Posted on: September 13, 2011 7:14 pm
Edited on: September 14, 2011 1:05 am

If nothing else, 600 lets us recognize Rivera

We celebrate big round numbers, and we celebrate records.

We followed every step Derek Jeter took as he closed in on 3,000 hits. We weren't thrilled with the idea that Barry Bonds was passing Hank Aaron, but we watched.

Now Mariano Rivera has 600 saves. He's one save away from Trevor Hoffman's career record.

And we're not really sure what to make of it.

We don't know what to make of 600 saves. We don't know what to make of the saves record.

What to make of a record obscure enough that Jeff Reardon once held it? What to make of a record that Lee Smith held while he was on the Hall of Fame ballot, but wasn't enough to get him even 50 percent of the votes?

It's not like with two more saves, Rivera is going to replace Hoffman as the greatest closer ever. With all respect to Hoffman, who had an outstanding career, Rivera has long been seen as the greatest closer ever.

We don't need a number to tell us that, any more than we've needed numbers to acknowledge Rivera's greatness through his career. He's led the league in saves just three times in 15 years as a closer (and not once since 2004), even though almost every one of those years he was the best closer in the game.

And if 600 gives us a chance to recognize that, so much the better. If the record helps us demonstrate that, well, fine.

We know that saves don't measure a closer's worth. We know that the save stat is flawed.

Rivera can go weeks without a save (as he did earlier this year) without doing anything wrong, simply because the Yankees scored too many runs in the games they won, never creating a save opportunity.

A day after Rivera reached 599 on Sunday in Anaheim, he sat unused Monday in Seattle, where the Yankees won, 9-1. Until the Yankees took the lead in the sixth inning Tuesday, there was no certainty he would get 600 that night, either.

But they did score. And when they took a 3-2 lead to the ninth, he held it, as he had done 599 times before.

He depends on his teammates more than anyone, because he can't get a save unless they lead -- and not by too much.

The biggest reason Rivera has never had a 60-save season: The Yankees have never created 60 save opportunities for him.

A hitter goes to the park every day with a chance to a hit or a home run. A starting pitcher goes to the park every five days with a chance to get a win (assuming, of course, that his team doesn't get shut out).

A closer has no idea whether there will be a save opportunity today, tomorrow or this week.

Thus, we have no idea when Rivera will get a chance at his 601st save. It's a hard chase to follow, much harder than Jeter's run at 3,000 hits or Jim Thome's chase of 600 home runs.

It's nothing like a starter going for 300 wins.

What to make of 600 saves? I'm still not sure.

But I know what to make of Mariano Rivera, and this is as good a time to recognize it as any.

Posted on: September 8, 2011 8:55 pm
Edited on: September 8, 2011 11:48 pm

3 to Watch: The 'Discourage them' edition

The Phillies' goals for the rest of the season would seem to be simple.

Stay healthy (or get healthy). Get rested. Figure out a playoff rotation. Try to break the club record for wins (it's 101, and after a win Thursday the Phillies need just a 10-10 finish to break it).

This week, as the Phillies have faced two potential playoff opponents, manager Charlie Manuel threw another goal out there:

Intimidate the opposition. Look as unbeatable as possible.

"If you play really well, it could discourage them," Manuel said, in advance of this weekend's series in Milwaukee.

The Phillies will likely open the playoffs against the Diamondbacks, who were 2 1/2 games behind the Brewers entering play Thursday. In that case, their second-round opponent would be either the Braves or the Brewers.

The Phillies swept the Braves in a three-game series. They opened a four-game series against the Brewers with a 7-2 win Thursday night.

The games barely matter in the standings, with both teams far ahead in their divisions. Manuel thinks they could matter in the minds of the players, especially if one team dominates the other.

"When I managed in the minor leagues, I had some big hitting teams," he said. "I always liked it when the other team watched us take batting practice. It scared them."

So Charlie, someone asked, does that mean you don't want your pitchers watching when Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder take BP?

"My pitchers can," he said, laughing. "My starting rotation can watch them."

Nothing will scare Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee et al, Manuel figures, probably correctly.

But there is some thought in Philadelphia that the one team that would really concern the Phillies would be the Giants, who knocked them out of the playoffs last year and also won two of three in Philadelphia in July (although the Phillies then won three of four in San Francisco).

