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Archive for June, 2010

The King has arrived in New York. No, not that King! Sorry Knicks fans.

Despite being a last place team, the Mariners feature two of the best pitchers in baseball and the Yankees have drawn the short straw by having to face them both. When facing the Yankees, there has been no in between for Hernandez, who has alternated good and bad starts against the Bombers. His last outing against the Yankees was a complete game victory (thanks to an Ichiro walk off against Mariano), so perhaps he is due for a lemon?

The Yankees will be without Brett Gardner once again, a significant loss against the righty Hernandez. Not only do the Yankees lose Gardner’s production against an ace pitcher, but as the league leader in pitches seen per at bat, they also lose a weapon in their attempt to wear Hernandez down. Taking Gardner’s place in left field will be Colin Curtis, who has managed to knock in four runs in only seven plate appearances. The start will be the first of Curtis’ career.

The job of matching up against Hernandez falls on the shoulders of Javier Vazquez, who will seek to rebound from a shaky start in his last outing against Arizona. The hiccup in the desert broke a string of four straight quality starts in which Vazquez went 3-1 with a 2.25 ERA. If Vazquez can command his pitches, he should be equal to the task of standing toe-to-toe with the King. In order to do that, Vazquez will have to keep Ichiro and Figgins off the bases and contain the power of Branyan, who has homered in three of his six plate appearances against the Yankees’ righty.

In order to keep winning series, the Yankees will need to beat a top flight pitcher. To do that, they will need to lay off Hernandez’ arsenal of off speed pitches and build up his pitch count in the process. As mentioned, that task is made more difficult by the absence of Gardner, but there is still enough lefty power in the lineup to pose a threat. In particular, Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira have had success off Hernandez in the past, so they’ll likely be key figures in any potential Yankee rallies.

vs. Felix Hernandez PA BA OBP SLG HR RBI
Derek Jeter SS 18 0.333 0.412 0.400 0 1
Nick Swisher RF 28 0.261 0.393 0.696 3 4
Mark Teixeira 1B 40 0.306 0.350 0.639 3 6
Alex Rodriguez 3B 10 0.250 0.300 0.250 0 2
Robinson Cano 2B 15 0.385 0.467 0.615 1 3
Jorge Posada DH 6 0.600 0.667 0.600 0 1
Curtis Granderson CF 25 0.360 0.360 0.520 1 1
Colin Curtis LF 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Francisco Cervelli C 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Total 142 0.328 0.387 0.568 8 18
             
vs. Javier Vazquez PA BA OBP SLG HR RBI
Ichiro Suzuki RF 22 0.286 0.318 0.429 0 1
Chone Figgins 2B 7 0.286 0.286 0.429 0 0
Russell Branyan 1B 6 0.500 0.500 2.000 3 4
Milton Bradley DH 19 0.167 0.211 0.167 0 0
Jose Lopez 3B 15 0.143 0.133 0.143 0 1
Franklin Gutierrez CF 15 0.333 0.467 0.750 1 2
Jack Wilson SS 31 0.267 0.290 0.300 0 1
Rob Johnson C 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Michael  Saunders LF 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Total 115 0.259 0.278 0.435 4 9

 

Yankees vs. Mariners    
Season: 2010 Season: 2009 Season: 2008 All-Time
SEA: 1-0 NYY: 6-4 NYY:7-2 NYY:197-157
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The Seattle Mariners anemic offense should have been an ideal matchup for Phil Hughes, but the Yankees’ young righty suffered with his command in the zone all game. Before exiting with two outs in the sixth, Hughes had surrendered seven runs on 10 hits to a Mariners’ lineup that was averaging only 3.4 runs per game. 

What uniform will Cliff Lee be wearing this time next month? Unfortunately for the Yankees, Mariners was still emblazoned across his chest during last night's complete game victory.

After throwing a scoreless first inning and being staked to an early 1-0 lead thanks to a Nick Swisher home run, Hughes allowed the lead off runner to reach and score in each of the next four innings. By the sixth inning, it was clear that Hughes had reached the end of his rope, but for some reason Joe Girardi allowed his pitcher to hang himself. Even after Jack Wilson’s RBI single extended the Mariners’ lead to 5-1, Girardi left Hughes in to surrender a two-run double to Rob Johnson. Girardi’s inability to see that Hughes was not going to regain his lost command left the Yankees in an insurmountable 7-1 hole. 

