Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Melk of Human Kindness; Girardi Blows Another; Bill Gallo, 1922-2011

The Yankees began a 3-game series with the Kansas City Royals last night at Yankee Stadium II. It's been a long time since a series with the Royals really mattered, although from 1976 to 1985 that matchup was fraught with implications, complications, imprecations, depreadations, devastations and, at least until 1980, for the Yankees mostly acclamations -- but, starting in 1980, mostly frustrations.

The series marks the return of one Melky Astacio Cabrera to The Bronx. The Melkman was part of the Yankees' frustrating seasons of 2005 to '08, but a big part of their return to glory in 2009. Several walkoff hits and becoming the first Yankee to hit for the cycle since before the Joe Torre era began (Tony Fernandez in 1995) justified the faith of all those fans who had the "Got Melk?" T-shirts, and the Yankees won the World Series.

And yet, he was let go in the off-season, sent, along with 2 guys who haven't yet amounted to anything, to the Atlanta Braves for 2 pitchers. One, the returning Javier Vazquez, was a disaster. The verdict: Guilty of gross mound-based incompetence. With the other, lefty reliever Boone Logan, the jury is still out. The Braves released Melky after one season, and he signed with the Royals last December.

He's currently batting .282 with 4 home runs and 22 RBIs for the Royals, which would (for the moment) make him an upgrade at left field over Brett Gardner, but not at his usual position, center field, over Curtis Granderson, who is having a great season.

As with Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, the ringless Jason Giambi, and even the Pennantless Bobby Abreu when they made their first returns to Yankee Stadium after they were let go, Melky got a nice hand from the Yankee Fans. Good.

After all, it's not like he was Carl Pavano. Or Randy Johnson. Or even Gary Sheffield.

Melky was 1-for-4 with a homer last night, for the Royals' only run. Other than that, Freddy Garcia (2-2) pitched very well for 6 innings, outdueling Kyle Davies (1-5). David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera (13th save) each pitched a scoreless inning.

Derek Jeter singled home a run in the 3rd, and then Alex Rodriguez, mired in a slump that was even worse than the one Jeter was in until a week ago, drove in 2 runs with a 5th-inning single. Both of those hits came with 2 outs. So a Captain's Contribution, and an A-Men from A-Rod.

Yankees 3, Royals 1. Counting last night's game,the Royals are 15-8 at home, but only 3-9 on the road. Overall, they're just over .500 at 18-17. Compared to what they've usually done since 1993, the last time they were even remotely in a Pennant race, that's progress. They're 5 1/2 games behind the American League Central Division-leading Cleveland Indians.

The Yankees remain in 1st place in the AL Eastern Division, a game ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays (2 in the loss column), 4 1/2 (6) ahead of the Boston Red Sox, 5 1/2 (7) ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays, and 5 1/2 (6) ahead of the Baltimore Orioles. (I have the teams listed in descending order of winning percentage; the differences in the number of games each team has played explains the discrepancies.)

Game 2 of the series is tonight. A.J. Burnett takes the hill for the Yankees, and the Royals' starter will be Vin Mazzaro. He's from nearby Rutherford, New Jersey, and the Yankees often have trouble with pitchers who are local guys. That's not the only bad sign: Due to an injury to another starter, Mazzaro has just been called up from Triple-A. The proverbial, troublesome "pitcher we've never seen before"?

Not quite: He last pitched against the Yankees for the Oakland Athletics on August 31, 2010, and got rocked, not making it through the 4th inning. In 2009, the Yankees smacked him around on July 23 and August 19. That 8/19/09 appearance is the only time he's completed a 5th inning against the Yankees: Overall, in 3 appearances, all starts, his teams have lost all of them to the Yankees, and he's 0-2 with a 9.69 ERA (14 earned runs in 13 innings).

I think the Yankees can hit this guy, so it all depends on whether Good A.J. or Bad A.J. shows up.

One pitcher who will not be showing up is reliever Rafael Soriano, who's experiencing some tightness in his shoulder. But Phil Hughes is scheduled to throw off a mound again in a few days. Very good sign.

