Saturday, July 31, 2021

The DC Comics Film Universe: How It Should Have Happened

In 2007, following the success of Batman Begins, Warner Brothers was ready to make a Justice League film. However, it would star someone other than Christian Bale, star of Batman Begins, as Batman. And it would star someone other than Brandon Routh, star of the less successful Superman Returns, as Superman.

One thing led to another, and the project got delayed, and delayed, and delayed, and finally dropped.

At first, the director was supposed to be Jason Reitman, who had recently directed Juno. He dropped out, and was replaced by George Miller, best known for the Mad Max films. But it never happened.

The stars were supposed to be as follows: D.J. Cotrona as Superman, Armie Hammer as Batman, Meghan Gale as Wonder Woman, Santiago Cabrera as Aquaman, Adam Brody as The Flash, Lonnie Lynn (a.k.a. the rapper Common) as the John Stewart version of Green Lantern, and Hugh Keays-Byrne as the Martian Manhunter.

(In hindsight, casting Hammer as Batman would have ended up very problematic, and not just because he did a terrible job as the Lone Ranger in Disney's 2013 film.)

As villains, Jay Baruchel would have played Maxwell Lord, on the heels of Lord being the lead villain in DC's recent Identity Crisis storyline; and Teresa Palmer would have played Talia al Ghul, daughter of Ra's al Ghul and occasional girlfriend of Batman. (As with everything else about Batman, his love-life has always been complicated.)

DC had a chance to get a "cinematic universe" going before Marvel Comics did with Iron Man in 2008. Here's how they should have done it:

* Let Batman Begins start it in 2005, as actually happened, with Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman.

* Release a Superman film in 2006, as actually happened -- but not Superman Returns. Instead, totally start over, as was done with Man of Steel in 2013. This film could have kept that title -- and only that title.

Otherwise, basically do a remake of the film that started it all, the 1978 Superman starring Christopher Reeve, to which Superman Returns tried so hard to pay tribute, and succeeded in part, but not quite -- much as Star Wars' Episode VII was a redo of IV, VIII was of V, and IX was of VI.

At the time, Routh was 27 years old, a little too young to play a veteran superhero; and Kate Bosworth was 23, too young to play Lois Lane as we usually see her, and way too young to play a seasoned reporter with a 5-year-old child. But they would have been the ideal ages to play Clark Kent and Lois as being early in their careers.

Again, in hindsight, Kevin Spacey is a problem. Compared to how hokey Gene Hackman played Lex Luthor from 1978 to 1987, Spacey did for the character what Jack Nicholson did for the Joker in the 1989 Batman: He reminded us that this guy is a killer, and was meant to be scary.

This problem is easy to correct: Frank Langella, who played Perry White, had previously played villains ranging from Count Dracula to Richard Nixon (and subsequently reprised his Broadway role for the film version of Frost/Nixon). He should have been Luthor.

So who plays Perry? Laurence Fishburne plays him in the real-life DCEU. Perry has always been depicted as a poor kid from Metropolis (or, sometimes, the real city of Chicago) who made good. By 2006, a black man with that background running "a great metropolitan newspaper" would no longer have seemed odd. So we move Fishburne up.

* 2007 would have brought the first Wonder Woman film. Gale would have been 32, about right to play Princess Diana of Themiscyra/Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. 

Chris Pine was 27, so he would already be a good choice to play Steve Trevor. Anything to keep him from playing "Captain Jerk" in J.J. Abrams' blasphemous Star Trek films. (Gal Gadot was only 22 at the time.) 

It would have been set in World War II, like her early comics and the 1st season (1976-77) of the TV show starring Lynda Carter. 

Setting the 1st Gadot movie during World War I would only have worked without the World War II background of the character, which was established when the character was created, during World War II. And it forces the question: If WWI was serious enough for her to leave Themiscyra, why wasn't the even more serious WWII enough to bring her back? Setting her origin story not in The Great War, a.k.a. The War To End All Wars, but rather in The Big One, fixes this plot hole, which is big enough to fly an invisible plane through.

* 2008 would have been the key year. We get the 2nd Batman film, The Dark Knight, going just the way we remember, with Heath Ledger as the Joker and Aaron Eckhardt as Harvey Dent/Two-Face. We get a 2nd Superman film, possibly remaking Superman II with the Phantom Zone villains: "Kneel before Zod!" We get a Flash film, with Brody as Barry Allen.

And we get an Aquaman film. Alan Ritchson, who played Arthur Curry on Smallville, and now plays Hank Hall/Hawk on Titans, could have been cast. Certainly, he looks more like the blond character seen in the comics than does the native Hawaiian Jason Momoa. With his physique, Momoa would have been a good choice to play Katar Hol/Carter Hall/Hawkman.

* 2009 brings us the 2nd Wonder Woman film. Still set in World War II, it would set up the idea of the Justice League by introducing the superhero team of the 1940s, the Justice Society of America. 

The "Golden Age" versions of the Flash (Jay Garrick), Green Lantern (Alan Scott) and the Atom (Al Pratt) could be shown, along with Dr. Fate, Dr. Mid-Nite, Hourman, Wildcat, the Sandman and Starman. Aside from John Wesley Shipp, who starred in the 1990-91 Flash TV show as Barry Allen, and now plays Garrick on the current TV version, and absolutely should have been cast as Garrick at this point, these roles are open to speculation.

This film could show the JSA as vital in winning the war, but also show the sacrifice of Steve Trevor that leads Diana to retreat to her island -- for a while.

The year could also have given Green Arrow a film, with Justin Hartley playing him as he was doing on Smallville.

* With Green Lantern established, we get the film with Ryan Reynolds as the Hal Jordan version a year earlier, in 2010. The only thing that really bothered me about that film was the CGI'ed GL costumes. They were very distracting. 

We also get a film for the Ray Palmer version of the Atom, although, with Routh occupied as Superman, he couldn't play the Atom, too. And a 3rd Batman movie not only finds a way for Bruce to put the Batsuit back on after becoming a fugitive following the events of his previous film, but also introduces Dick Grayson as Robin.

* 2011 Brings us Flash II: Flashpoint. When Barry returns from fixing his timeline mess, he tells the other heroes what that other world was like, and says it's better if they work as a team when necessary.

* So here we go. July 1, 2011 -- a Friday, with the 4th on the following Monday, making for a three-and-a-half-day weekend. Justice League premieres. 

Basically, it's the story we got with The Dark Knight Rises, a film that should have had people asking, "Are there no other superheroes in this world who could have helped Batman save Gotham City?"

This time, not only does Bruce realize that he has to put the Batsuit back on, but he figures out he needs help before Bane can break his back -- but that still happens before the others can properly respond to his call for aid.

So the heroes figure out where the League of Shadows' prison is, and they break him out. Whether he gets cures through Themiscyran or Atlantean medicine is negotiable.

Ultimately, Batman still beats Bane, and is still betrayed by Talia. However, it is Superman who gets the nuke off Earth, thus closing the plot hole of "But that bomb was still awfully close to Gotham City when it went off."

But in so doing, this attracts the attention of Darkseid, setting up future movies. Bale could have continued as Batman, with a Robin. Gale could have continued as Wonder Woman, in the present day, with Pine playing a grandson of Trevor (as opposed to Lyle Waggoner playing father and son on the 1970s TV show).

Batgirl can be introduced, and we could have a movie showing Dick putting the Robin role aside to become Nightwing and form the Teen Titans, succeeded as Robin by Jason Todd. A subsequent film could combine the two great Batman graphic novels of 1988: The Killing Joke, in which the Joker shoots Barbara Gordon, paralyzing her and leading to her transition from Batgirl to Oracle; and A Death in the Family, in which the Joker kills Jason Todd, the second Robin. To be followed by A Lonely Place of Dying, where the Bat-family, with new addition Tim Drake, confronts Batman and shows him that he's not alone, nor should he be.

The Green Lantern films could have introduced the Guy Gardner, John Stewart, Kyle Rayner, etc. versions. 

A Green Arrow sequel could have introduced Dinah Lance, a.k.a. Black Canary, classically GA's girlfriend and later wife, matching the comics, instead of what the TV version did, killing her off and having Oliver Queen instead marry Felicity Smoak, who in the comics was connected to the hero Firestorm.

Captain Marvel/Shazam could be introduced. And here's an idea: Since Wonder Woman is being played by Gale, Gal Gadot can play Zatanna, the Mistress of Magic.