The Phillies lost two of three to the Brewers in April, but the Phillies don't look at the Brewers the way they look at the Giants.

Not yet, anyway.

If the Brewers play really well this weekend, maybe the Phillies could be the team that gets discouraged.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. With Josh Beckett's ankle injury, the Red Sox have reason to worry about their starting rotation. They don't have to worry about making it to the playoffs. Right? Uh, I think that's right, but I also noticed that Boston's wild-card lead over the Rays shrunk to 6 1/2 games on Thursday night. And I noticed that the two teams have seven remaining head-to-head meetings, starting with Red Sox at Rays, Friday night (7:10 ET) at Tropicana Field. Great pitching matchup Sunday, with Jon Lester going against James Shields, but especially with Beckett out, the Red Sox might be more focused on what happens Friday, when John Lackey faces Wade Davis. Of the 140 pitchers that have started at least 15 games in the majors this year, Lackey (6.11) is the only one with an ERA over 6.00.

2. For the last three weeks, the Angels have had an easier schedule than the Rangers, and that's no doubt one reason why the Rangers' lead in the American League West shrunk from seven games to 2 1/2 games. But the schedule turns starting this weekend, when the Rangers begin a homestand against the A's and Indians, followed by a trip to Seattle and Oakland. Meanwhile, in Anaheim, it gets tougher, including Yankees at Angels, Saturday night (9:05 ET) at Angel Stadium. At least the Angels have their top three starters set for the series, with Jered Weaver facing Bartolo Colon on Friday, Dan Haren against CC Sabathia on Saturday and Ervin Santana against Freddy Garcia on Sunday.

3. When someone asked Manuel the other day if there's any way Vance Worley could find his way into the postseason rotation, the Phillies manager said: "I think that's a question that should be asked." While the Yankees and Red Sox wonder if they have enough pitchers they would want to start in October, the Phillies seem to have too many. Worley has been outstanding, but it's still hard to see Manuel using him ahead of Roy Oswalt, especially since the manager is on record saying he expects Oswalt's velocity to pick up in October. Worley gets another chance to make his case in Phillies at Brewers, Sunday afternoon (2:10 ET) at Miller Park. It's an interesting case, as the Phillies have won each of Worley's last 14 starts. If the Phillies win Sunday, Worley will tie the Philadelphia club record of 15, set by Steve Carlton in 1972, his 27-win season. The last longer streak in the big leagues was by the 2005 Cardinals, who won 17 straight Chris Carpenter starts.

Posted on: September 2, 2011 10:42 pm

Red Sox? Yankees? How about the Rangers?

BOSTON -- Friday in the Boston Globe, columnist Dan Shaughnessy called Red Sox-Yankees the "overdue dream ALCS matchup."

Spend enough time in this part of the country, especially during Red Sox-Yankees week, and you can get sucked into believing that an all-AL East ALCS is not only overdue and dream, but also inevitable.

Until the Rangers come to town and remind you that they are the defending American League champions.

Friday's reminder was a loud one, with three home runs and a 10-0 win over the Red Sox.

Yes, there is another AL team capable of going to the World Series, and it's the same team that went there last year.

The Rangers themselves would rather not talk about it, because unlike the Yankees and Red Sox they're not yet close to guaranteeing their spot in the playoffs. Their 3 1/2-game lead over the Angels, entering play Friday, gives them the most tenuous hold of any of the eight teams currently in playoff position.

"I don't think that far ahead, because there are no guarantees in this game," manager Ron Washington said. "We haven't won anything yet."

But while winning the West is not an insignificant issue, it's reasonable to assume that the Rangers will hold off the Angels. It's also reasonable to think that they could pose a real threat to the Red Sox and/or the Yankees.

The lineup is basically the one that eliminated the Yankees last October, with Adrian Beltre, Mike Napoli and Yorvit Torrealba in place of Vladimir Guerrero and Bengie Molina.

Yes, but Cliff Lee is gone.

Yes, he is. But the Rangers' rotation is deeper than you think, and the Rangers have strengthened their bullpen so much that they can limit the outs they need from those starters.

"You make the best of what you have," pitching coach Mike Maddux said Friday. "And I like what we have."