Once staked to a large lead, Cliff Lee went about carving up the Yankees lineup. With the exception of Nick Swisher, who hit his second solo homerun of the game in the sixth inning, Lee surrendered only one single to Curtis Granderson from the fourth through the eighth innings, putting him in line for his third straight complete game. 

In the ninth, the Yankees did make Lee work hard to go the distance, rallying for two runs and coming within one baserunner of bringing the tying run to the plate. Had Girardi been more proactive in removing Hughes from the game, the ninth inning rally might have had more teeth, but the deficit was too large to overcome. 

There’s no shame in losing to a top pitcher like Cliff Lee, but giving up seven runs to one of the game’s worst lineups is somewhat disconcerting. Unlike other outings when he hasn’t had his best stuff, Hughes’ struggles seemed to result from an inability to command his fastball within the strike zone. Hughes has been able spot both his two seam and four seam fastballs all season, so it’s only natural to suggest that the long layoff was the reason that so many kept leaking back across the middle of the plate.

Although protecting Hughes should be a priority, the Yankees have to also make sure they do not disrupt his routine to the point that it renders him ineffective. Hopefully, yesterday’s blip represents just a brief re-acclimation period for Hughes because the Yankees need their young ace to help compensate for the struggles of AJ Burnett. Considering the latter, perhaps it wasn’t the best time to skip Hughes, but that’s water under the bridge now. Going forward, however, the Yankees have to make sure the “Hughes Rules” do not compromise the team’s pennant hopes. 

Phil Hughes’ Pitch Breakdown

  Avg. Speed Max Speed Count Strikes Percentage
Changeup 85 85.5 2 2 100.0%
Curve 76.8 78.9 12 7 58.3%
Cutter 87.9 90 13 11 84.6%
Four Seam Fastball 92.5 94.6 49 35 71.4%
Two Seam Fastball 92 94.6 9 5 55.6%
Inning Pitches Strikes Percentage
1 16 11 68.8%
2 21 14 66.7%
3 18 13 72.2%
4 11 9 81.8%
5 9 7 77.8%
6 19 9 47.4%
Total 94 63 67.1%
  • With Joe West umpiring a Yankees game for the first time since making disparaging comments about the their pace of the play, both teams were on their best behavior for the Cowboy. The game was played in a brisk 2 1/2 hours.
  • Before the game, Tennis player John Isner threw out the first pitch. Last week at Wimbledon, Isner took part in the longest match ever played at a WTA grandslam event.
  • Cliff Lee’s third straight complete game increased his league leading total to four. Lee is the first pitcher to complete three straight games since C.C. Sabathia accomplished the feat in July 2008. The stretch is also the longest since Roy Halladay completed four straight games in April 2008.
  • Including the World Series, Lee is now 5-1 in his last six starts against the Yankees.
  • Nick Swisher belted two homeruns in one game for the 15th time in his career.

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With the Red Sox and Rays playing a three game series to start the week, the Yankees should have been presented with an excellent opportunity to gain some ground by beating up on the lowly Seattle Mariners. Unfortunately, Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez are lined up to pitch the first two games of the series, so taking two of three, not to mention sweeping, won’t be so easy.

With the Mariners about to waive the white flag on 2010, Lee is likely to be the one true difference maker available in the trade market. In fact, the rumors have already started, including more than a few that have the Mariners’ lefty landing in the Bronx. Such a scenario is unlikely, but Lee is all but assured of being somewhere else by this time next month. For the time being, however, Lee remains a Mariner, making him the Yankees’ problem tonight.

Including his two victories in the 2009 World Series, Lee is 4-1 with a 2.31 ERA in five starts against the Yankkes since 2008, Lee’s Cy Young season. Yet, several current Yankees have had success against the talented lefty: Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez both have an OPS well above 1.000, while Jeter, Swisher and Posada all top the .900 mark. As a team, the Yankees have an OPS of .901 in 185 career plate appearances against Lee. Even though those figures do not include Lee’s two World Series victories, they do suggest that Lee will have his hands full with the Yankees lineup.