Should we tempt fate twice over? By doing Superman III again, and by putting Eddie Murphy in the Richard Pryor role, and maybe getting it right this time? Or should the new Superman III be a totally different story? Certainly, with Trump and Putin in office from January 20, 2017 onward, a film version of the Lex 2000 storyline would make sense, and so would the original series' title: Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.

Identity Crisis could be adapted for the 3rd Justice League film, with Zatanna's role leading to her pairing up in a later Justice League Dark with her ex John Constantine, Dr. Fate, maybe the Phantom Stranger and the Spectre, and others.

A 4th Wonder Woman film could feature the death of Queen Hippolyta, with Diana, Steve, and their daughter, Lyta Trevor returning to Themiscyra, with Diana as Queen, and Donna becoming the new Wonder Woman. And the torches could also be passed in Metropolis (Clark and Lois now married and raising son Jon) and Gotham (Bruce and Selina Kyle/Catwoman now married, while Nightwing leads Tim/Robin III and the rest of the Titans in cleaning up Gotham).

The CW's Arrowverse could begin on time in 2012, totally separate from the DC Cinematic Universe, with Stephen Amell starring in Arrow, and play out as it actually has, leading up to a Crisis On Infinite Earths in 2019 with some of the aforementioned actors. And an Infinity Inc. film, featuring descendants of the JSA, could premiere, side-by-side with the Arrowverse's Stargirl series.

Where does that leave Henry Cavill? He can still play The Witcher, and maybe replace Daniel Craig as James Bond. Ben Affleck? After the 2003 film Daredevil, he should never have been allowed to play another superhero. So he's out.

No Suicide Squad. No The Suicide Squad, either. We could have a Birds of Prey, where Harley Quinn teams up with the Huntress, Black Canary (when she's not saving Star City alongside hubby Green Arrow), and perhaps a S.T.A.R. Labs-healed Batgirl.

And, at some point, I'd like to see a Green Hornet film, or even series, to wipe the horrible memory of the 2011 Seth Rogen film away. If Spider-Man can be restarted 3 times in a span of 13 years, we can have a 2nd Green Hornet within 5 years.

To summarize: 

2005 Batman Begins 
2006 Superman: Man of Steel 
2007 Wonder Woman
2008 The Dark Knight (Batman II)
2008 The Flash
2008 Aquaman
2009 Wonder Woman: Justice Society
2009 Green Arrow
2009 Superman II: The Zod Conspiracy
2010 The Dark Knight and the Boy Wonder (Dick Grayson becomes Robin)
2010 Green Lantern
2010 The Atom
2011 Batgirl
2011 Flash II: Flashpoint (Introduces Wally West as Kid Flash)
2011 Justice League
2011 Aquaman II
2012 Wonder Woman III (Introduces Steve III and Donna Troy as Wonder Girl)
2012 Titans (Dick becomes Nightwing, Jason Todd becomes Robin)
2012 Green Arrow and Black Canary
2013 Batman: A Death in the Family (Joker shoots Barbara and kills Jason)
2013 Green Lantern II (Introduces Guy Gardner and John Stewart)
2013 Shazam!
2014 Superman III: Brainiac
2014 Batman: A Lonely Place of Dying (Tim Drake becomes Robin)
2014 Zatanna
2014 Justice League II: Apokolips
2015 Aquaman III
2015 Atom II
2015 Green Arrow III
2015 Titans II: The Deathstroke Challenge
2016 The Green Hornet
2016 Flash III: Zoom (Barry sacrifices himself, Wally becomes the new Flash)
2016 Shazam II: Fury of the Gods
2017 Justice League III: Identity Crisis
2018 Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
2019 Wonder Woman IV
2019 Justice League Dark
2020 Birds of Prey
2020 Infinity, Inc.
2021 Superman V: Grandson of Krypton
2021 Titans III
2021 The Green Hornet Strikes Again

And so on.

There's the plan. All we need now is for the Legends of Tomorrow to take the Waverider back to 2004 and set it up.

Friday, July 30, 2021

Trades and Tampa Series: Too Little, Too Late for This Season?

Anthony Rizzo (left) and Joey Gallo

The Yankees took the opener of a 3-game series away to the Tampa Bay Rays, and it was a great boost following the 3 losses out of 4 in Boston.

Nestor Cortes started the 2nd game of the series on Wednesday night, and was very effective. He went 5 innings, allowing 1 run on 3 hits and no walks, striking out 5. But he threw 79 pitches, which is a lot for a pitcher that the Yankees still seem not to have decided on a starting or relieving role. Lucas Lustre pitched a perfect 6th and 7th. Zack Britton pitched a hitless 8th. Chad Green pitched a perfect 9th.

But the Yankees once again had problems scoring. They didn't get a hit until the 3rd inning, and were trailing the Rays 1-0 going into the top of the 5th. Gio Urshela started the inning by reaching on an error, and Greg Allen doubled him over. Aaron Judge struck out, but DJ LeMahieu hit a sacrifice fly that scored Urshela. But Gleyber Torres was robbed on a line drive, and so the inning ended just 1-1.

Torres tried to make up for it with a 1-out double in the 8th, but was stranded. Gary Sánchez led off the 9th with a walk, and was balked over to 2nd. But Brett Gardner flew out, and Urshela lined out to Rays 2nd baseman Brandon Lowe, who caught Sánchez off the base for a double play.

The game went to the 10th inning, and the ghost runner rule. Urshela began the inning on 2nd, and the Rays' Pete Fairbanks hit Allen with a pitch. Judge singled Urshela home home the lead. 

Rays manager Kevin Cash brought Andrew Kittredge in to relieve. Judge immediately tested him by stealing 2nd, and he failed the test by throwing a wild pitch, scoring Allen with a variation on what may have been intended as a double steal. 

The Yankees did not score again, and so Aroldis Chapman went out to pitch the bottom of the 10th. Cliché Alert: Aroldis gotta Aroldis. He never seems to make it feel easy. He got a strikeout, but then issued a walk, and then a wild pitch of his own. 

Then he struck out the aging but still dangerous Nelson Cruz. Francisco Mejia popped up, and it seems like the entire Yankee infield lost the ball in that stupid white roof in that stupid dome that the stupid Rays play their home games in. LeMahieu managed to catch the ball about 2 inches off the ground. A lot of people on #YankeesTwitter mentioned that they had just about had a heart attack, knowing that the game would have been tied had LeMahieu dropped the ball. 

Nevertheless, he didn't. Yankees 3, Rays 1. WP: Green (4-5). SV: Chapman (20). LP: Fairbanks (3-4).

*

Taking the 1st 2 games in Tampa Bay felt really good. A sweep would have felt even better. But this year's Yankees seem to have trouble closing sweeps out. Usually, after winning the 1st 2 games of a series, the 3rd game turns out to be lousy. 

This one was beyond lousy. Alleged ace Gerrit Cole gave up 4 runs before getting an out in the bottom of the 1st inning.

It wasn't quite downhill from there, as he retired 15 of the next 16 batters. But he lost control again in the 6th, and a horrible error by left fielder Brett Gardner didn't help. Albert Abreu was brought in to relieve, and he threw gasoline on the fire. The Rays scored 10 runs in the inning.

None of that mattered, because the Yankees didn't hit. Judge singled in the 1st and walked in the 6th, Torres and Gardner singled in the 2nd, Estevan Florial walked in the 5th and singled in the 8th, and Stanton walked on the 9th. Those were the Yankees' only baserunners.

Rays 14, Yankees 0. WP: Luis Patino (2-2). No save. LP: Cole (10-6).

*

The trade deadline in baseball is like the two-minute offense in football. If you can do that in the last 2 minutes of the game, why not try it sometime in the 1st 58 minutes? If you can make these trades at the end of July, what is stopping you from doing it beforehand? 

There is, of course, a difference. At the trade deadline, baseball teams are coming to the conclusion, either that they have a chance to win it this year with one or two additions, and go for it, or, the opposite, that it's not going to happen this year, it's probably not going to happen next year, either, so they might as well make the best trait they can, in the hopes of rebuilding.

But Brian Cashman pulled off 2 trades last night, as if finally conceding that a team with a shirt porch in right field needs lefthanded sluggers.

He sent 4 prospects I'd never heard of to the Texas Rangers for Joey Gallo and Joely Rodríguez. Rodríguez, a 29-year-old lefthanded reliever from the Dominican Republic, is a throw-in, and probably won't have much of a positive impact.