*

On May 12, 2001, 10 years ago today, A.J. Burnett pitched a no-hitter. It wasn't for the Yankees, it was for the Florida Marlins, against the San Diego Padres at Jack Murphy Stadium (or whatever corporate name it had at the time).

Last night, we were wondering who would show up for the Yankees: "Good A.J." as in 2009, or "Bad A.J." as in 2010.

Good A.J. showed up, and he brought it: 7 innings, 1 hit, 1 run -- a home run by Eric Hosmer. (He plays 1st base, which is appropriate, because before this game, I would have said, "Who?" Yes, Who is on first.)

And my fears about the unfamiliar Vin Mazzaro starting for the Kansas City Royals were unfounded: The native of Hackensack, New Jersey and graduate of Rutherford High School in, well, Rutherford, lasted only 4 innings, giving up 2 runs, including a league-leading 12th home run by Curtis Granderson.

So, going into the top of the 8th, it was Yankees 2, Royals 1. With the Yankee bullpen, this is a good sign.

Unfortunately, keeping Ye Olde Holy Pitch Count in mind, Joe Girardi pulled Burnett for David Robertson. Now, if you were reading last year, you know that Robertson drove me crazy last year, but has been superb this year. But he went back to last year's model, and blew the lead. The game went to extra innings, and the Royals scored in the top of the 10th ex-Met Jeff Francoeur singling home Hosmer to make it 3-2 Royals.

Then came the bottom of the 10th. This was the kind of inning you think about when your team misses the Playoffs by one fucking game. (In this case, I think the profanity is warranted.)

Joakim Soria comes in to pitch for the Royals. This guy can't find the plate with a map. He throws not a single strike (or, at least, not a single pitch I would have called a strike) to his 1st 2 batters. He walks Russell Martin on 4 straight pitches. Awright, leadoff man on.

Brett Gardner up. John Sterling says on WCBS that, with his speed, and the way the infield was set up, Gardner could have bunted to the left side and beaten the throw. That would be the tying and winning runs on with nobody out, and the next 3 hitters would be Derek Jeter, Granderson and Mark Teixeira. If the game remained undecided, next would be Alex Rodriguez. (Not Robinson Cano, however: He was hit in the head with a pitch earlier, and had to be replaced by Eduardo Nunez. A CAT scan revealed nothing wrong, and he's day-to-day.)

Instead, bunting on orders from Girardi, Gardner bunts... to the right side! He gets thrown out. So now, instead of 1st and 2nd with nobody out, there's a man on 2nd with 1 out.

Jeter's hot streak comes to a crashing halt, finishing an 0-for-6 day with a grounder to short. Martin goes to 3rd. Now, I realize that, if there had been men on 1st and 2nd, this would likely have been a double play. But maybe not. Perhaps with 2 men on, Jeter would have approached the at-bat differently, and the game would have been tied, with men on 1st and 3rd (the winning run) and less than 2 out. Instead...

The Grandy Man came through again, singling home Martin. Tie game, man on 1st (the winning run) with 2 out. Teix up.

Teix flies out to center, where our old friend Melky Cabrera does his duty to his current team, and catches it.

We go to the 11th. Instead of having won this thing in the 10th.

As Phillies fan Bill Cosby says, "Don't ever say, 'It can't get any worse.' It can always get worse!"

Instead of leaving A.J. in for the 8th and letting Mariano Rivera close it out in the 9th, Girardi brought Robertson in for the 8th, and he blew it. He also used Boone Logan in the 8th. He sent Mo in for the 9th and he got that job done, but he didn't send Mo back out for the 10th, and K.C. scored off Buddy Carlyle. Knowing that the Yankees had tied it and it would go to the 11th, did Girardi bring in a better pitcher?

No! He leaves the already-failed (at least in this game) Carlyle in! And he blows it again, walking leadoff hitter Chris Getz! Girardi pulls him for Luis Ayala. As Brandon C. of the blog Pinstripe Alley points out, this was a mistake, because the Yankees sent Lance Pendleton down to Scranton to make room for Ayala coming off the Disabled List. "You don't lose your job due to injury," says one of the "unwritten rules" of sport.

