World Series 3: CLE vs. CHC — Shutout in Wrigleyville

On the north side of Chicago, Wrigleyville was packed tonight with fans excited to bring the World Series back to Wrigley Field for the first time in 71 years. The last time the Cubs were in a World Series (October 6-10, 1945), the world had just declared peace a few weeks prior, and the majority of the 40,000+ fans inside the stadium (and the thousands outside) hadn’t even been born.

So, it’s understandable that Chicago is pretty excited to see its team not just in the World Series, but having a pretty good chance of bringing a championship back to Cubs (since 1908) and to Wrigley for the first time (Wrigley opened in 1914). But not based on how they played tonight.

Actually, the Indians and Cubs’ starters had quite a bit of a pitching duel for most of the game tonight. The Indians’ Tomlin really kept things tight for his team, throwing just 58 pitches into the 5th inning, giving up just 2 hits and a walk. Meanwhile, the Indians’ batters pushed the Cubs’ starter Hendricks in his pitch count — 85 pitches into to the 5th inning, giving up 6 hits and 2 walks. Yes, the Indians had more opportunities, but the Cubs were able to get the outs in the right places, allowing their hometown fans to have quite a stressful night on the edge of their seats (so to speak, as most of the fans stood for the full game in anticipation).

Both bullpens kept the game tight, and mostly scoreless. Miller, Shaw, and Allen split the final four innings for the Indians and did what they do best — dominate and keep their opponents from advancing. Now, the Cubs’ bullpen was actually really strong tonight as well (with a single inning exception), as Maddon (the Cubs’ manager) pieced together the best combination to keep the Indians from doing much on their end as well.

Like I said, there was a single inning where the Indians finally broke the scoreless game. Albeit a momentary break. But in these kinds of games, you grab what you can. In the 7th inning, the Indians led-off with a single. The pinch-runner moved to 2nd on a sacrifice bunt and a wild pitch put him at 3rd. After a walk to Davis, the Cubs’ reliever attempted to pick-off the lead runner, but the runner was deemed safe. The Cubs thought it was too close and challenged it, but the call was upheld.

This ended up being good for the Indians as pinch-hitter Crisp’s single scored that lead runner to get a run on the board. The other runner was thrown out at 3rd on the play, and the Cubs went to a new reliever. A ground out (and subsequent challenge that was upheld) ended the inning and the run-scoring for the night.

Final score: 1-0 Indians, Indians lead series 2-1.

The Indians now hold record for most postseason shutout games, at 5. That says a lot about the state of pitching for both teams in this series actually. I wouldn’t be surprised if the MVP for the World Series (despite which team wins) was a pitcher (like it was for both the NLCS and ALCS).

Chicago native, former Yankee, and current Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson was awarded the Roberto Clemente Award prior to tonight’s game. Granderson has been committed to giving back to the community since his college days, making a large personal donation to his alma mater (UI-Chicago) to help build a baseball complex to serve inner city kids, and is the current home of his foundation’s youth clinics in Chicago. His foundation also runs clinics in New York and Florida. Granderson is also involved in other charities in New York like food banks, housing projects, the USO, and YMCA, and is the active in campaigns to fight childhood obesity, water initiatives, and MLB’s Diversity Task Force. A good guy to receive a “good guy award”.

Brett Gardner was announced today as a Gold Glove Award finalist for his outstanding defense as the Yankees’ left fielder. Every year, the award is given to the best defensive player at each position. Managers and coaches votes (within league and not for their own players) are weighted at 75% of the vote with the other 25% weighted by the actual statistics. But anyone who’s watch Gardner leap, slide, dive, and somersault in the outfield ever know how much he deserves the honor. Fingers crossed that everyone else sees it too.