But Gallo, a 27-year-old outfielder from Las Vegas -- not to be confused with the Mob hitman about whom Bob Dylan wrote a song -- should. He's made 2 All-Star Games, won a Gold Glove, and has hit 145 career home runs.

Cashman wasn't done: He sent 2 prospects to the Chicago Cubs for 1st baseman Anthony Rizzo. About to turn 32, the South Florida native has made 3 All-Star Games, won 4 Gold Gloves, and hit 243 career home runs. In a farewell salute tweet, the Cubs called him the heart and soul of their 2016 World Series winners.

The Yankees are 8 1/2 games behind the Boston Red Sox in the American League Eastern Division, 7 in the loss column. They are 3 1/2 behind the Oakland Athletics for the AL's 2nd Wild Card slot, 2 in the loss column.

The acquisitions of Gallo and Rizzo give Yankee Fans hope for next season. But will they be enough to make a difference this season? Or is it too little, too late?

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Yankees Rebound vs. Rays, Make Puzzling Trade

After getting humiliated in Boston -- much more doing it to themselves than letting the Red Sox do it to them -- the last thing the Yankees needed was a trip to the white elephant in St. Petersburg, Florida. Nevertheless, that was next on the schedule: a 3-game series away to the Tampa Bay Rays. 

Fortunately, Jordan Montgomery kept his recent hot streak alive. He pitched 5 shutout innings, allowing 5 hits and 3 walks, with 5 strikeouts. 

Of course, his big problem lately has been almost no run support at all. This time, after 4 innings, that looks like it would be the case again, as the game was scoreless. But Greg Allen led off the top of the 5th with a double, and DJ LeMahieu singled him home, to make it 1-0 Yankees. 

The top of the 6th begin with Gleyber Torres and Rougned Odor hitting singles, and being driven home on a double by Gio Urshela. Now, Montgomery had a 3-0 lead. 

But Aaron Boone didn't send Montgomery out for the bottom of the 6th. Instead, he let Chad Green pitch it, and he allowed to walk and a home run. Why does Boone make these decisions? Is he an idiot? Or is he following Brian Cashman's orders, and Cashman is the idiot? We may never know for sure, unless Boone gets managing job somewhere else, and gets to prove what he can really do -- good or bad. 

Jonathan Loáisiga rebounded from his Fenway disaster to pitch a perfect 7th. Ryan La Marre hit a home run in the top of the 8th. But Zack Britton allowed another run in the bottom of the 8th. And so, when Aroldis Chapman was sent out in the bottom of the 9th, it was to protect a one-run lead against Tampa Bay, away. 

He got the 1st 2 outs, then issued a walk. Cliché Alert: Aroldis gotta Aroldis. But that also means he's capable of the game-ending strikeout, blowing the last hitter away, and that's what he did. Yankees 4, Rays 3. WP: Montgomery (4-5). SV: Chapman (19). LP: Shane McClanahan (4-4).

The series continues tonight. Nestor Cortes starts for us, Michael Wacha for them.

After last night's game -- indeed, after midnight, in the kind of bush-league move you would expect from the Mets -- the Yankees announced a trade, a puzzling one. They sent Luis Cessa and Justin Wilson to the Cincinnati Reds for a player to be named later.

This is a classic Cashman close-to-the-trade-deadline move. Cessa and Wilson have both been bad relief pitchers, but both have been considerably improved lately. So now, when they're actually strengthening the bullpen instead of hurting it, Cashman hurts it by trading them. And for what? So far, nothing. 

It is widely suspected by Yankee Fans on social media that this is simply freeing up salary, mostly Cessa's, so that Cashman can bring in a big name before the deadline. Or maybe he's just being a cheap prick, like so many other times before. 

The difference between this trade and the white flag trades he made at the deadline in 2016 is that, at that point, I thought the Yankees still had a chance at the Playoffs. This time, I don't think they're going to make it. And even if they do, they won't get very far. That's on Cashman, too. 

Another wasted season, unless whoever Cashman brings in -- either from the Reds or is it part of a 3-way or even 4-way deal -- turns out to be a blockbuster, a game-changer, a season-changer, or even, in Cashman's case, a historical reputation-changer. Because if this there's one guy on the Yankees who needs his reputation changed, it's not any player, it's Cashman.

We shall see.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Yankees Can't Stop Digging

The first rule of being in a hole is "Don't dig." The Yankees are in a hole, and yet they can't stop digging.

In the 4-game weekend series against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, the Yankees had leads in all 4 games. They had their chances to win all 4 games. Doing so would have put them right back into the American League Eastern Division race, and would, at the least, have solidified them as a legitimate contender for an AL Wild Card slot.

Instead, still in a hole, they kept digging.

Domingo Germán started the series finale. He hadn't pitched well lately. This time, he was fantastic. He allowed a walk in the 3rd inning, and through the 1st 7, that was it: A no-hitter. At Fenway Park.

That kind of performance deserves a lot of support. But the Yankees wasted a leadoff double by DJ LeMahieu on the 1st. Two walks and a Roughned Odor single got a run home in the 3rd. A Gleyber Torres doubled and a single by the returning Gio Urshela made it 2-0 in the 4th.

The Yankees wasted a leadoff single in the 5th. Odor led off the 6th with a home run. They wasted bases loaded with 1 out in the 7th, thanks to a Giancarlo Stanton strikeout and Odor flying out. Still only 3-0.

A Gary Sanchez triple and a Torres single began the 8th, and it was 4-0. But they couldn't get anymore.

No matter: Germán for 3 outs in the 8th and Aroldis Chapman for 3 in the 9th, right?

Wrong. Germán starts the 8th by giving up a double to Alex Verdugo. And Aaron Boone takes him out. 

Not because he's obviously tiring. He's not. But because he's thrown 93 pitches, and with Brian Cashman's rules for pitchers, Boone isn't allowed to let a pitcher throw that much. Unless he's pitching a no-hitter. Gotta leave him in as long as he's got that. It's good for publicity. 

So Jonathan Loáisiga is brought in. He's been good most of this season. This time, he allows RBI double (and YES Network viewers could already feel the wheels beginning to come off), RBI single, single, RBI double. He gets nobody out, and it's 4-3.

Boone brings in Zack Britton. Injury has left him a shadow of his former self. He actually gets the next 3 outs, but the 1st 2 are a groundout that brings home the tying run and a fly ball that brings home the winning run.

Had Britton been brought in instead of Loáisiga, the groundout might have moved Verdugo over, and the fly ball might have brought him home, but it would only have been 4-1 Yankees at the end of the inning. 

Instead, it was 5-4 Red Sox, and the worst part is just how inevitable it all felt when it was still 4-1 Yankees.

But, what the heck, it's still only a 1-run deficit. At Fenway. Surely, the Yankees could overcome it. Well, these are not your father's Yankees (of 1996 to 2003), or even your big brother's (of 2009).

Cliché Alert: The Yankees went down quietly in the 9th. Greg Allen flew out to left. LeMahieu grounded to 2nd. Stanton singled. Boone sent Tyler Wade in to pinch-run for him, and he stole 2nd. There was the tying run. But Odor, who had done so well earlier in the game, popped up to 3rd to end it.

Red Sox 5, Yankees 4. WP: Brandon Workman (1-2). SV: Matt Barnes (21). LP: Loáisiga (7-4).

*

So, needing at least 3 out 4 in Boston to legitimately get back into the AL East race, the Yankees had leads in all 4 games, but ended up losing 3 out of 4. They are 51-47, 9 games behind the Sox, 8 games in the loss column. They are 3 1/2 games out of the AL's 2nd Wild Card slot, for all the good that would do them.

Once again, I am enraged. Really, the "quality" of the game should matter more than the identity of the opponent. But I have hated the Red Sox as long as I have loved the Yankees, and this is unacceptable.

I looked it up. The Yankees have had 16 bullpen meltdowns this season. If they had half of them, 8, and at least 1 fewer against the Red Sox, they would be tied for 1st place.
Blame Boone for bad pitching changes all you want. The fact that we don't have a reliever capable of preventing half of those losses is on Cashman.

The hole is getting deeper. Still, Cashman's has the "DIG WE MUST" sign out.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Yanks Get Most Improbable Win In Strangest Season

This is, beyond any doubt -- and beyond a statement I made in a post in 2014 -- the strangest season I have ever seen the New York Yankees have.