Except, as Brandon C. also points out, the Yankees could have sent down Ramiro "Never mind what a lousy hitter I am, check out my versatility!" Pena to make room for Ayala. With Nunez, and Martin's ability to play multiple positions while Francisco Cervelli can be a good backup catcher (if not a great hitter), Pena is superfluous to Pinstripe aspirations. In other words, we don't need him.

And why was Ayala in the game in the first place? Because Rafael Soriano has a problem with his shoulder, and may have to go on the D.L.; and Joba Chamberlain was getting a night of rest. Okay, fair enough, but this was a situation tailor-made for Pendleton, who's been terrific since coming to the Yankees.

Ayala gets Alcides Escobar out, but he allows a single to Jarrod Dyson, getting Getz to third. And, again, Hosmer is involved, hitting an 0-and-2 pitch for a sacrifice fly that scores Getz.

In the bottom of the 11th, A-Rod flies out, and Nunez and Swisher strike out. Royals 4, Yankees 3.

WP: Soria (3-0), and giving him the win is a joke, but it's also the rule in this case. SV: Louis Coleman (1). LP: Carlyle (0-1).

All told, the Yankees got 12 hits, the Royals only 4, but it's runs that count. The Yankees were 2-for-16 with runners in scoring position last night. Two such hits in 11 fucking innings. They left 15 men on base. Fifteen. Thurman Munson's number.

Only 3 runs on 4 hits when the opposition scores 4 on 4 hits? 2-for-16 with RISP? 15 LOBs? Those facts are absolutely unacceptable.

The rubber game of the series is tonight. Ivan Nova starts against... another Who's He? Sean O'Sullivan. Cue Harrison Ford: "I've got a bad feeling about this!"

To make matters worse, technically, the Yankees are now tied for 1st with the Tampa Bay Rays, although we're .005 ahead of them percentage-wise and a game ahead in the AILC (All-Important Loss Column).

And the Rays are playing an early game against the Indians in Cleveland, and as I type this are winning 4-0 and threatening for more in the 3rd. By game-time, we will probably be out of 1st place. Got to take it back with a win over those Great Plains rednecks.

Jeter 2962 38
Rivera 572 29
A-Rod 618 145
Magic Number 127 (to eliminate Rays, 124 for O's, 122 for Scum and Jays)

*

Bill Gallo died yesterday. He was the greatest New York newspaper cartoonist of the 20th Century -- and he didn't just do sports.

A son of Spanish immigrants, he was born on December 28, 1922 in Manhattan, and got a job as a copy boy at the New York Daily News on, according to this cartoon, October 8, 1941. A year later, he was drafted into World War II. He served with the U.S. Marine Corps, seeing combat at Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima.

He returned to the Daily News after The War, and never left. In 1960, Leo O'Melia, the paper's sports cartoonist, died, and Bill was given his job.

And what a job. He created 2 enduring characters. One was Yuchie -- a variant of "Eugene," named for a childhood friend who didn't come back from The War -- who represented the kid in us all. The other was Basement Bertha, so named because she loved the early Mets, who were stuck in last place -- in those days, referred to as "the basement" or "the cellar." He often had Bertha talking to Met manager Casey Stengel, whose distinctive mug was easy to draw.
Bertha and Yuchie

He lampooned George Steinbrenner as "General von Steingrabber," indulging the Boss' German heritage -- not as a Nazi, but as a World War I-style Prussian officer, with spiked helmet and enormous epaulets. George didn't mind: He asked Bill for the original of the first General cartoon, and got it.
His best-known cartoon came after the death of Yankee catcher and Captain Thurman Munson in a plane crash on August 2, 1979. It summed up what even people who didn't like the Yankees were feeling.
Bill Gallo died on May 10, 2011, from complications from pneumonia. He was 88. If you haven't seen his book Drawing a Crowd, get it: It contains a lot of great work.

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