And in Baby Bomber news: Gleyber Torres was named as the Arizona Fall League’s Player of the Week. Torres, you may remember, was part of the trade that sent closer Chapman to the Cubs (and eventually to the World Series), but his impact in the Yankees’ organization is becoming quite the conversation. He is considered one of the best prospects in the Yankee farm system and one of the best prospects in the all of MLB. In other words, everyone is watching this young kid from Venezuela with high hopes for the future. And he’s currently wearing Baby Bomber pinstripes.

Go Yankees!

Game 37: NYM vs. NYY — Sometimes a grand slam isn’t enough

There were times when Yankee Stadium sounded more like Citi Field with all the “Let’s Go Mets!” cheers. I honestly think there were far more Mets fans than Yankee fans in the Bronx tonight for yet another back-and-forth game. There is nothing like baseball in New York, and the Yankees play host tonight in the first of a 4-game split with their “cross-town rivals”.

Hiroki Kuroda took the mound for the Yankees, and through 6 innings and 95 pitches, he gave up 7 hits and 4 runs. The Mets certainly knew how to drive up their pitch counts as he was well into 40-odd pitches in just the 3rd inning. In the 1st, a lead-off single stole 2nd, advanced to 3rd on a ground out, and scored on another ground out. (1-0 Mets)

The Yankees answered back in the 2nd, loading the bases with 3 back-to-back singles. Two consecutive outs later, Brett Gardner strolls up to the plate and takes the first pitch and slams it into the left field seats for a grand slam, his career 2nd and the Yankees’ 1st this season. (4-1 Yankees)

A solo home run in the 5th for the Mets sliced the Yankee lead in half, and a 2-run home run in 6th by former Yankee Curtis Granderson tied up the game. Granderson was greeted rather warmly by fans and former teammates alike tonight. (Though it could be hard to tell with all the boisterous Mets fans in the stands.)

In the bottom of the 6th, with 1 out, Alfonso Soriano hit a ground-rule double and then scored on Yangervis Solarte’s single. Solarte then scored easily on Kelly Johnson’s really nice triple, though Johnson was promptly thrown out at home on Roberts’ fielder’s choice. Roberts, at 3rd on a single, would score on a throwing error. (7-4 Yankees)

So for relief in the 7th, the Yankees turned to Alfredo Aceves, who seemed to struggle right off. A lead-off walk set up a 2-run home run, before Aceves was pulled in favor of Matt Thornton. (7-6 Yankees)

Thornton continued into the 8th inning. With 1 out, a double quickly scored the tying run on an RBI single, save blown. So they turned to Preston Claiborne to hold the Mets off, which didn’t work out so well as he promptly gave up a 2-run home run to push the Mets ahead. (9-7 Mets).

The Yankees last-chance rally in the 9th had runners on the corners and just one out before a double play ended the game and the rally. And well, New York won. It was just the wrong borough that was celebrating.

(Note: there are some newer injury updates, which I will discuss tomorrow because the Yankees are still determining the status of a couple players. If you’re really curious before tomorrow’s post, I’m sure a Google search won’t take you very long to figure out.)

I guess I don’t really think of the Mets as rivals for the Yankees. Maybe I’m a little old-fashioned because I still think rivals are those that are naturally formed, not necessarily geographically. I don’t think the LA or Chicago or DC-area teams are really rivals. I don’t think even the ones in the same state are really rivals (Florida, California, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Missouri). Maybe it’s because I’m so used to the Red Sox-Yankees legend, but that is a true rivalry — one fought from years of bitter feuds, friendly trash-talk, and even jealousy.

It’s still a big deal when a former player plays for the opposing team (Clemens, Damon, Youkilis, and now Ellsbury to name a few recent ones). It wasn’t really a big deal when Granderson donned the Mets cap. No, what was a big deal was an out-of-context quote, but the fact that the Mets offered him a good deal and he took it, Yankee fans were okay about it. A little sad at first, but they understood.

No, the Mets are not Yankee rivals. They just play in the same city. There may be some fans that truly despise the other New York team (usually diehard Mets vs. the Yankees), but I don’t think you can call them “rivals”. I usually just chalk it up to the standard anti-Yankee sentiment. That isn’t rivalry, but rather… (what’s the old quote)… as American as apple pie.