Given what the starting pitching matchups were projected to be in this 4-game series with the despised Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, yesterday afternoon's game seemed like the least likely for the Yankees to win. And after dropping the 1st 2 games, with much more favorable matchups, that was depressing. 

But, as Yankee broadcaster John Sterling likes to say, "You just can't predict baseball."

Jameson Taillon started for the Yankees, and allowed 1 run in each of the 1st 3 innings. Ordinarily, in Fenway, that might not be so bad. But the way the Yankees have been hitting this season, pretty much any lead the opponent gets can be considered safe.

This time, Taillon settled down, and got through the 7th without allowing another run. It was still 3-0 Sox.

But former Yankee Nathan Eovaldi was pitching, and the Yankees couldn't touch him. They got a man on 1st with 1 out in the 1st, the 1st 2 batters on in the 3rd, a man on 2nd with 1 out in the 6th, and a man on 1st with 2 out in the 7th. None of them scored.

This was the Yankees' season in a nutshell, the organization driving their fans nuts because they're a shadow of their former selves.

But Eovaldi tired in the top of the 8th. Rookie Estevan Florial led off with a double. Rob Brantly's fly ball advanced him to 3rd base. DJ LeMahieu's fly ball wasn't deep enough to score him. But Brett Gardner singled him home.

That convinced Sox manager to take Eovaldi out, and bring in another former Yankee, Adam Ottavino. He embarrassed the Yankees with them last season, and he's  embarrassing them for the Red Sox this season.

But Giancarlo Stanton greeted him with a ground-rule double. Aaron Boone, whose guesses have been pretty bad lately, smelled victory, and pulled the DH Stanton for pinch-runner Tyler Wade.

Roughned Odor doubled home Gardner and Wade. Tie ballgame. Gleyber Torres singled home Odor. 4-3 New York. The Yankees could get no further, but Jonathan Loáisiga, back from the COVID version of the Injured List, got our of a jam in the bottom of the 8th to keep it 4-3.

Now, it was time for Boone to send Aroldis Chapman out to protect a 1-run lead at Fenway Park. My blood pressure was Oy/Vey. So were my pronouns.

He got Alex Verdugo to ground out. And he struck Kevin Plawecki out. So far, so good. But, Cliché Alert: Aroldis gotta Aroldis. He walked Hunter Renfroe. Then, the wacko nature of Fenway Park resulted in another ground-rule double, this time by Christian Vazquez, that meant a man on 1st had to stop at 3rd. 

The batter was Enrique Hernandez, and a lot of Yankee Fans couldn't look. Chapman struck him out. 

Ballgame over! Yankees win! Theeeeeeee Yankees win! Yankees 4, Red Sox 3. WP: Taillon (6-4). SV: Chapman (18). LP: Ottavino (2-3).

In their strangest season that I can remember, the Yankees got their most improbable win.

The series concludes this afternoon, with Domingo Germán starting against Martin Perez.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

The 2021 Yankees Are Obscene

In 1964, there was a case before the Supreme Court of the United States. In Jacobellis v. Ohio, one of those groups of self-appointed moral arbiters wanted the Court to judge that a particular film, The Lovers, released in 1958 by French director Louis Malle, was pornography, that it was obscene, and that the conviction of the manager of a theater in Cleveland Heights, Ohio who showed it should be upheld.

In a 6-3 vote -- oddly, the Chief Justice of the time, Earl Warren, normally a liberal Justice, voted the more conservative way -- the Court ruled that the film was not obscene, and vaccted the conviction. One of the Justices, Potter Stewart, wrote in his opinion that the 1st Amendment protected every form of artistic expression except, as he put it, "hard-core pornography." And he refused to flat out define that, giving only this definition, which entered the American lexicon: "I know it when I see it." He said this wasn't it, and the self appointed moral arbiters lost.

By the standards of France, where the film was made, it was not a big deal. By the standards of early 1960s America, it was pretty racy, but tame by today's standards.

In 1969, Irving Wallace published a novel titled The Seven Minutes. There was a book within the book, also titled The Seven Minutes, declared to be the most obscene book ever written, because it was about a woman's thoughts during 7 minutes of sex. It was made into a movie in 1971, and yesterday was the 50th Anniversary of its release.

As with the book it was based on, the film tried to make the point that there is a difference between art and obscenity, and that the people should decide for themselves, without any group ordering them to accept a definition.

*

What does this have to do with baseball? This: At some point, we need to decide whether the 2021 New York Yankees are art, or obscene.

Last night, the 2nd game of a 4-game series against the hated Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, may have been the game they most needed to win this season, and they couldn't do it, not even with Garrett Cole as the starting pitcher. It ended up going similar to the game before it, as the Yankees threatened to break the game wide open, but only got 1 run, stranding baserunners, and living to regret it as the game went on.

Gary Sanchez led off the top of the 2nd with a walk, followed by a single by Gleyber Torres and a double by Brett Gardner. And Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez left the game, with a migraine as we later found out. So Phillips Valdez was brought in to relieve, and the Yankees had a 1-0 lead, men on 2nd and 3rd, nobody out, and the Sox bullpen needed to get 24 outs at Fenway. And Gerrit Cole on the mound.

This was set up to be the Yankees' best game of the year.

Instead, Chris Gittens struck out, Ryan LaMarre was hit by a pitch, Greg Allen struck out, and DJ LeMahieu struck out. That was it for the inning.

Giancarlo Stanton led off the top of the 3rd with a walk, and was stranded. Gittens singled with 2 out in the 4th, and was stranded. With 2 out in the 5th, Stanton walked, an advanced to 2nd on a wild pitch, but was stranded. Think about that: Giancarlo Stanton drew two walks, and we did not reward this unexpected plate discipline with any runs.

And then the final nail may have been driven into the Yankees' 2021 coffin in the bottom of the 5th. Cole ended it with 104 pitches. He began it with a strikeout, but allowed a single to Enrique Hernandez, a double to Jarren Duran, a sacrifice fly by Xander Bogaerts, and a home run by Rafael Devers. It was 3-1 Red Sox, and that was it for Cole.

A 3-1 deficit, at Fenway, against the Boston bullpen, should not be too much to overcome -- for a good team. The 2021 Yankees are not a good team. They have shown flashes of past Yankee teams -- 1978, 1996 and 2009 come to mind -- but they are not getting the job done.

Gardner walked with 2 out in the 6th. Stranded. With 1 out in the 7th, Allen was hit with a pitch, and LeMahieu singled. Both stranded. Nestor Cortes, back from the COVID version of the Injured List, gave up 2 singles and a home run by Devers, and it was 6-1 Boston. In the 8th, with 1 out, Torres was hit with a pitch. With 2 out, Gittens drew a walk. Both stranded.

The Yankees mounted a 2-out rally in the 9th, but it was too little, too late: Stanton singled, and Rougned Odor doubled him home. But Rob Brantly popped up to end the game.

Red Sox 6, Yankees 2. WP: Yacksel Rios (3-0). No save. LP: Cole (10-5).

The Yankees are now 9 games behind the Red Sox in the American League Eastern Division, and 4 1/2 games out of the AL's 2nd Wild Card slot. According to Baseball-Reference.com, they have an 11.7 percent chance of making the Playoffs, and this chance has dropped 14.6 percent in the last 30 days. Since the All-Star Break, they are 6-for-55 with runners in scoring position, a batting average of .109.

Yankee RISPfail: As Michael Corleone would have said, "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!"

I'm reminded of a story I once saw in Mad magazine. A character based on Joe Namath interviews a judge, who turns out to be corrupt. He asked the judge, "What kind of cases do you enjoy the most?" The judge said, "Pornography cases! I have to view all the films to see if they're obscene! Isn't this great?" And the Namath analogue says, "It sure does beat looking at old football films. Except for the last few games of my career, which really were obscene!"

In that sense, the 2021 Yankees are obscene. No, they are not pornography. There is nothing about this team that excites a person. Not sexually, not any other way. But they are obscene, with no artistic value. I know it when I see it.

The series continues this afternoon, for all the good that does the Yankees. Especially since the starting pitchers are Jameson Taillon (who, to be fair, has pitched better for the Yankees lately) and Nathan Eovaldi (who has spent all the time since Cashman got rid of him pointing out what a mistake that was).

