Monday, September 23, 2013

Yankees Honor Mariano, Then Dishonor His Generation of Yankees

I'm still trying to catch up. From September 23:

On occasions like Old-Timers' Day or the retirement of a uniform number, the current players owe it to the former players to put up a good fight. Not necessarily to win, but to at least look like they're trying to win.

Yesterday was Mariano Rivera Day, the 1st "day" for a player at the new Yankee Stadium. The Yankees honored Mariano with the retirement of his uniform number 42, and the presentation of a few gifts. (Implicit in this is the eventual dedication of a Plaque in his honor at Monument Park, but they can't cast the Plaque until his career truly is over, and they have final statistics that they can put on it.)

On hand were many representatives of the 1996-2003 Yankee Dynasty: Joe Torre, Bernie Williams, Paul O'Neill, Jorge Posada, Tino Martinez, David Cone, John Wetteland, Jeff Nelson, Hideki Matsui. And, of course, the still-active Derek Jeter and yesterday's starting pitcher, the also-retiring Andy Pettitte.

Also on hand were members of the family of Jackie Robinson, for whom Number 42 was retired throughout baseball, with the provision that players then wearing it could continue to do so for the rest of their careers. And, 16 years later, Mariano is the last one. A Plaque was unveiled in Monument Park honoring Jackie, making him the 1st player who never played for the Yankees to be honored there.

(Jackie is, of course, a part of the history of the old Yankee Stadium, having played World Series games there for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, '49, '52, '53, '55 and '56 -- most notably stealing home plate in Game 1 in '55.)

The opposing San Francisco Giants also presented Mo with a gift. Their pitching coach is Dave Righetti, who had been the Yankees' all-time saves leader until Mo surpassed him. "Rags" never won a Series with the Yankees (though he was a part of the 1981 Pennant as a rookie starter), but he's helped the Giants win 2 of the last 3 World Series. (They won't make the Playoffs this time.)
With all that talent on hand, you'd think the Yankees would have at least put up an effort.


Certainly, Pettitte did. He had a perfect game going until the 5th inning, before walking a batter, who was subsequently erased in a double play.

And then, on WCBS -- the Yankees have announced they'll be on WFAN next season -- John Sterling said the N-word.

No, not that N-word. Not the one that Jackie Robinson faced time and time again in his struggle first to integrate baseball, then to make it fully integrated, and later to make it more fair for those who integrated it. Sterling said, "Andy Pettitte has pitched a no-hitter through 5 innings."

It's one of "the unwritten rules of baseball" that you do not say the word "no-hitter" while one is in progress, because it will jinx the pitcher.  You can say, "He hasn't allowed any hits." Or, "He is pitching hitless baseball." Or, "No (member of the opposing team) has gotten a hit yet." Anything, so long as the word "no-hitter" is not used.

Author John Thorn, who's written a bunch of books about baseball and is now MLB's Official Historian, once wrote, "Strangely, the words 'perfect game' can be spoken without similar effect."

But Sterling said, "no-hitter."

I've heard broadcasters use the word plenty of times. When Andy Hawkins had one going for the Yankees against the Chicago White Sox in 1990, Phil Rizzuto used the word on WPIX-Channel 11 many times. Hawkins kept the no-hitter, but he walked a few batters, and errors by Mike Blowers at 3rd base, Jim Leyritz in left field (he was a rookie and had never played the position before) and Jesse Barfield (normally a great fielder but he lost the ball in the Comiskey Park sun) led to 4 ChiSox runs.

Hawkins pitched 8 innings -- with the home team winning, a bottom of the 9th was not necessary -- and allowed no hits, but lost, 4-0. A candidate for the title of "the strangest game I've ever seen," right up there with that 4th of July marathon the Mets played in Atlanta in 1985.

At least 5 times, on YES, Michael Kay has used the word "no-hitter" and jinxed a game. Usually, when something like that happens, it doesn't matter: The pitcher gives up a hit, and still wins. Sometimes, with help from the bullpen. But it usually only costs the pitcher's team the no-hitter, not the game.

This time, Sterling said, "Andy Pettitte has pitched a no-hitter through 5 innings." Naturally, in the 6th, Andy allowed a hit, and then a run.

That wouldn't have been a big deal, except it was only 1-0 Yankees at that point. Mark Reynolds, who drove the Yankees so crazy last year for the Baltimore Orioles and has been a good pickup this year, hit a home run.

Andy pitched into the 8th, but allowed the runner that would decide the game. Joe Girardi pulled him, and, to a standing ovation, left the mound at Yankee Stadium (either one) as an active pitcher for the last time. (Assuming he doesn't get injured, he has one more start this season, it's on the road, and he will not be pitching in the Playoffs. No current Yankee will.)