I don’t like apple pie, but I like the Yankees. And I’ll root for the Mets from time to time, just not when they play the Yankees.

Also, today was Yogi Berra’s 89th birthday, and he decided to take in a game, sitting in the Steinbrenners’ suite. I can’t think of a better way to spend a birthday. Happy Birthday #8! You are, as always, an inspiration.

Go Yankees!

 

“True New Yorkers” love baseball.

The only place in the country right now that hasn’t hit its December weather yet is the Sunshine State, a perfect getaway place for all those clubs buried in the snow (or at least chilly temperatures). Winter Meetings at Disney are progressing, and every day brings a flurry of new activity and rumors about trades and the future of all the clubs.

The accolades and praise for Joe Torre’s election to Cooperstown continued today at the Winter Meetings, with just about everyone giving a favorite memory or personal statement about what a great man he is and a great manager he was. I don’t remember how many of these people were actually on his side through the dynasty years (I know the press wasn’t so kind), but I guess you put in your time and continue being you and those “just desserts” come out all right in the end.

Well, Curtis Granderson made headlines today in his New York Mets press conference. (He will wear #3 for them, by the way.) At first, I thought he would still receive a pretty warm reception at Yankee Stadium next year. But Granderson has since made some comments that I think were just intended to bolster his fan base. I just don’t think they are going over very well with Yankee fans. Granderson commented that he’s been told by New Yorkers that real New Yorkers are Mets fans.

Now, I have heard that sentiment too. I think most Yankee fans have. And a simple statement like that doesn’t necessarily make it true. I was told by a life-long New Yorker (who’s now in his 60’s) that your team loyalty depends a lot on where your grew up in the city. The Bronx and Manhattan are traditionally Yankees, while the other three are full of Mets fans. By saying a “true New Yorker” is a Mets fan is negating the fact that true New Yorkers can actually live anywhere in the city. And let’s just clear up a small basic fact: I know native New Yorkers that actually follow a whole other team (like the Phillies or even the Red Sox) because of where their families grew up. I’d say the more accurate statement is that a “true New Yorker” is a fan of whatever their family grew up rooting for.

Maybe what bothers me most about this idea of a “true New Yorker” is that it gives into the idea of a stereotype of what a New Yorker should be. That stereotype isn’t flattering at all, and it certainly isn’t true. When I think of all the people I know in the city, all of whom I consider “true New Yorkers”, they most definitely aren’t anything stereotypical. In fact, each one of them has their own style, team loyalty (yes, there’s even a Red Sox fan), career path, family history, geographical accommodations, and everything that makes them who they are.

See, the funny thing about New York is that the stereotype doesn’t exist outside of the movies or parodies or whatever tourists perceive New Yorkers as. Here’s a hint: a true New Yorker is simply being yourself and not being afraid to be yourself. New Yorkers have two things in common — they are full of confidence and they love their city.

And the smart ones love the Yankees.

Go Yankees!

Chess pieces moving around the board

Time to recycle your #24 and #14 shirts. Robinson Cano is on his way to Seattle, and Curtis Granderson is headed to another borough.

That’s right. While Granderson was almost assumed to be off to another team, Cano’s departure is a little off-putting for most Yankee fans who rightly assumed this home-grown player would be part of the next generation of Yankee legends. The Yankees extended offers to Cano, but nothing at the level he was looking for and ended up getting at Seattle. Cano’s people were asking for a 10-year deal of some sort, but most of the major teams weren’t interested in offering a 32-year-old player 10 guaranteed years of play time as part of their club. Somehow, Seattle deemed this a good idea for the future of their club and have thus offered Cano $240 million for 10 years.

Granderson’s deal with the Mets have him for 4 years, $60 million, which is great for New Yorker fans of Granderson, who can just catch the 7 train out to Queens to watch him play next year. A 4-year deal makes sense for a player who will be 33 in March. At the end of those 4 years, Granderson could have his pick of teams to play for as DH or part-time outfielder to finish out his career.