I may have reached the point where reporting the details of every game the Yankees have left this season is no longer worth it.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Just When You Think You've Turned the Corner

Cliche Alert: Every now and then, in his capacity as press secretary for Yankee manager and general manager Brian Cashman, Aaron Boone tells the media he thinks the Yankees "have turned the corner."

This 4-game weekend set at Fenway Park could have been a turn-the-corner series for the Yankees. Instead, in last night's game alone, they turned so many corners, they're right back where they started: At the corner of Hopeless & Useless.

Jordan Montgomery started. He was the 1st Yankee pitcher to get no run support at all in 5 straight starts. For a while, it looked like they would make it 6. The game was scoreless for the 1st 3 innings. But Tanner Houck walked Brett Gardner and Giancarlo Stanton to start the top of the 4th. A passed ball moved the runners over, and Gleyber Torres got Gardner home on a groundout. 1-0 Yankees.

Despite a rain delay in the 5th inning, Montgomery was sent back out, and got into the 6th inning with a 3-hit, 1-walk shutout. The newly-acquired Sal Romano finished the 6th, keeping it 1-0 Yankees.

Then Boone -- on Cashman's orders? -- started screwing up the bullpen. Romano got the 1st out in the bottom of the 7th, and, having thrown only 13 pitches, was removed for Lucas Luetge. He immediately allowed single, single, fielder's choice, sacrifice fly. Tie game.

The Yankees struck back in the top of the 8th, against former Yankee Adam Ottavino. DJ LeMahieu led off with a walk, and stole 2nd. Gardner walked. If Stanton had hit a home run here, Yankee Fans wouldn't have needed sex for a month. He hit an ordinary single, and it scored LeMahieu. Rougned Odor bunted the runners over, and Torres hit a sac fly to get Gardner home. 3-1 Yankees.

Luis Cessa needed only 5 pitches to get 3 outs. Clearly, the right thing to do would have been to leave him in for the bottom of the 10th. But Boone didn't do that. He brought in Chad Green, who started the inning with a strikeout, and then allowed single, single, lineout, double. 3-3.

Extra innings. Ghost runner. LeMahieu's groundout moved Tyler Wade over to 3rd, and Gardner's sac fly got him home. 4-3 Yankees.

Boone didn't trust Green to pitch the bottom of the 10th. Understandable. Nor Aroldis Chapman. Also understandable, due more to Chapman having pitched the last 2 nights than to the fear of what he might do with a 1-run lead at the little green pinball machine in the Back Bay.

Instead, Boone brought in Brooks Kriske. The day before, Kriske had gotten his 1st major league win. Now, he was going for his 1st major league save.

He ended up being a completely different pitcher. And the completely different pitcher he was, was Rick Ankiel. The Sox had their 2 best hitters up first, Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez. With Rafael Devers starting the inning on 2nd base, Kriske threw 2 wild pitches, getting Devers around and tying the game. Then he walked Bogaerts. Then he threw 2 more wild pitches, getting Bogaerts to 3rd, before striking Martinez out. But a long fly ball by Hunter Renfroe was deep enough to get Bogaerts home.

A walk and four wild pitches in the 10th inning. (I usually to prefer to write numbers using their numerals instead of their words. This time, I thought it better to spell the word "four" out.) It was a collapse worth of the 1986 Red Sox. Except, this time, the New York team gave the game to the Red Sox in such fashion.

WP: Matt Barnes (5-2). No save. LP: Kriske (1-1).

With this ignominious defeat, the Yankees fall to 8 games behind the Sox in the American League Eastern Division, 4 1/2 out of the 2nd AL Wild Card slot. There are 67 games left.

The series continues tonight. Gerrit Cole starts against Eduardo Rodriguez, and if the Yankees can't win this game with Cole on the mound, the season is effectively over.

If, that is, you hadn't already considered it to be so.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

New Blood Means Yanks Sweep Phils, Head to Fenway

In between series against the hated Boston Red Sox -- the one this past weekend at Yankee Stadium II, and the 1 starting tonight at Fenway Park -- the Yankees squeezed in a 2-game home Interleague series with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Domingo Germán started the Tuesday night game, and only went 4 innings, allowing 2 runs. But, between them, Luis Cessa, Lucas Luetge and Chad Green pitched 3 scoreless innings.

In the bottom of the 3rd, it was the new call-ups that led the way for the Yankees. In the bottom of the 3rd, Greg Allen led off with a triple, and came home on a ground.by Estevan Florial. That tied the game at 1-1.

In the bottom of the 5th, trailing 2-1, Allen led off with a walk, stole 2nd, and went to 3rd on a groundout by Florial. Tyler Wade hit a line shot that former Yankee Didi Gregorius couldn't handle, scoring Allen. Then, with no one left on base, Brett Gardner hit a home run. It was 3-2 Yankees.

Gary Sánchez led off the bottom of the 6th with a home run, to make it 4-2. The Phillies added a run in the top of the 8th, but on either side of that, Giancarlo Stanton hit the 328th home run of his career, and Florial hit the 1st of his. 

It was once again time to trust Aroldis Chapman with a save situation, and after striking out the dangerous Bryce Harper, he gave up a long home run to Andrew McCutchen, his 259th. But he was unhittable after that, blowing away first Rhys Hoskins, who had homered earlier, then Didi to end it.

Yankees 6, Phillies 4. WP: Cessa (3-1). SV: Chapman (17). LP: Aaron Nolan (6-6).

*

And then, last night, Asher Wojciechowski made his Yankee debut. The 32-year-old righthander from South Carolina had shown little in the major leagues to this point, and he didn't show the Yankees much, going just 4 innings and allowing 2 runs, including a home run to Jean Segura to lead off the game. Albert Abreu pitched a perfect 5th and a scoreless 6th, and Justin Wilson a perfect 7th, perhaps his best performance since joining the Yankees.

With 2 outs in the bottom of the 4th, Gleyber Torres, who could really have used a home run, hit one. Gardner singled, and Allen doubled him home to tie the game. With 1 out in the bottom of the 7th, Florial singled and stole 2nd. Following a strikeout by DJ LeMahieu, Stanton singled him home -- for him, a rare clutch hit, and an even rarer clutch hit other than a home run. But if it was a home run you wanted, Rougned Odor then hit one. 5-2 Yankees.

Zack Britton came in to pitch the 8th, and Torres went from hero to goat (not "GOAT," children), letting a ground ball through his legs to start the inning with an error. That may have unnerved Britton, as he allowed walk, groundout, walk. Aaron Boone panicked, and brought in Nick Nelson.

Rick Nelson would have been a better choice, and he's been dead since 1985. His 1st hit was a cover of Fats Domino's "I'm Walkin'," and Nick allowed RBI single, walk, and run-scoring, game-tying wild pitch, before settling down and getting out of the jam, the poor little fool.

Chapman teased us in the 9th again, walking the leadoff man, before getting a flyout, a caught stealing, and a strikeout. The Yankees set themselves up well in the bottom of the 9th, but the Phillies got out of it with some good fielding. Brooks Kriskie, not very effective in his Yankee call-ups thus far, pitched a 1-2-3 top of the 10th, stranding the ghost runner.

The Yankees started the bottom of the 10th with Sánchez on 2nd base -- not great speed, reduced further by the fact that he'd taken a beating with bad pitches and foul tips all game long. But Torres made up for his earlier error with a fantastic bunt, and rookie Ryan LaMarre hit a long drive that would have been at least a double, but since the winning run scored, he stopped at 1st.

And his teammates tore his jersey open. No T-shirt underneath, and, as Yankee broadcaster Michael Kay pointed out, to any Houston Astros fans who might have been paying attention, "No buzzer!"

Yankees 6, Phillies 5. WP: Kriske (1-0, his 1st major league win). No save. LP: Ranger Suarez (4-3 -- and far from the 1st time that I could have said, "Rangers suck!").

*

So, tonight, 7 games behind the Red Sox in the American League Eastern Division, and 3 1/2 games in back of the 2nd AL Wild Card slot, the Yankees go up to face the Auld Enemy. To Fenway Park. As Obi-Wan Kenobi would say, "You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy." Here are the projected pitching matchups:

* Tonight, 7:10 on YES: Jordan Montgomery vs. Tanner Houck.

* Tomorrow, 7:10 on WPIX-Channel 11: Gerrit Cole vs. Eduardo Rodriguez.

