wagner says his arm feels better than it has in a long time, and a small sample of games for Boston at the end of 2009 (1-1 with a 1.98 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings) backs him up.
And as Braves general manager Frank Wren notes, we're talking about a man who has converted 86 percent of his save opportunities over his career.
But is the 38-year-old, post-surgery Wagner still that guy?
That's the Braves' gamble, one in which they didn't blink in making Monday. (They do have a partial buffer zone for the lost draft pick, though, because they still stand to gain picks for relievers Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez, who were offered arbitration, assuming they sign elsewhere).
The upside is tremendous, especially for a team Wren views as being capable of winning 90 games or more.
The downside? That manager Bobby Cox will be rummaging around his pen looking to fill the ninth-inning gap if Wagner blows out again or simply can't handle the requirements of a closer on a contending team (converting nearly every save opportunity, pitching on back-to-back days, etc.).
For now, this sure beats last winter, when the Braves spent November and December chasing their tail in failed Jake Peavy trade talks, finishing behind the Yankees in their pursuit of starter A.J. Burnett and getting burned by the agent for shortstop Rafael Furcal, who signed with the Dodgers after the Braves thought they had him.
Wagner's club option for 2011, by the way, becomes guaranteed if the lefty closer finishes 50 games next season.
If it gets that far, that will be money well spent.
Posted on: June 13, 2008 11:14 pm
Edited on: June 13, 2008 11:54 pm
Not that Atlanta's recent run of injuries has bordered on the absurd, but a baseball came zooming out of the sky to knock slugger Chipper Jones out of the lineup Friday night in Anaheim.
Just like a meteor or something.
Actually, what happened was this: Jones, leading the majors with a .414 batting average, took a cut during batting practice, drilled the ball skyward ... but it slammed into one of the batting cage poles and ricocheted straight down, slamming into his left eye. Fortunately, the Braves announced late Saturday that X-rays were negative and are listing Jones as day-to-day.
For any other team, it might have been a freak thing.
For the Braves, who took a six-game losing streak into the weekend and were an embarrassing 7-24 on the road, it was business as usual.
Then there's reliever Rafael Soriano, who was just activated on June 2 but still can't (or won't) pitch on consecutive days.
And then there's Jair Jurrjens, who was scratched from Wednesday's start in Chicago when he turned an ankle falling down the stairs outside of the Wrigley Field visting clubhouse.
"We've had tough luck," said Tim Hudson, the rare member of the opening day rotation still standing, was saying not long before Jones took the ball off of his coconut and was lost Friday night. "Smoltz, Soriano ... nagging injuries throughout the year.
"Glavine's down. It's tough. We're not going to throw a pity party. It seems like every team is going through it. But we've been hit with some tough ones."
Even before Jones was taken for precautionary X-rays Friday night, the Braves put Smoltz on a conference call at midday to discuss his shoulder surgery. The legendary right-hander, though finished for the season, was optimistic on the call that he will come back.
Meantime, the Braves announced that tests revealed a small tear in Glavine's elbow but that he won't need surgery and should be back around the All-Star break.
It's not good at the back end of the bullpen, either, where Moylan last year developed into one of manager Bobby Cox's most trusted set-up men. Moylan had Tommy John ligament transfer surgery earlier this season.
"His stuff was as dirty as anyone's in the game," Hudson said.
Entering this weekend, 17 disabled list moves had cost the Braves 507 games.
Likes: The Iowa Boy Scouts. Now those are scouts. ... The halo on the Big A outside Angels Stadium being lit on nights following a victory but remaining dark on nights following a loss. ... David Letterman's Top Ten Signs an NBA Game is Fixed the other night, which included: 10. Game begins 20 minutes before visiting team arrives. 7. Missed three-pointers count for two points if they're "pretty close." 3. The team loses even though it led in points, delegates and the popular vote. ... The cab that Dave O'Brien, beat man for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and Mark Bowman, of MLB.com, was involved in an accident on the Dan Ryan Freeway in Chicago on Friday morning as the pair were attempting to travel to Southern California. Good news is, it was a minor fender-bender and everyone was OK. But O'Brien, vice-president of the Baseball Writers' Assn. of America, and Bowman were forced to unload their bags from the cab and frantically hail another mode of transportation right there on the freeway. A Super Shuttle picked them up.
Dislikes: Sad, sad day when Tim Russert suddenly passes away at the far-too-young age of 58. Prayers for his family.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"Mama, take this badge off of me
-- Bob Dylan, Knockin' on Heaven's Door