The Rangers made the best midseason move in baseball last year when they traded for Lee. They made the best series of midseason moves this year with their deals for relievers Mike Adams, Koji Uehara and Mike Gonzalez, as colleague Scott Miller detailed a few weeks back.

With strong lineups all around the American League -- and rotation questions all around, too -- this year's AL playoffs could well be decided by the bullpens. The Rangers, who read the trade market well, could be in as good position as anyone.

The challenge for Maddux and Washington is to keep their starters from getting too worn down before October begins.

C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis both pitched through October last year, and you wonder about how that will affect them. Alexi Ogando is a converted reliever who has already pitched more than twice as many innings this year as he did all of last year.

Derek Holland, who beat the Red Sox by throwing seven shutout innings and allowing just two hits Friday night, has pitched more innings than he did a year ago.

"I'm not concerned," Washington said. "But of course we're looking at it. There is some drawback to these young guys not being there before, but it is also something they have to experience. Every starting staff in baseball that makes it to the postseason, consistently, they have to go through it before they figure it out.

"So we're going through it."

Wilson said Friday he feels better physically than he did entering September a year ago, saying he "refined" his workouts and has seen the effect.

Privately, the Rangers hope that they can create some distance between themselves and the Angels soon, in part because it would enable them to give their starters (and even some of their position players) extra rest before October.

Publicly, they say they don't expect the Angels to go away.

But the Rangers also believe that they're more ready for what's ahead, this month and probably next, than they were a year ago.

"Last year, we were constantly talking about staying focused," Michael Young said. "This year, there's no need to talk about it, because we know. We just know it."

They know that, and they know they're good.

And if everyone in the Northeast (and a bunch of people elsewhere) want to assume that this year is all about the Red Sox and Yankees, the Rangers aren't going to worry about it.

"That doesn't bother us at all," Young said. "It's a great rivalry (Yankees-Red Sox). I think if you go to our part of the country, I think you'd find that a lot of people are talking about us."

Win again in October, they'll have people talking everywhere.
Posted on: September 2, 2011 12:41 am
Edited on: September 2, 2011 1:09 am

They proved little, but Yanks come away happy

BOSTON -- This was never going to be the defining week for the American League East superpowers.

Short of a major injury, nothing that happened was going to change the course of this season for either the Yankees or the Red Sox, and nothing was going to help much in deciding whether this year goes down as a success or failure.

More than eleven hours of baseball in three days, and they proved nothing?

Pretty much.

At least the Yankees can go away thinking they got something out of it. They got a series win over the Red Sox for the first time in five tries this year, they got a CC Sabathia win over Boston for the first time in five tries this year, and they scored some runs off Josh Beckett for the first time in five tries this year.

"I don't know how much it'll help us [down the road]," hitting coach Kevin Long said. "But you put good thoughts in your mind."

The Yankees would like you to think that Thursday's 4-2 win was a major turning point for troubled starter A.J. Burnett, and their comments Thursday night would strongly suggest that Burnett will make the cut (and that Phil Hughes will go to the bullpen) when they cut from six starters to five.

Burnett gave up two runs, got one out in the sixth inning, and left with two runners on base. But manager Joe Girardi used words like "great" and "outstanding" to describe his performance, and catcher Russell Martin insisted that Burnett "just looked like a different person."

Is it possible that Burnett, who in three years as a Yankee has never shown any ability to sustain success, could pitch so well in September that he could become a postseason factor?

Theoretically, he could. But how well would he need to pitch, and how many times, for the Yankees to feel any confidence in using him in a playoff game?

"It's one step," pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. "It's a good one. Give him a lot of credit."

Give the Yankees a little credit. They were the team that had more on the line in this series, and they were the team that got something out of it.

And the Red Sox?

It's not like these three games exposed any great weaknesses. They lost Tuesday because they left 16 runners on base, and they lost Thursday because Alfredo Aceves walked one batter and hit another, and Daniel Bard made a bad pitch to Martin (who turned it into a two-run double).

Even then, they loaded the bases in the ninth inning against Mariano Rivera, who had to throw his best pitch of the night to strike out Adrian Gonzalez to end the game.

"I don't think there's a team better than the other," Martin said. "Each day, it's going to be the team that plays the best in that game."

The Yankees were a small bit better on two days this week, the Red Sox on one.