Best of luck to both of them on their new endeavors!

Without a hefty contract to pay out to Cano, this leaves the Yankees with some flexibility as far as who else they can pick up, something that undoubtedly needs to be placed on that pitching staff. There are, of course, other needs to fill, but there’s still some time and there’s still a ton of free agents up for grabs.

In that vein, the Yankees signed a deal with infielder Kelly Johnson, who is primarily a 2nd baseman, for a year. This is a great pick-up for the Yankees as far as a utility man, especially in lieu of some recent “releases” of sorts in that area.

But the really big sign (or rather re-sign) is Hiroki Kuroda. Kuroda was signed to a 1-year $16 million deal plus bonuses and an interpreter. Personally, I remember Kuroda in Spring Training as one of the few veteran players who played every inning, every pitch as if it were October baseball. It was very impressive to watch then, and it was equally impressive to watch that determination pour over into the regular season. Kuroda certainly embodies the Yankee spirit — that excellence, that integrity, that team work, and that famous drive to win.

And while all the chess pieces are just beginning to be moved around the board, the pieces are falling into place. It will be interesting to see where the roster is once February 24 (and even more so when April 1) rolls around. Even last year, where it seemed like so many of the pieces were already in place, with all the recurring injuries, the pieces certainly didn’t fall right until closer to August.

See that’s the tough part about the off-season and contracts; it’s always a gamble. Even if it seems like a good bet, it’s still a gamble. Even if you sign the absolute best free agents to carry your team off to the World Series, you’re never guaranteed a team. And a team isn’t something you can buy, mistakes that teams (even past Yankee teams) have made. But it takes veteran players and a great manager to pull together a team, something I think the Yankees have in spades.

Go Yankees!

{NOTE: Almost immediately after I first posted this, Twitter blew up with the announcement that the Yankees signed Carlos Beltran to a 3-year deal. Stay tuned Monday for more Beltran news.}

On a spending spree, off with their beards…

Pretty much right after I clicked “publish” yesterday, the Yankees continued to make some announcements that certainly would have made yesterday’s post, especially due to all the contract lingo. They have non-tendered Jayson Nix, Matt Daley, and David Adams, which means they have released them to pursue other contract options (which can still technically include the Yankees). None of them have been major producers for the 40-man roster, but all have their moments, points of development, and youth that could definitely come in handy when negotiating a contract for the next season.

Today, the Yankees announced a press conference this Thursday in which they will officially sign catcher Brian McCann to his contract and unveil his number with the pinstripes. A friend recently mentioned that he will have to get used to wearing that catcher’s mask without the cushion (and warmth in those early spring months) of his trademark scruffy beard. All players know that being a Yankee means “clean-cut, clean-shaven”, and this has deterred some players (including recently a very notable, very bearded pitcher) from signing with the Bronx Bombers. Honestly, this seems like a rather superficial (not to mention vain) reason not to sign with a team that’s willing to invest their money in your career, as hair does this miraculous thing and grow on its own when you don’t cut it.

And the biggest news story has to be that the Yankees officially signed Jacoby Ellsbury for a 7-year, $153 million deal, with an 8th year option. Yet another Red Sox refugee to Yankee pinstripes. Ellsbury has played center field for the Red Sox since the beginning of his career and turned down their qualifying offer earlier this fall. Now, this doesn’t mean that Gardner is somehow out in the cold as Girardi has a way of working out an overly-packed roster for the overall benefit of the team. Much like Gardner, Ellsbury is known for his speed around the bases, stealing 52 last year alone (1st in the AL). The addition of Ellsbury actually signals a newer rotation for the “experienced” players that were in the outfield due to injuries last year (Soriano, Ichiro, and Wells), which could mean that the Yankees will now return to a rotating DH.