Even if Lee does have a strong outing, the Mariners still need to score runs off of Phil Hughes. With an OPS+ of 79 and a paltry runs per game of 3.40, the Mariners haven’t had much luck scoring off of anyone, so facing the Yankees talented young righty figures to be an even greater challenge. With the exception of the always dangerous Ichiro and defensive whiz Franklin Gutierrez, the rest of the Mariners lineup has performed not only well below expectations, but also well below league average (the Mariners have five regulars with an OPS+ below 78). In order to help boost their floundering offense, the Mariners reacquired Russell Branyan, and he is batting third in the lineup tonight.

One potential pitfall for Hughes could be the long layoff since his last start. In an effort to curtail his number of innings, the Yankees skipped over Hughes’ last turn in the rotation, giving him 10 days of rest before tonight’s start. It remains to be seen if that long period of inactivity will result in a loss of command, but assuming he is able to quickly shake of the rust, Hughes should be primed for a strong start against the run starved Mariners.

vs. Cliff Lee PA BA OBP SLG HR RBI
Derek Jeter SS 30 0.407 0.467 0.519 0 5
Nick Swisher RF 24 0.333 0.458 0.444 0 1
Mark Teixeira 1B 26 0.391 0.462 0.696 1 6
Alex Rodriguez 3B 20 0.333 0.450 0.733 2 6
Robinson Cano 2B 19 0.222 0.263 0.222 0 1
Jorge Posada DH 22 0.286 0.273 0.667 2 5
Curtis Granderson CF 38 0.278 0.316 0.417 1 3
Chad Huffman LF 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 1
Francisco Cervelli C 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Total 179 0.323 0.369 0.519 6 28
             
vs. Phil Hughes PA BA OBP SLG HR RBI
Ichiro Suzuki RF 3 0.333 0.333 0.333 0 0
Chone Figgins 2B 4 0.000 0.250 0.000 0 0
Russell Branyan 1B 4 0.333 0.500 1.333 1 1
Milton Bradley DH 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Jose Lopez 3B 4 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Franklin Gutierrez CF 1 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Jack Wilson SS 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Rob Johnson C 3 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Michael  Saunders LF 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Total 19 0.143 0.250 0.357 1 1

 

Yankees vs. Mariners    
Season: 2010 Season: 2009 Season: 2008 All-Time
TIED: 0-0 NYY: 6-4 NYY:7-2 NYY:197-157

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Last night’s opening game in the 2010 College World Series was supposed to be a showcase for UCLA ace Gerrit Cole, but South Carolina’s Blake Cooper stole the show.

Gerrit Cole's elbow shows the strain of one his 127 pitches in last night's College World Series game.

Cooper, who earlier in the month was drafted in the 12th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks, struck out 10 Bruins over eight innings, while only surrendering three hits and one run. Meanwhile, the much more heralded Cole suffered one of his least impressive outings of the season by giving up 11 hits and six runs over seven innings.

The scouts watching, however, were likely more focused on the radar gun than the scoreboard. While Cooper was throwing in the high-80s, Cole was hitting mid-to-high 90s late into the ballgame. That fastball is why many project Cole to be a top-5 selection in next year’s amateur draft.

Most Yankee fans are probably already familiar with Cole because he was the team’s first round selection coming out of high school in 2008. Despite being a Yankee fan, not to mention a rumored signing bonus of over $3 million, Cole opted against signing with his favorite team so he could attend UCLA. As he toed the rubber in Omaha last night, that decision looked to be a very intelligent one, especially considering the much larger payday looming next June.

Of course, nothing is guaranteed in baseball. Cole’s risk is still a year away from paying off, which considering the precarious nature of pitching, is not insignificant. One only needs to look at the video of Joel Zumaya writhing in pain after throwing a pitch in yesterday’s game against the Twins to realize how suddenly a pitcher’s career can change.