Does that mean anything? Not really.

By October, this series will be long forgotten.

Posted on: September 1, 2011 6:19 pm
Edited on: September 2, 2011 2:06 am

Yanks to find out if Montero is their DH answer

BOSTON -- It's Sept. 1, and Jesus Montero is in the Yankees lineup.

Will he be there on Oct. 1?

There's no way to answer that yet, before Montero even gets his first big-league hit. There's no way, except to say that it's obvious the Yankees plan to give him a chance to be there.

This is not your normal September call-up.

On his first day in the major leagues, Montero was the Yankees designated hitter Thursday night against Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester. He looked a touch nervous (understandable) and went 0-for-4, but he was also hit by a pitch and scored the winning run as the Yankees beat the Red Sox, 4-2.

It's clear he'll be the DH regularly, at least in the near future, against left-handed starters.

And against right-handers?

"That's something we'll decide on a daily basis," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Thursday.

Notice that he didn't rule it out. He also didn't run from the question of whether Montero could be on the playoff roster, either.

Obviously, if the Yankees are going to play Montero regularly now -- even if it's just against lefties at first -- he has a chance to impress them enough to make the postseason roster. Even though he wasn't in the big leagues before September, he would be eligible to be selected because he could replace a player who is on the disabled list.

Now, is Montero good enough to warrant a spot? Is he a better option at DH than Jorge Posada, or a better option in the lineup against lefties than Brett Gardner (whose spot he basically took Thursday, with Andruw Jones playing left field)?

We're about to find out, aren't we?

"Look at his numbers off left-handers [in Triple-A]?" Girardi said. "He has really, really good numbers. We're hoping he can give us some lightning in a bottle. I told him, 'Just go out and be the guy you are.'"

Montero is a catcher, but it's unlikely he'll see much if any time behind the plate this month. The plan is to use him as a designated hitter.

In 109 games at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Montero hit .288 with 18 home runs and 67 RBI. His OPS in 116 at-bats against left-handers was 1.039, as opposed to .728 against right-handers.

Montero is just 21 years old ("Really, really young," Girardi said), but he arrives as the most-hyped Yankees prospect in years. He has come up repeatedly in trade talks, and the Yankees nearly sent him to the Mariners last summer for Cliff Lee.

"This is my team," Montero said Thursday. "I want to be here forever."

The Yankees are just determining whether he should be here for now -- now and next month.

Category: MLB
Posted on: August 31, 2011 11:39 pm

Biggest difference for Red Sox? It's Beckett

BOSTON -- The difference between the Red Sox and the Yankees isn't nearly as great as 11-3, as in 11 Red Sox wins in 14 meetings so far.

But there is a difference, a significant difference.

The Red Sox know who their top two starters are. The Yankees don't.

The Red Sox had Josh Beckett bounce back to his historic dominance this year. The Yankees had Phil Hughes regress to historic depths.

If the Red Sox have the Beckett of 2010 (6-6, 5.78), they're where the Yankees are, wondering who starts Game 2 behind Jon Lester the way the Yankees wonder who starts Game 2 behind CC Sabathia.

Instead, Boston has the Beckett who has started five wins in five starts against the Yankees, including Wednesday's 9-5 Red Sox win. Even on a night when he wasn't at his best (handed a three-run lead, he gave up four in the sixth) Beckett went seven innings and won.

Meanwhile, rescued from that early 4-1 deficit, Hughes quickly allowed two more runs and lost.

The Red Sox are now 19-7 when Beckett starts, and he has a 2.54 ERA that would be his best for a full season. In a year where John Lackey has been mostly bad, and where Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka have both been hurt, Beckett's return to brilliance is arguably the Red Sox's most significant development of the season.

"It's huge," manager Terry Francona said. "This is the guy we've relied on. We were hoping he'd come back with a vengeance, and he has. He's been so consistent."

Others attribute the turnaround to health, but Beckett talks more about executing pitches.

"I think that's what separates good seasons from mediocre seasons or bad seasons," he said.

And if there's something that separates the Red Sox from the Yankees, it's Beckett having a good (or better than that) season.

"I'm a different pitcher now than I was at any time last year," he said, after becoming the first Red Sox pitcher in 24 years to get credit for four wins over the Yankees in one season.