In smaller contract news: Curtis Granderson met with the Mets and had salmon (not joking), the Mariners might be interested in Robinson Cano (not joking), Phil Hughes signed with the Twins (still not joking), Alex Rodriguez’s arbitration could be over with a final decision by January 1 (not joking), and they cancelled Christmas (okay, that’s the bad joke). I think Hughes signing with a smaller-market team could certainly help his ERA and overall pitching career, as a change of scenery is often all that’s needed to put some fire into a player (think: Ichiro, Soriano, or even Raul Ibanez). Granderson and Cano are exploring their first time on the free agent market, and while personally I wish to see #14 and #24 back in pinstripes for 2014, the realistic side of me knows that there’s still a long way to go for both players (especially to bridge the gulf of Cano’s negotiations). And the Yankees will know whether they have a 3rd baseman for 2014 by the new year, and that’s really what’s holding up most of the larger contract signings for now.

Well, I say that because it’s the Yankees. They’re signing two very large contracts for McCann and Ellsbury before the end of the year, but to most people (especially those of us who remember the spending spree of 2008-9 grabbing Teixeira, Sabathia, and AJ Burnett), this seems like a “cheap year” for them. It’s amazing how relative all the contract talk seems.

I should note that today it’s been hard to keep up with my Twitter feed on the trade/contract news, which sort of flies in the face of my original assumption that it was going to be a little slow this off-season. It also forces me to push back some planned blog posts on Yankees history until there isn’t a million news stories. They say that “no news is good news”, but not to a blogger. No news means I have to be creative and original and can’t just comment and opine about current events. Of course, on days like today, I kind of wish I could have just been a little creative.

I guess part of me kind of loves that the Yankees just recruited to of its rivals to work for them — McCann from the (great 90’s rival) Braves and Ellsbury from the (forever infamous rival) Red Sox. There is a certain amount of justification and satisfaction. Of course, who doesn’t want to play in New York? Oh yeah, the bearded ones…

Go Yankees!

3 up, 3 down

First of all, I hope everyone had a wonderful Veteran’s Day, honoring those who have served and are currently serving in the military. It is an honor for those of us civilians to be able to show our appreciation to those who risk their lives every day and fought for our country in all the different aspects of the military. And personally, a huge thank you to my friends and family in the service, both active and retired. May we be forever grateful for your sacrifice.

Today, all three qualifying offers have been turned down. Last week, qualifying offers were made to Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, and Hiroki Kuroda, and today all three turned them down. Which means that all three are free agents as of today. All three are also at the top of Free Agency class in their rankings, so wherever they sign for 2014, it will be for a nice deal.

According to most reports, the Yankees are actively pursuing a deal with Cano, though he is entertaining other offers. This is pretty common to get an estimated value of what the league thinks of a player before making the final decision. Granderson is being pursued actively by other teams including the Mets, both Chicago teams (Cubs and White Sox), and the Phillies. Most people assume Granderson is gone at this point. And Kuroda is a giant question mark to just about everyone.

A lot of this is of course basic assumption (which I’m not a fan of), but until there is a definite deal in place, anything’s possible. Should any or all of the three get picked up by another team in the off-season, the Yankees will get an extra draft pick for each one. If they become Yankees again, return to Japan (a serious option for Kuroda), or decide to retire (really only a viable option for Kuroda), the Yankees do not get an extra draft pick.

In the mean time, the GMs, Assistant GMs, and owners have all convened in Orlando for the Winter Meetings. Flanked by a horde of reporters and a sprinkling of major player agents, the next few days will be packed with meetings of all sorts, setting the stage for what is hopefully a very different 2014 season. The Winter Meetings are always early in the off-season, so there’s not a lot of options immediately. Instead, they turn into networking and setting the stage for trades and other pre-season (and often during the season) deals to be made, seemingly at the last minute.