* Saturday, 4:05 on Fox Sports 1: Jameson Taillon vs. Nathan Eovaldi.

* Sunday, 1:10 on YES: Domingo German vs. Martin Perez.

Come on you Bombers!

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Major League Sports' Longest Active Title Droughts, As of 2021 NBA Finals

Congratulations to the Milwaukee Bucks, who, last night, won their 1st NBA Championship in 50 years.

So what are the longest title droughts now? Note: I am only including those teams that have gone at least 25 years. I am counting from either their last title, or, if they have never won one, from the first game in franchise history. 

New York Tri-State Area teams are in bold. On a connected subject: I have the Nets' entire history listed together, since they've always been in the same metropolitan area. Since the Chargers moved to San Diego and then back to Los Angeles, I've included their entire history, too. I did that for the Rams as well. I did not do it for the Raiders, because Las Vegas is pretty far from either Oakland or Los Angeles.

1 day: Milwaukee Bucks
2 weeks: Tampa Bay Lightning
5 months: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
9 months: Los Angeles Dodgers 
9 months: Los Angeles Lakers
1 year, 5 months: Kansas City Chiefs
1 year, 9 months: Washington Nationals
1 year, 10 months: Las Vegas Raiders 
2 years, 1 month: Toronto Raptors
2 years, 1 month: St. Louis Blues
2 years, 5 months: New England Patriots 
2 years, 9 months: Boston Red Sox 
3 years, 1 month: Golden State Warriors
3 years, 1 month: Washington Capitals 
3 years, 5 months: Philadelphia Eagles
3 years, 9 months: Houston Astros 
3 years, 9 months: Vegas Golden Knights
4 years, 1 month: Pittsburgh Penguins 
4 years, 8 months: Chicago Cubs 
5 years, 1 month: Cleveland Cavaliers
5 years, 9 months: Kansas City Royals 
6 years, 1 month: Chicago Blackhawks
6 years, 6 months: Denver Broncos 
6 years, 9 months: San Francisco Giants 
7 years, 1 month: San Antonio Spurs
7 years, 1 month: Los Angeles Kings
7 years, 5 months: Seattle Seahawks
8 years, 1 month: Miami Heat
8 years, 5 months: Baltimore Ravens
9 years, 5 months: New York Giants
9 years, 8 months: St. Louis Cardinals
10 years, 1 month: Dallas Mavericks
10 years, 1 month: Boston Bruins
10 years, 5 months: Green Bay Packers
11 years, 5 months: New Orleans Saints
11 years, 8 months: New York Yankees 
12 years, 5 months: Pittsburgh Steelers
12 years, 7 months: Philadelphia Phillies 
12 years, 8 months: Oklahoma City Thunder
13 years, 1 month: Boston Celtics
13 years, 1 month: Detroit Red Wings
13 years, 5 months: Tampa Bay Rays
14 years, 1 month: Anaheim Ducks
14 years, 5 months: Indianapolis Colts 
15 years, 1 month: Carolina Hurricanes
15 years, 9 months: Chicago White Sox 
17 years, 1 month: Detroit Pistons
17 years, 9 months: Miami Marlins
18 years, 1 month: New Jersey Devils 
18 years, 9 months: Los Angeles Angels
18 years, 9 months: New Orleans Pelicans
18 years, 10 months: Houston Texans 
19 years, 8 months: Memphis Grizzlies
19 years, 8 months: Arizona Diamondbacks
20 years, 1 month: Colorado Avalanche
20 years, 6 months: Washington Football Team
20 years, 10 months: Columbus Blue Jackets
20 years, 10 months: Minnesota Wild
21 years, 5 months: Los Angeles Rams 
22 years, 1 month: Dallas Stars
22 years, 10 months: Nashville Predators 
23 years, 1 month: Chicago Bulls
23 years, 10 months: Tennessee Titans
24 years, 9 months: Arizona Coyotes
25 years, 6 months: Dallas Cowboys
25 years, 9 months: Atlanta Braves
25 years, 10 months: Carolina Panthers 
25 years, 10 months: Jacksonville Jaguars 
26 years, 1 month: Houston Rockets
26 years, 6 months: San Francisco 49ers
27 years, 1 month: New York Rangers
27 years, 9 months: Toronto Blue Jays
27 years, 9 months: Florida Panthers 
28 years, 1 month: Montreal Canadiens
28 years, 4 months: Colorado Rockies
28 years, 9 months: Ottawa Senators
29 years, 9 months: Minnesota Twins 
29 years, 9 months: San Jose Sharks
30 years, 2 months: Edmonton Oilers
30 years, 9 months: Cincinnati Reds 
31 years, 9 months: Oakland Athletics 
31 years, 10 months: Orlando Magic
31 years, 10 months: Minnesota Timberwolves
32 years, 1 month: Calgary Flames 
32 years, 9 months: Charlotte Hornets
32 years, 10 months: Arizona Cardinals
34 years, 9 months: New York Mets
35 years, 6 months: Chicago Bears
35 years, 9 months: Sacramento Kings (won one in Rochester)
36 years, 8 months: Los Angeles Clippers
36 years, 9 months: Detroit Tigers 
37 years, 9 months: Baltimore Orioles 
38 years, 1 month: Philadelphia 76ers
38 years, 2 months: New York Islanders 
41 years, 9 months: Utah Jazz
41 years, 9 months: Pittsburgh Pirates 
43 years, 1 month: Washington Wizards
44 years, 1 month: Portland Trail Blazers
44 years, 3 months: Seattle Mariners 
45 years, 2 months: Philadelphia Flyers
47 years, 6 months: Miami Dolphins 
48 years, 2 months: New York Knicks
48 years, 9 months: Winnipeg Jets 
49 years, 3 months: Texas Rangers
50 years, 9 months: Buffalo Sabres 
50 years, 9 months: Vancouver Canucks 
51 years, 3 months: Milwaukee Brewers
52 years, 3 months: San Diego Padres
52 years, 6 months: New York Jets 
52 years, 9 months: Atlanta Hawks (won one in St. Louis)
52 years, 9 months: Phoenix Suns
52 years, 10 months: Cincinnati Bengals 
53 years, 9 months: Brooklyn Nets (counting Long Island & New Jersey)
53 years, 9 months: Indiana Pacers
53 years, 9 months: Denver Nuggets
54 years, 2 months: Toronto Maple Leafs
54 years, 10 months: Atlanta Falcons
56 years, 7 months: Cleveland Browns
59 years, 10 months: Minnesota Vikings.
60 years, 9 months: Los Angeles Chargers 
60 years, 9 months: Buffalo Bills
63 years, 5 months: Detroit Lions
72 years, 9 months: Cleveland Indians 

The Bills won 2 titles in the AFL, the Chargers 1. The Pacers won 3 titles in the NBA, the Nets 2. The Jets won 3 titles in the WHA.

If you count the current Ottawa Senators franchise with the old one, it's been 94 years, 3 months -- but then, there was a drought of 58 years, 6 months when they didn't even have a team.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Yogi and Belushi Were Right

It looked like the American League Eastern Division race, if not yet decided in favor of the Boston Red Sox -- the Tampa Bay Rays are still hot on their heels -- was certainly over for the Yankees. And as the official 2nd half of the regular season got underway, the impression only deepened, as the Sox won the 1st game of the series, and took the lead in the 2nd.

But then, as Yankee Hall-of-Famer Yogi Berra taught us, "It ain't over 'til it's over." And, as John Belushi taught us in the movie Animal House...

What? Over? Did you say, "over"? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell, no! And it ain't over now! 'Cause when the goin' gets tough, the tough get goin'. Who's with me? Let's go! Come on!

The movie was set in 1962, a year in which the Yankees won the World Series. It was released on July 27, 1978, just as the Yankees began a massive Divisional comeback against the Red Sox that resulted in another World Series win.

*

So, the series was supposed to start on Thursday night, at the new Yankee Stadium. It didn't, because it rained. The opener was postponed, and will be played as the 1st half of a separate-admissions doubleheader on Tuesday afternoon, August 17.

Which may be lucky for the Yankees: Aaron Judge, Gio Urshela, Jonathan Loaisiga, Kyle Higashioka, Nestor Cortes and Wandy Peralta were all placed on the COVID edition of the Injured List. And all would be missed, even Peralta, who hasn't exactly been great, but we need everybody available for the bullpen. Those guys will be back for the series beginning at Yankee Stadium on August 17, if not for the series starting at Fenway Park this coming Thursday.

