Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Mission Impossible: Mr. Phelps vs. King Felix

Remember Mission: Impossible? The 1960s TV show, not the insult to the fans that is the Tom Cruise movie franchise.

Peter Graves played Jim Phelps, the director of the Impossible Mission Force -- effectively, Leroy Jethro Gibbs to the IMF's NCIS Major Case Response Team. Each episode would begin with him playing a tape and looking at briefing information. The voice on the tape would say, "Good morning, Mr. Phelps," and explain the mission -- "should you choose to accept it." At the conclusion, the voice would say, "As always, should you or any of your IM Force be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions. This tape will self-destruct in five seconds. Good luck, Jim." And then the tape would start smoking and disintegrate, eliminating the evidence.

All too often, Yankee pitcher David Phelps has self-destructed on the mound, seemingly in five seconds.

Last night, in the makeup of a rainout the month before, the Yankees hosted the Seattle Mariners. Starting for the Yankees was our own Mr. Phelps. Sadly, Joe Girardi's Binder refuses to disavow any knowledge of Phelps' pitching record.

Starting for the Mariners was Felix Hernandez, a.k.a. "King Felix" -- a ridiculous nickname, since a king wears a crown, and this guy has never pitched in the pressure of a playoff race game, let a lone a playoff game. Still, Hernandez is one of the best pitchers in baseball.

Was this an impossible mission? It didn't start out that way. Phelps only fell behind 2-0 after 4 innings, and in the bottom of the 4th, the Yankees tied the game. After 6 innings, it was still 2-2.

A reasonable manager would conclude that Phelps had done his job, and removed him, and sent in the bullpen.

But Joe Girardi trusted his Binder, which said, "Leave Phelps in."

Big mistake. Phelps faced 4 batters in the top of the 7th: Double, walk, bunt single, 2-run single. 4-2 Mariners.

That's when Girardi took Mr. Phelps out, and replaced him with Matt Thornton: Sacrifice bunt, 2-run single. 6-2 Mariners.

The Mariners tacked on 4 more in the 9th to make the final score 10-2. WP: Hernandez (8-1). No save. LP: Phelps (1-3).

But the moment that most observers are talking about came in the top of the 4th. Kyle Seager led off with a popup that Derek Jeter could have handled, but he thought it was going to land foul. It didn't, and by the time Brett Gardner was able to get to it and get it back to the infield, Seager was on 3rd base with a cheap triple.

"It never even crossed my mind that it was fair," Jeter said. "I almost gave it to a fan. I'm glad I didn't."

At least Jeter didn't disavow any knowledge of his own actions.

Lip-readers saw Phelps yelling at the Captain: "Throw the ball!"

In all fairness, this was a rookie mistake by Jeter, who will turn 40 this month. He should not have let it go.

Was Phelps wrong to yell at Jeter? No. He was, however, wrong to throw that pitch in the first place.

Then again, Girardi was wrong to leave him in the game for a 7th inning -- if not wrong to start him at all.

*

So here we are, 9 weeks into the 26-week season, and the American League Eastern Division standings look like this:

Toronto3424.586-
NY Yankees2927.5184.0
Baltimore2827.5094.5
Boston2730.4746.5
Tampa Bay2335.39711.0

All that hype about the Toronto Blue Jays last year, and they were horrible. This year, for the moment, they're getting it done, having won 11 of their last 13.

The Baltimore Orioles and the Boston Red Sox, as expected, are by no means out of it -- the Sox having followed a 10-game losing streak with a 7-game winning streak. But the Tampa Bay Rays' run of 6 seasons in contention for the Playoffs appears to be over: Teams 11 games back in early June can certainly get back into the race, but they usually don't.

The elimination numbers for the Jays to win the AL East are as follows: Rays 94, Sox 100, Yanks 103, O's (who have games in hand) 104.

*

Tonight, the Yankees begin a 3-game home series with the Oakland Athletics. Here are the projected pitching matchups:

Tonight, 7:05 PM: Hiroki Kuroda vs. Scott Kazmir. Injured have prevented the former Met phenom Kazmir from becoming the star he could have been, so that's one bonehead trade for which the Mets can't really be blamed for anymore.

Tomorrow, 7:05 PM: Vidal Nuno vs. Jesse Chavez. That's an A's win.

Thursday, 1:05 PM: Masahiro Tanaka vs. Drew Pomeranz.

Then it's off on a long Western roadtrip: 4 in Kansas City, 3 in Seattle, 3 in Oakland.

In spite of all the grumbling about injuries, RISPfails, blown saves by David Robertson, the fielding of Kelly Johnson, and Jeter's rare lapse last night, the wheels haven't come off yet. But these next 13 -- the 6 vs. Oakland, the 4 vs. K.C., and the 3 vs. Seattle -- could set the tone for the rest of the season: If the Yankees come out of them okay, they should be able to make a Playoff run. If not, it's build for 2015 time.

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