Sunday, August 21, 2011

Bad A.J. Is Yanks' Biggest Concern; Pete Pihos, 1923-2011; Norm Willey, 1927-2011

I hate having to do weekend round-ups. Especially when it's nearly a full week.

On Wednesday night, the Yankees closed out a series in Kansas City by losing 5-4 to the Royals. Bartolo Colon (8-7) had one bad inning, the 3rd. A comeback fell short against Bruce Chen (8-5) and Joakim Soria (22nd save). Hector Noesi pitched 3 scoreless innings of relief, and homers came from Curtis Granderson (his 34th) and Russell Martin (his 13th), but a comeback from 5-2 down fell short. Still, taking 2 out of 3 on the road is good.

On Thursday the Yankees went into Minneapolis to play the Minnesota Twins, decidedly better results. CC Sabathia broke a personal 3-game losing streak (17-7), outpitching Brian Duensing (8-12) with help from Granderson gunning down 2 Twin runners at 2nd base, and home runs from Mark Teixeira (33), Nick Swisher (15) and Andruw Jones (8).

On Friday night, Phil Hughes allowed a 1st inning homer to Trevor Plouffe (Who?) but cruised the rest of the way, saving his place in the rotation with a beautiful effort (4-4) that saw him not allow another hit until the 8th. The Yanks pounded Kevin Slowey (0-1) thanks to 2 homers from Martin (15) and 2 doubles from Teix, producing an 8-1 Yankee win.

Saturday night was a stink bomb from "Bad A.J." Burnett allowed 7 runs in the first 2 innings and the Yanks never recovered. Andruw Jones hit his 9th homer but a late comeback from 9-1 down fell well short. Thanks to the pitching, the bad from A.J. and the good from Francisco Liriano (9-9), the Yanks lost 9-4.

Which brings us to yesterday's brilliant performance from Ivan Nova: 7 innings, no runs, 5 hits, only 1 walk, for the win (13-4 -- Cliff Who?). David Robertson pitched the 8th, and Mariano Rivera the 9th for his 33rd save (and some people thought he was getting old).

Alex Rodriguez returned to the lineup and went 0-for-5, but played flawless 3rd base including a great throw. Granderson tied Jose (Go On, Test Me) Bautista for the home run lead with his 35th -- an inside-the-parker. And Teix made it a rather strange back-to-back job with a screaming liner juuuust over the left field fence, a near-copy of the shot he hit to beat the Twins in Game 2 of the 2009 American League Division Series. He's now right behind Grandy and Bautista with 34.

Yankees 3, Twins 0. Phil Dumatrait took the loss (1-2).


So, the Yankees are 77-48. In the AL Eastern Division, they are a half-game, a full game in the loss column, ahead of the Boston Red Sox; 8 ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays; 13 ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays, and a whopping 29 1/2 ahead of the Baltimore Orioles, who may just get eliminated from the Division race before August is torn off the calendar. In the chase for home-field advantage throughout the AL Playoffs (due to the All-Star Game they won't get it in the World Series), they are 5 1/2 (7 in the loss column) ahead of the AL West-leading and defending AL Champion Texas Rangers, and 9 1/2 (10) games ahead of the AL Central-leading Detroit Tigers.

Mariano is now 8 saves short of 600, 9 short of the all-time record set by Trevor Hoffman (who got his Number 51 retired by the San Diego Padres yesterday), and 10 short of becoming the sole all-time leader. There are 37 games left in the season. Frankly, I don't think he can be stopped from getting it this season, unless the Yankees simply win too many blowouts, thus denying him the save opportunities.

But, as Hank Aaron reminded us in 1973 as he was closing in on 714 home runs, a career record doesn't have to be broken in a particular season. Then again, as Roberto Clemente reminded us in 1972 as he was closing in on 3,000 hits, "I have to get that hit this year. I might die." We'll never know if Roberto was kidding, but he did turn out to be prophetic. And as Thurman Munson showed us Yankee Fans, tomorrow is promised to no one.

The injury situation is as follows: A-Rod, Hughes and Rafael Soriano are back. Freddy Garcia is eligible to come off the Disabled List tomorrow, but probably won't, but should be back soon. Ramiro Pena had his appendix taken out, and both Damaso Marte and Pedro Feliciano may be close to returning from rotator cuff surgery; Pena may be back for September call-ups, and the other 2 may also be back in September, although that would preclude them being on the postseason roster.

Joba Chamberlain (who also had appendicitis, but is out due to Tommy John surgery) and Colin Curtis are out for the season, and while Curtis should be fine for spring training, Joba may miss Opening Day and have to start the season in the minors, but he won't be out for a huge chunk of next season. (Huge chunk? Joba? Save your jokes.)


Right now, the Yanks' biggest concern should be Burnett. Garcia going on the DL solved the question of who would be the odd man out when the 6-man rotation had to become a 5-man rotation, but once Garcia comes off the DL, there may not be a place for A.J. Who you gonna take out? Not CC. Not Nova. Not Garcia. Colon has been a concern lately, but I wouldn't take him out except maybe -- maybe -- to move him to the bullpen in the postseason. And Hughes seems to be fully back.