So is Hughes, an 18-game winner in 2010 whose 6.75 ERA this year is the second worst ever for a Yankee who made as many as 12 starts (David Cone's 6.91 in 2000 was the only one worse).

If the Yankees keep Hughes in the rotation now, it's only because A.J. Burnett is even less reliable. If they use him in a playoff rotation, it would only be because Bartolo Colon or Freddy Garcia got hurt between now and then.

But as much discussion as there has been this week of how the Yankees go from six starters to five, the overriding question is still how they find someone they want to start behind Sabathia in October.

The Red Sox could ask the same question about their third starter, but they know Lester and Beckett (in one order or the other) go 1-2. That puts them a big step ahead of the Yankees.

They're not 11-3 ahead, no matter what the record in head-to-head meetings says.

They are ahead, thanks largely to Beckett, and that's a big deal.

Category: MLB
Posted on: August 31, 2011 6:40 pm

Ortiz the voice of peace: 'This ain't no WWF'

BOSTON -- Francisco Cervelli probably shouldn't have clapped. Jarrod Saltalamacchia probably should have chosen his words more carefully.

Good thing we have David Ortiz to put it in perspective.

No, Ortiz said emphatically, he understood what Cervelli did, and certainly didn't think it was worth fighting about. No, Ortiz said just as emphatically, he had no problem with Saltalamacchia suggesting that Cervelli's emphatic celebration had something to do with his Latin American heritage.

"We are like that, for real," said Ortiz, who comes from the Dominican Republic (Cervelli is from Venezuela). "Sometimes we forget where we're playing. The kid [Saltalamacchia] is a great dude, so I don't think he means anything bad.

"He's telling the truth."

Saltalamacchia first told reporters that "it's just the Latin players" who react the way Cervelli did, clapping wildly as he crossed the plate after hitting a home run. Saltalamacchia later said he meant to say it was because Cervelli is a young player.

"Salty comes in every day and gives me a hug, and I'm Latin," Ortiz said. "He's a sweet dude."

Ortiz has been known to irritate pitchers by admiring his home runs, and he defended himself.

"When I go deep, I want to enjoy myself," he said. "People have different ways to celebrate."

But Ortiz, who was involved in an altercation with the Orioles earlier this year, and served a three-game suspension because of it, said he doesn't want or expect his team to fight with the Yankees.

"You're playing baseball, not wrestling," he said. "We got our butts kicked [Tuesday]. All I care about is going out there and whooping their butts. Hopefully people understand, we're not here to fight. I missed three games in Baltimore, when I should have been playing.

"This ain't no WWF. This is baseball."

Posted on: August 30, 2011 8:02 pm

For A-Rod, it's the thumb -- this time

BOSTON -- It's the thumb now, the left thumb.

Before that, it was the right knee. And the left shoulder.

And the left calf, and the right hip, and the right quad.

If Alex Rodriguez played for the Mets, Fred Wilpon might say he's had everything wrong with him.

The thumb is the issue this week, sore enough that Rodriguez had a cortisone shot on Monday and may not play until Friday. He took ground balls but no batting practice Tuesday, and he's out for at least the first two games of the series against the Red Sox.

And more than that, he felt the need Tuesday to reassure people that he can still play at the level he's accustomed to playing at.

"This year has been the most frustrating, because I've had three different things going on at some point," he said, referring to the thumb, the knee and the shoulder. "But my body feels really good, and when I'm healthy, I feel I can do all the things like I did in April, or in spring training."

In spring training, Rodriguez looked like a possible MVP again. In April, he hit .290 with five home runs and 18 RBI in 20 games.

For the season, Rodriguez has played just 84 games (he'll end up playing the fewest games since he became a regular in 1996), hitting .289 with 14 home runs and 53 RBI.

He's 36 years old now, but it's hard to say that he's nearing the end of his career. Not when he still has six years -- and at least $143 million -- remaining on the contract he signed after the 2007 season.

The Yankees have played better without him than with him this season, going 32-18 (entering play Tuesday) in games he hasn't started and 48-34 in games he has started.

They didn't have him Tuesday, won't have him Wednesday and likely won't have him Thursday.

Then he'll be back . . . until the next thing goes wrong.
Category: MLB
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