Last year, there wasn’t much for the Yankees to accomplish due to the limits of free agents and a slew of players on the DL. Instead, most of the holes were plugged closer to and during Spring Training. And now, this year, with giant question marks on major players like Rodriguez, Cano, and Kuroda, there is a bit of a holding pattern until some results are in. I mean, there are holes to be filled in the bullpen and back-up fielding and offense, some of which can be initiated this week in Orlando.

And in other Florida-related news, the Rays’ OF Wil Myers and the Marlins’ P Jose Fernandez were awarded with the awards for AL and NL Rookie of the Year, respectively. Having grown up in Florida before and during the development of both teams into the MLB, it’s rather nice to have a both Florida teams well represented and recognized, especially if they couldn’t be Yankees. Honestly, I happen to think both awards were well-deserved. Congrats to both of them! In a few years, when you hit free agency, there might be a pinstriped uniform in your future, and that’s always a wise option.

Go Yankees!

The free agency dance begins

I realize that the Yankees had a bit of a deadline with their potential free agents, but Monday seems to have been heavily laden with news for its public. Well, not really complete news, more like the beginning of news.

When looking at potential free agents coming off their roster, a club can make “qualifying offers” to agents they don’t want to let go. It’s usually seen as a sign that says “we’re still interested in you and retaining you even if we’re only offering a year contract to you”. Most players don’t take it and opt to go for bigger, longer contracts (even if it’s with the same club), and by doing so, they actually gift the club with a prime draft pick for the next draft (next July). Last year, Nick Swisher and Rafael Soriano were offered qualifying offers, both opted free agency, and both were signed pretty quickly elsewhere (Cleveland and Washington, respectively).

This year, they made offers to Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, and Hiroki Kuroda. There is a lot of speculation already as to what they’re each going to do, and I’ve been doing my own private speculating. But since I don’t speculate here, you’ll know if I’m right after the player deadline of November 11 to respond to the offer — they will either take it and sign for a year with the Yankees or refuse it and try for a better offer elsewhere. And honestly, I think we’ll be looking at three very different results for these guys.

Now, there were some people who didn’t get qualifying offers from the Yankees — Brendan Ryan, Kevin Youkilis, Mark Reynolds, Travis Hafner, Lyle Overbay, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Boone Logan. This means that all of these guys are now officially free agents, and their agents are probably busy exploring all options available to their clients. It will be interesting to see where everyone lands, and honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Yankees picked up a couple of these guys at least for a year or two.

Almost on the other spectrum of things, the National Baseball Hall of Fame has released its latest ballot and is to be voted on next month by the Veterans’ Committee. There are 12 men on that list that have had a major impact on baseball history, including Joe Torre, Billy Martin, and George Steinbrenner. I think in all Yankee fans’ minds all three should get at least the required 75% votes to walk into Cooperstown next year. The annual players ballot will be released later this month and will include the five players who didn’t make the it last year but had enough vote to carry over for this coming year and a whole slew of really amazing newcomers including former Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina.

Like I said, it’s really just a “beginning of news” kind of day. At first, it sounds like there’s news, but really it’s just  something that could develop into news someday soon. But when I think about it, baseball is always an evolving story. Even when a team wins the World Series, they have to spend the off-season rebuilding and focusing on developing their dynasty. The 2012 Giants, for example, barely made any changes last off-season and ended up holding up the bottom of the NL West in 2013; they figured “why mess with success?” and it backfired big time on them. So, now they’re working on figuring out what went wrong with their 2013 formula and what went right with 2012 and then how they can make 2014 work better for them.

And (not that I ever want to glorify the Yankees’ arch-rivals) then you have the Red Sox who were easily the worst team in 2012, fired their manager, shuffled their roster, picked up some prime guys from all over free agency, and somehow powered their way to the top of the AL and became World Series Champions just a few weeks ago. But now, the Red Sox are going to spend their entire 2014 season defending their title. This is actually good news for the Yankees because unlike almost every other team in the league only the Yankees know what it’s like to establish and maintain a dynasty. Is anyone else hoping 2014 starts a new dynasty?

Go Yankees!