Mike Lupica said in his Sunday New York Daily News column, "I'm just hoping some of these young Yankee pitchers turn out to be as good as, well, Ian Kennedy."

You might remember Kennedy: He, along with Phil Hughes and catching prospect Jesus Montero, was one of those players the Yankees refused to send to the Twins in a trade for Johan Santana in the 2007-08 off-season.

Kennedy was a bust in New York, and contributed just 1 major-league inning in the 2009 season. After which, he was part of the 3-team deal that dumped Phil Coke (and no smile) and prized prospect Austin Jackson on the Tigers, while getting the Yankees Granderson. Kennedy ended up with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and is 15-4 this season, leading the National League in wins. His ERA+ is 123, and his WHIP is 1.131.

Is Ian Kennedy a great pitcher? This year, he's every bit as good as the pitcher the Yankees supposedly couldn't live without, Cliff Lee. (Who is pitching for the Phillies against the Mets tonight. I suspect he is going to win.) But is Kennedy, this season, a serious upgrade over Colon? Over Garcia? Over Nova? Over an again-healthy Hughes? Not really. And if Manny Banuelos and Dustin Betances (the Killer Bs) turn out to be good replacements for Colon (who's 38) and Garcia (who's about to turn 35), then, really, do the Yankees need him (or Lee)? No.

And perhaps I have to remind Lupica, the man who, for the last 30 years, has been New York's biggest sports columnist (though a native of Nashua, New Hampshire, a graduate of Boston College, and an inveterate Red Sox, Met fan and Yankee hater) that Ian Kennedy pitches in the National League West (including against pitchers and their late-inning pinch-hitters), while the Yankees pitch in the American League East.

Remember: Casting eyes on a pitcher who did well for the Arizona Diamondbacks doesn't mean he'll do well for the New York Yankees. Ask Javier Vazquez. Hell, ask Randy Johnson, who's only the best lefthanded pitcher of the last quarter-century (and maybe more).

At least Lupica had the decency to also write in yesterday's column, "Capt. Jeter must have totally missed the memo about being washed up, no kidding."

Subway Squawker Lisa couldn't be reached for comment. She's probably still hosting her party honoring A-Rod's return.

Hey, if he hits like the old A-Rod, and fields better than Eduardo Nunez (not hard, unless you're, well, me), and the Yankees win another title, I'll not only celebrate with her, I'll even drink what she drinks. Even if it's some whacked-out recipe invented down at the University of Texas.

Jeter hits 3050 DONE
Rivera saves 592 10
A-Rod homers 626 137
A-Rod hits 2762 238
Magic Number 38 (to eliminate Scum, 30 for Rays, 23 for Jays, 10 for O's... that's right, 10)


Two old-time Philadelphia Eagles died recently: Pete Pihos and Norm Willey.

Pihos, one of several athletes nicknamed "the Golden Greek," was born in Orlando in 1923, and attended Indiana University, and may have been that great basketball school's best football player ever.

He played end on both offense and defense, starring with the Eagles from 1947 to 1955. In each of his first 3 seasons, the Eagles won the NFL Eastern Division, and advanced to the NFL Championship Game. In 1947, they lost to the Chicago Cardinals at Comiskey Park. In 1948, despite a snowstorm dumping a foot of snow on Philadelphia, they got their revenge on the Cardinals at Shibe Park (later renamed Connie Mack Stadium). And in 1949, defying the line "It never rains in Southern California," a torrential downpour on the Coliseum didn't stop the Eagles from beating the Los Angeles Rams.
Pihos was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1970. He was able to attend a big 40th Anniversary reunion of the 1948-49 Champion Eagles at Veterans Stadium in 1988, but was not there for the 50th Anniversary in 1998. He had been battling Alzheimer's disease. He was 88.

"Wild Man" Willey, born in West Virginia in 1927 and playing at that State's Marshall University and then with the Eagles from 1950 to 1957 -- like Pihos, as an end on both offense and defense -- was not a Hall-of-Famer. But by the standards of the 1950s, he was a pretty good defensive player. He made the Pro Bowl in 1954 and 1955.

And, supposedly, he once collected 17 sacks.

Not in a season.

In a single game.

Against the New York Giants, no less.
A contemporary newspaper account is what suggests this: It says that he tackled the Giants' quarterback behind the line of scrimmage 17 times. It was October 26, 1952, at the Polo Grounds, in a game the Eagles won 14-10.

It wasn't until many years later that Los Angeles Rams defensive end Deacon Jones coined the word "sack" to describe tackling a quarterback for a loss. And it wasn't until 1982 that the NFL started officially counting them.

So Jones doesn't get credit for being the NFL's leader in sacks for a single season: 26 in 1967, ahead of the record currently (and perhaps dubiously, if you remember that last game of the season) held by Michael Strahan with 22 1/2 in 2001. Nor does Jones get credit for being the NFL's leader in sacks for a career: 194 1/2, which would have been surpassed thus far only by Reggie White with 198 and Bruce Smith with 200.

And Willey doesn't get credit for appearing to have gotten an excellent season's worth of sacks in the space of what was probably no more than half an hour of actual game time. He was just short of 84 when he died.

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