Because of that fragility, another important statistic also worth noting from yesterday’s game is the pitch count of both starting pitchers. Despite being down six runs as early as the fifth inning, Cole was allowed to throw 127 pitches in his seven innings. Meanwhile, Cooper needed 136 pitches to get through his eight innings. What’s more, Cooper was pitching on only three days rest, giving him a nine-day pitch count of 301. A workload like that would be enough to give even the major’s most durable work horse a moment to pause. It’s almost unconscionable to think that a college program would ask an unsigned 12th round senior to literally shoulder such a burden. You can bet the Diamondbacks took notice.

Hopefully, Cooper does not suffer any ill effects from his College World Series efforts. Similarly, one hopes Cole’s junior season is injury free. Major college programs may be great havens of development for talented young arms, but it is important to remember that they are also playing to win ballgames, not just groom future big league aces. The risks taken with young arms are real, and the financial implications for the athletes can be significant. It may be sour grapes from a Yankees fan, but you have to wonder if UCLA is the best place for Cole to be.

Pitchers Who Have Thrown As Many as 136 Pitches Since 2005

Pitcher Date Pitches
Livan Hernandez 6/3/2005 150
Edwin Jackson 6/25/2010 149
Livan Hernandez 7/31/2005 145
Tim Lincecum 9/13/2008 138
Livan Hernandez 6/15/2006 138
Livan Hernandez 7/15/2005 136
Carlos Zambrano 5/8/2005 136

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For the fifth time this month, the Yankees will ask Andy Pettitte to help pick up the pieces after a disastrous start by AJ Burnett. Even though the Yankees have only won two of his last four starts, Pettitte has proven to be a bona fide stopper by going at least seven innings without giving up more than two earned runs in each outing.

Pettitte’s consistency has allowed the Yankees to avoid wrecking their bullpen in the wake of Burnett’s blowouts. In order to accomplish that task again, however, Pettitte will have navigate around Manny Ramirez, who has a career OPS of 1.140 in 86 plate appearances against the Yankees’ lefty. Meanwhile, the Yankees lineup will have their hands full with Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers’ young fireballer just had a string of eight consecutive quality starts (7-1 with a 1.82 ERA) snapped by the Anaheim Angels, so he’ll be anxious to get right back on the beam. His challenge will be throwing enough strikes to entice the Yankees’ patient lineup.

With ESPN covering the game, the broadcast is likely to be all about Joe Torre’s Yankee reunion. Even though both sides have tried to downplay the significance of the meeting, you can bet more than a few principals on each side have their fingers crossed for a series victory.

vs. Clayton Kershaw PA BA OBP SLG HR RBI
Derek Jeter SS 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Nick Swisher RF 2 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Mark Teixeira 1B 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Alex Rodriguez 3B 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Robinson Cano 2B 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Jorge Posada C 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Curtis Granderson CF 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Brett Gardner LF 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Andy Pettitte LHP 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Total 2 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
vs. Andy Pettitte PA BA OBP SLG HR RBI
Rafael Furcal SS 12 0.083 0.083 0.167 0 0
Ronnie Belliard 2B 4 0.250 0.250 0.500 0 1
Andre Ethier RF 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Manny Ramirez LF 86 0.416 0.465 0.675 4 20
Casey Blake 3B 9 0.143 0.333 0.143 0 0
James Loney 1B 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Russell Martin C 2 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 1
Reed Johnson CF 14 0.091 0.286 0.182 0 0
Clayton Kershaw LHP 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Total 127 0.319 0.378 0.522 4 22
Yankees vs. Dodgers
Season: 2010 Season: 2009 Season: 2008 All-Time
TIED: 1-1 DNP DNP LAD: 3-2

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After getting off to a roaring start, the Tampa Bay Rays have really hit the skids in June. Since reaching their high watermark at 32-12 on May 23, the Rays have gone 12-19 and seen a six game lead in the division turned into a 2 ½ game deficit. What’s worse, some of the frustration of losing boiled over when BJ Upton and Evan Longoria engaged in a shouting match in the dugout during today’s game. At one point the darlings of all of baseball, the Rays now stand at a cross roads.

For the first six weeks of the season, the Rays’ were sustained by a dominant pitching staff, but in the month of June the team’s ERA has increased by over one full earned run per game. In particular, James Shields, Matt Garza and Wade Davis have all suffered a significant decline in performance. That trio has posted June ERAs of 7.40, 7.84 and 7.32, respectively. In other words, the Rays have been trotting out three AJ Burnetts for the entire month, so it’s no wonder they have struggled so mightily.