So the 2nd game of this series, the Friday night game, became the 1st game, and Jordan Montgomery pitched decently. He allowed 3 runs in 6 innings. That should have been enough for the Yankees' hitters to score enough runs win the game. Instead, this stat came up on the YES Network's broadcast:
He's gotten so little support, he should sue in family court. The Yankee bats just didn't show up, only getting 4 hits all game. Red Sox 4, Yankees 0. WP: Eduardo Rodriguez (7-5). SV: Tanner Houck (1). LP: Montgomery (3-5).

*

The Saturday night game wasn't looking too good, either. It started late due to rain. The Yankees had Rougned Odor batting 3rd, a slumping Gary Sanchez 4th, an even-worse-slumping Gleyber Torres 5th, Brett Gardner 6th, rookie Chris Gittens (who hadn't impressed in his earlier callup) 7th, the ordinary Tim LoCastro 8th, and rookie Greg Allen 9th.

Someone wrote on Twitter that LoCastro, Gardner and Allen might have been the worst outfield ever fielded by a Yankee team not trying to "tank."

Gerrit Cole allowed a run in the top of the 2nd. Nathan Eovaldi once again showed how stupid Brian Cashman was to get rid of him, as he pitched shutout ball through 4 innings.

At this moment, effectively, the Yankees were 9 games out of the Division lead, and 5 games out of the 2nd AL Wild Card slot. Getting into the Playoffs was still very possible, but winning the Division was increasingly unlikely, and 12 years without a Pennant a virtual certainty.

And then, with 2 out in the bottom of the 5th, the series, if not (yet) the entire season, turned around. Allen hit a drive to deep right-center, and ended up on 2nd base with a double. DJ LeMahieu singled him home, and the game was tied. In the 6th, the 2 slumpers around whom Cashman once seemed to want to build the next dynasty around, Sanchez and Torres, hit back-to-back home runs.

And then the rains came back, and the umpires called it. Since more than 5 innings were completed, it was an official game: Yankees 3, Red Sox 1. WP: Cole (10-4). No save. LP: Hirokazu Sawamura (4-1).

*

What was supposed to be a Sunday afternoon game got moved back to Sunday night, because ESPN loves 2 things: Airing prime-time Red Sox wins, and airing prime-time Yankee losses.

But Jameson Taillon ripped up the script, pitching shutout ball into the 6th inning. Torres hit another home run leading off the bottom of the 2nd. The Yankees picked up another run in the 3rd, and another in the 5th.

In the 7th, Odor hit one out, and then the Boston bullpen issued 5 walks, including 2 with the bases loaded. In the 8th, Ryan Lamarre hit his 1st major league home run.

Aroldis Chapman was brought in to protect a 9-1 lead. Aaron Boone later said that, if it was a save situation, he would have been brought in anyway. With hardly any pressure on him, Chapman got flyout, strikeout, groundout. Yankees 9, Red Sox 1. WP: Taillon (5-4). No save. LP: Martin Perez (7-6).

There was some bad news: The recently-acquired LoCastro, whose big thing is speed (he stole 17 bases for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2019), tore an anterior cruciate ligament. He had just barely gotten here, having played just 9 games for the Yankees. Now, he's out for the season.

But the Yankees now have hope. They are 48-44, 7 games behind the Red Sox for the Division lead, 6 games in the all-important loss column. They are 3 1/2 out of the 2nd AL Wild Card slot. And while the All-Star Break and the rain played havoc with our perceptions of what had been happening, they have just taken 2 out of 3 from both the Houston Astros and the Red Sox -- both known cheaters.

Maybe these new acquisitions are the new blood, the new energy the Yankees needed. The season is far from over.

Wherever they are now, Yogi Berra is smiling, and John Belushi, a Chicago Cubs fan in life, may be enjoying the show as well.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

July 18, 1921: The Home Run King

1921 was the only season that the Yankees
wore white caps while Babe Ruth was with them.

July 18, 1921, 100 years ago today: The New York Yankees beat the Detroit Tigers, 10-1 at Navin Field in Detroit. That ballpark would be renamed Briggs Stadium in 1938, and Tiger Stadium in 1961.

Most of the game is not especially noteworthy. Carl Mays went the distance for the win, outpitching Howard Ehmke. Ty Cobb, then in his 1st season as manager of the Tigers, only appeared as a pinch-hitter, and did not get a hit. Wally Pipp hit a home run off Ehmke in the 3rd inning. In the 8th, Babe Ruth hit a home run off Bert Cole.

It was Ruth's 36th home run of the season, making it more likely that he would break the single-season record of 54 that he set the year before. And he would, raising the record to 59, and again to 60 in 1927.

It was the 139th home run of Ruth's career. This made him the sport's all-time leader.

One hundred and thirty-eight. How quaint it now sounds. But until this point, home runs were rare. You've heard the expression "change the game"? Babe Ruth changed the game of baseball as much as any man after its pioneer era did.

Meet the previous record-holder, with 138. This is Roger Connor -- no middle name. He was born on July 1, 1857 in Waterbury, Connecticut, 30 miles southwest of Hartford, 130 miles southwest of Boston, and 90 miles northeast of Midtown Manhattan. Mostly a 1st baseman, he appeared in the major leagues from 1880 to 1897, including from 1883 to 1894 with the New York Giants.
Oddly, given his record status, he never led a League in home runs, topping out at 17 in 1887. But in 1885, he led the National League in batting average (.371), hits, total bases and slugging percentage. He led the NL in slugging percentage and doubles once each and triples twice. He topped 100 RBIs in a season 3 times, including a League-leading 130 in 1889. He helped the Giants win Pennants in 1888 and 1889.

His lifetime stats include a .316 batting average; 2,467 hits including 441 doubles, 233 triples, and the aforementioned 138 home runs; and a 153 OPS+. I don't have any way of saying he rose above the poor fielding equipment of his era, but he was a good baserunner, stealing 244 bases, topping off at 43 in 1887. So he wasn't a one-dimensional player.

Connor lived until January 4, 1931, age 73, having lived his entire off-season life in Waterbury. He would have been aware of Ruth's accomplishments to that point, but I can find no evidence that they ever met. It took until 1976 for Connor to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, by which point Ruth's record, eventually extended to 714, had been broken by Hank Aaron.

As for the pitcher who gave up the record-breaking round-tripper? Bert Cole was then 25, from San Francisco, and in his 1st season in the major leagues. He remained there until 1927, with a career record of 28-32, and returned to the Pacific Coast League. In his last season of professional baseball, 1935, with the San Francisco Seals, he was a teammate of Joe DiMaggio. He died in 1975.
Cole isn't remembered today. Despite being in the Hall of Fame, neither is Connor, really. Ruth, of course, is. So is Roger Maris, who raised the single-season home run record to 61 in 1961; Mark McGwire, who did so dubiously to 70 in 1998; Aaron, who raised the career record to 755; and Barry Bonds, who dubiously raised the single-season record to 73 in 2001 and the career record to 762.

As Art LaFleur said, playing the Babe's ghost in the film The Sandlot, "Heroes get remembered, but legends never die."

Saturday, July 17, 2021

First, the Good News

First, the good news. My hip replacement surgery was successful, I was treated very well in the hospital, and I am home. 

Now, the bad news. My legs are pretty swollen, I'm gonna need some ice on the surgical incision, and the Yankees are still incompetently run and losing to the Red Sox.

Nevertheless, I have survived a lot of rotten things in my time, and now, I've outlived the hips that gave me so much pain.

So I feel like a winner.

Given the nature of my condition, I'm hoping you'll give me some leeway in writing about this Yankees-Red Sox series.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Be Hip to This

March 2020, after the 1st replacement,
just as COVID shut everything down

A personal note: This morning, barring a massive bureaucratic screwup, a year and a half after I finally got my right hip replaced (35 years after I was told it would be necessary, but they usually don't do it on people under 50 years old), I will get my left hip replaced (3 years after I was told that putting my weight on that leg to favor the bad hip had made replacing that one necessary).

Based on the previous experience, in a little over 2 months, I should be able to walk unaided, and with far less pain than I have now.

There is, of course, the possibility that something could go horribly wrong. But this is one of the safest surgeries there is, and, having gone through it once before, I can vouch for this.