David Robertson couldn't prevent the run from scoring, and Girardi had to bring Mo in for a 5-out save. Bringing him in for more than a 3-out save is always a risk, as he has been damn near unhittable for 3 outs since 1997, but for more than that, he's had his troubles.

(It's why, when people call him "the greatest relief pitcher ever," you have to consider the guys in the pre-Dennis Eckersley days who pitched the last 2, 3, even 4 innings of games, including Yankee stars Joe Page, Luis Arroyo, Sparky Lyle and Goose Gossage.)

Mo got the 5 outs without making it any worse. But the Yankees didn't get the job done with the bats. Until Reynolds led off the 3rd with his homer, the Yankees had no baserunners. Ichiro Suzuki drew a 2-out walk that inning, but got caught stealing. Robinson Cano singled with 1 out in the 4th, but was stranded. Brendan Ryan doubled with 2 out in the 5th, but was stranded. With 2 out in the 6th, Cano singled and Alfonso Soriano walked, but Curtis Granderson struck out.

Eduardo Nunez led off the 7th with a single. Reynolds struck out. Ryan singled, but a reliever came in and struck out Vernon Wells and Ichiro.

Alex Rodriguez led off the 8th with a single, and Cano doubled pinch-runner Zoilo Almonte to 3rd. But Soriano grounded to 3rd, and Almonte was thrown out at home, leaving runners on 1st and 2nd with 1 out. Granderson struck out again. Nunez singled, but Cano tried to score and was thrown out at home. And the Yankees went out meekly, 1-2-3, in the bottom of the 9th.

Giants 2, Yankees 1. This is not the right way to honor Mariano. Indeed, it was as if an entire generation of Yankees had seen everything they worked for planted firmly in the past, with the present a mess and the future a mist.


So here is where Major League Baseball stands, with 1 week remaining in the regular season:

* The Boston Red Sox have clinched the American League East. The Oakland Athletics have clinched the AL West. The Detroit Tigers have a Magic Number of 2 to clinch the AL Central.

* If the current Wild Card standings hold, the Tampa Bay Rays will get the 1st AL berth, and the Cleveland Indians the 2nd. The Texas Rangers are a game and a half back, the Kansas City Royals 3 1/2, the Yankees 4, and the Baltimore Orioles 4 1/2.

* The Yankees' elimination number is 3: Any combination of Yankee losses and Cleveland wins adding up to 3, and the Yankees don't make the Playoffs, for only the 2nd time in the last 19 seasons. And since the Indians have 3 home games against the Chicago White Sox followed by 3 road games against the Minnesota Twins, who have already lost 94 and 90 games, respectively, and the Yankees still have to play 3 home games against the Rays before closing with 3 games at the Houston Astros (whose 105 losses are easily the most in the majors), it seems incredibly unlikely that the Yankees can make it. Even if the Indians do take a nosedive, the Rangers would also have to lose a good chunk of their last 7 games to give the Yankees a shot, and they're playing the hopeless Astros. So Yogi Berra can safely call Girardi and say, "It's over."

* The Atlanta Braves have clinched the National League East. The Los Angeles Dodgers have clinched the NL West. The St. Louis Cardinals have a Magic Number of 5 to clinch the NL Central, but the Cincinnati Reds and the Pittsburgh Pirates are both only 2 games back, so that race is hardly decided.

* The Reds and Pirates, in addition to still having a shot to overtake the Cardinals for the NL Central, currently hold the 2 NL Wild Card slots. The Washington Nationals are 5 games behind them, and are almost certainly out of it.

Oh well, my fellow Yankee Fans. We didn’t give it a good shot, and we lose Mariano and Andy, and we have the unresolved A-Rod situation, and rumors are running rampant that Jeter will only play one more year, due to his contract situation. And CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda really tailed off. And we don't know if Ivan Nova can keep up his comeback. And we don't really have a 5th starter. And Robertson hasn't exactly looked like a worthy successor to Mariano the last couple of years. And, at least for the moment, we still have Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Boone Logan stinking up the bullpen.

And Joe Girardi refuses to throw out his binder, and with George Steinbrenner dead, it doesn’t look like he's about to be fired. And Kevin Long is still the hitting instructor. And Brian Cashman is still the general manager. And the hated Red Sox won the Division.

Not good.

Oh well, you've still got the New York Football Giants to root for, right?

Not really: As legendary WCBS-Channel 2 sportscaster Warner Wolf would say, "If you had the Giants and 37 points, you lost! Come on, give me a break!"

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