I'm reminded of the words of basketball legend Bill Walton, who knows all too well: "Minor surgery is what they do to somebody else."

Nevertheless, I'm 99 percent sure I'll be back. Probably not tomorrow, maybe not the next day. At any rate, I have postdated some blog posts as part of my "Scores On This Historic Day" series. But if I go, say, a week without posting anything other than those, that's when you should start to worry.

But I don't think you'll have to worry about me. Not for that reason, anyway.

I just...

(Don't say it, Mike, don't say it, don't say it... )

I just wanted you to be hip to what was going on.

(He said it... )

*

Days until the next game of the U.S. National Soccer Team: 1, tomorrow night at 9:30 PM Eastern Time, against the Caribbean island nation of Martinique, at Children's Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas, home of MLS team Sporting Kansas City, in the Group Stage of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the continental tournament for North America, Central America, and the Caribbean. (This past Sunday, the U.S. won their opening game, beating Haiti 1-0; Argentina beat Brazil in the Final of South America's version, the Copa America; and Italy beat England in the Final of the COVID-delayed Euro 2020.)

Days until the next Yankees series against the Boston Red Sox begins: 2, on Thursday night, at Yankee Stadium II.

Days until the next Arsenal game: 3, on Saturday, 9:00 AM U.S. Eastern Time, away to Rangers F.C. at Ibrox Stadium in Glasgow, Scotland. This is an exhibition game, what soccer fans call a "friendly," the 2nd of 2 they were set to play in Scotland. Yesterday, they played away to Hibernian, at Easter Road, in Edinburgh, Scotland's capital city, and lost, 2-1. Just an exhibition game...

It's been announced that, with the lifting of restrictions, Arsenal are coming to America, to compete in a tournament at the Citrus Bowl (a.k.a. Camping World Stadium) in Orlando, called the Florida Cup. On Sunday, July 25, they will play Internazionale Milano, a.k.a. Inter, in a doubleheader whose other game features Everton of Liverpool against Millonarios of Bogota, Colombia. On the following Wednesday, they will play one of the teams in the other Sunday game.

Days until the next New York Red Bulls game: 3, on Saturday night, at 7:00 PM, against Inter Miami.

Days until the Red Bulls again play a nearby rival: 11, on Sunday night, July 25, against Washington-based D.C. United, at Red Bull Arena.

Days until the COVID-delayed 2020 Olympics open in Tokyo, Japan: 9, on Friday, July 23. A little over a week.

Days until the 2021-22 Premier League season starts: 31, on Saturday, August 14. Arsenal open the season away to newly-promoted West London team Brentford.

Days until the next Rutgers University football game: 50, on Thursday, September 2, at 6:30 PM, home to Temple University. A little over 7 weeks.

Days until the next East Brunswick High School football game: 51, on Friday, September 3, at 7:00 PM, home to arch-rival Old Bridge. 

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge football game: See the previous answer.

Days until the next North London Derby: 73, on Saturday, September 25, at the Emirates Stadium. TV programming may move the date and time of the game.

Days until the New Jersey Devils again play a local rival: Unknown. The regular season is over, and they didn't make the Playoffs. Under normal circumstances, the next regular season would open on the 1st Thursday or the 1st Friday in October, and the Devils 1st game might be against either the New York Rangers, the New York Islanders or the Philadelphia Flyers. But with COVID still being in play, the 2021-22 season could start on time, but cannot yet be presumed to do so. If it does start on the 1st Thursday in October, that's October 7, and that's 85 days. Under 3 months.

Days until the next election for Governor of New Jersey and Mayor of New York City: 111, on Tuesday, November 2. Under 4 months.

Days until the next Rutgers-Penn State football game: 129, on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, November 20, at 12:00 noon, at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania. A little over 4 months.

Days until the 1st Baseball Hall of Fame election for which Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz will be eligible, and we will know for sure whether steroid use keeps a player out, or if it's only perception that does: 195, on Tuesday, January 25, 2022. Under 7 months.

Days until the next Winter Olympics open in Beijing, China: 205, on Friday, February 4, 2022. Under 7 months.

Days until the next elections for Congress and for Governor of most States, including New York and Pennsylvania: 482, on Tuesday, November 8, 2022. Under a year and a half, or under 16 months.

Days until the next World Cup opens: 495, on Friday, November 21, 2022, in Doha, Qatar. Under a year and a half, or under 17 months.

Days until the next Women's World Cup opens: 726, on Friday, July 10, 2023, jointly held in the neighboring nations of Australia and New Zealand. A little under 2 years, or a little under 24 months.

Days until the next Presidential election: 1,2100, on Tuesday, November 5, 2024. Under 3 1/2 years, or under 40 months.

Monday, July 12, 2021

A Hell of a Way to Go Into the All-Star Break

That's a hell of a way to go into the All Star Break. Yesterday, the Yankees and the Mets each had a 5-run lead in their respective games, and both blew it.

The Mets blew  5-0 1st inning lead at home, to the Pittsburgh Pirates, with the 3rd-worst record in baseball. But it was piece-by-piece, not all at once. The way the Yankees blew it was worse.

The Yankees went down to Minute Maid Park and shut out the cheating Houston Astros twice, and they and their fans were feeling pretty good about themselves. Jameson Taillon was the scheduled starter for the series finale, but he had pitched well in his last 2 outings, so there was some reason for confidence.

Taillon pitched well again, going 6 innings, allowing 2 runs on 3 his and 2 walks. And he got plenty of support. Walks to Gary Sanchez and Luke Voit, and Gleyber Torres ground ball that resulted in an error, got them an unearned run in the 3rd inning. Tim Locastro hit a home run to lead off the 4th. Torres singled home a run in the 5th. Gio Urshela singled home a run in the 7th. And walks to DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Judge set up a Sanchez homer in the 8th. That made it 7-2 Yankees.

As Sanchez approached home plate, he mimed keeping his jersey close, mocking Jose Altuve for the home run he cheated to hit that gave the Astros the 2019 American League Pennant over the Yankees. He got seriously booed by the Astro fans, but they can't handle the truth.

Domingo German pitched a perfect 7th and a scoreless 8th. Being a starting pitcher, there was reason to believe he could finish the game. But he couldn't: He allowed an infield single to Yuri Gurriel, and a double to Kyle Tucker, who had homered off Taillon.

Aaron Boone took him out, which was the right thing to do. What was not the right thing to do was bring in Chad Green. He has been seriously inconsistent this season: Either very good, or very bad. This time, he was very bad.

This would have been the right time to bring in Aroldis Chapman, to see if he could break his Minute Maid Park jinx. But Boone didn't trust him. And Jonathan Loaisiga wasn't available, being on the COVID exposure list. And Zack Britton wasn't available, being on the Injured List. So he went with Green.

Green gave up a double to Chas McCormick. 7-4. He gave up a double to Abraham Toro. 7-5. He gave up a single to Jason Castro. He got Martin Maldonado to line out to Torres.

The batter was Altuve. Because of course it was. Boom. Astros 8, Yankees 7. WP: Ralph Garza (1-2). No save. LP: Green (3-5).

So all the good feeling over the 1st 2 games of the series was wiped out in the space of 7 batters.

*

The Yankees go into the All-Star Break 46-43, a winning percentage of .517, a pace for 84-78. That will not be good enough to make the Playoffs. They are 8 games, 7 in the loss column, behind the Boston Red Sox in the AL Eastern Division. They are 4 1/2 games, 3 in the loss column, out of the AL's 2nd Wild Card berth.

This is unacceptable. And the trading deadline is 18 days away.

The Mets go into the Break in 1st place in the National League Eastern Division, by 3 1/2 games over the Philadelphia Phillies. But their 47-40 record is only 1 1/2 better than that of the Yankees, and would be 7 games behind the Red Sox. And you can't say, "Gimme a break, look at the injuries the Mets have to their rotation!" The injuries the Yankees have had to theirs are worse.

The All-Star Game will be held tomorrow night, at Coors Field in Denver, home of the Colorado Rockies. It previously hosted the game in 1998. From the Yankees, Aaron Judge will start in right field, and Gerrit Cole and Aroldis Chapman will be on the pitching staff. The Mets will be represented by pitchers Jacob deGrom and Tajuan Walker.

We knew it was going to be a long season. And even though, in terms of where the All-Star Break fell in the 162-game process, the 1st half was longer than the 2nd half will be, the 2nd half may end up feeling longer.