The inability to win low scoring games has also been part of the Rays’ problem as of late. Despite ranking fourth in runs per game, the Rays are only 4-27 when scoring three or fewer runs. Perhaps that frustration (an .086 batting average in the weekend series against the DBacks probably didn’t help) is what led to today’s blowup between BJ Upton and Evan Longoria during the Rays’ 2-1 loss to the Diamondbacks. According to reports, Longoria chided Upton for not hustling after a triple by Rusty Ryal, after which the Rays’ centerfielder exploded and had to be restrained. Upton’s painfully slow pursuit of the ball was obvious, so Longoria’s reaction was more than justified.

BJ Upton has had issues with hustling in the past, prompting Rays’ manager Joe Maddon to remove and bench his talented centerfielder on more than one occasion. The fact that the similar incidents continue to occur, and that Longoria felt the need to confront Upton, suggests that Maddon has not gotten his message across. Despite being one of the more clever tacticians among baseball managers, instilling discipline and handling the clubhouse may be chinks in Maddon’s armor.

There is plenty of time for the Rays to pull things back together, but they do have some real concerns. Shields, Garza and Davis should all rebound from awful Junes, but the collective youth of the pitching staff does raise questions about its ability to hold up over the dog days of the pennant race. On the offensive side, only Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria have held up their ends of the bargain.  The Rays’ lineup is still chock full of talent, but one wonders whether Carlos Pena’s contract year and the turmoil surrounding Upton might inhibit their performances going forward.

While the Rays try to pick up the pieces, it is incumbent upon the Yankees to build their lead as much as possible. The same opportunity also exists relative to the Red Sox, who could be without Dustin Pedroia for an extended period of time. The Yankees have managed to not only survive, but thrive amid a spate of injuries and inconsistent performances from key contributors, so if they can finally put things together, now may be the time to pull ahead.

American League Records When Scoring Three Runs or Fewer

Team G W L W-L%
NYY 22 7 15 0.318
TEX 23 7 16 0.304
BOS 27 8 19 0.296
TOR 34 10 24 0.294
CHW 32 7 25 0.219
MIN 30 6 24 0.200
SEA 42 8 34 0.190
DET 27 5 22 0.185
TBR 26 4 22 0.154
LAA 28 4 24 0.143
KCR 32 4 28 0.125
CLE 33 4 29 0.121
OAK 37 4 33 0.108
BAL 42 2 40 0.048

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You can’t blame Joe Torre if he lapsed into a bout of déjà vu while watching Mariano Rivera mow down the Dodgers while protecting a narrow lead in the ninth. When  James Loney took a called third strike to end the game, however, the spell was finally broken as the Dodgers’ bench, led by Torre and Don Mattingly, erupted in protest. Mattingly repeatedly shouted that the final strike call was a joke (alongside a few choice explicative), but it was no laughing matter for the Dodgers, who have now lost seven of their last eight games.

Joe Torre was all smiles at the sight of Mariano Rivera before the first game between the Dodgers and Yankees. His demeanor was much more dour after watching Rivera strike out the side to earn the save against his Dodgers (Photo: AP).

What looked like a mismatch on paper quickly evolved into a pitchers’ duel between CC Sabathia and Vicente Padilla. The Dodgers got on the board first after Furcal led off the first with a walk, stole second and eventually scored on a two out hit by Manny Ramirez. From that point on, however, the Dodgers would only advance one more runner as far as second base. After starting the game with an explosive, albeit sometimes erratic fastball, Sabathia was able to shift gears in the second half of the game by featuring his change-up and curveball, the latter which he was able to throw for a strike over 80% of the time. In his eighth and final inning, Sabathia appeared to tire a little, but used his entire arsenal to retire the side in order despite running a full count on every batter. By following up on his eight shutout innings against the Mets with another strong outing, Sabathia seems to be on track to be the ace level pitcher the Yankees relied upon so heavily last season.

The reason Sabathia had to work so hard in tonight’s game was because Padilla manufactured an almost equally strong outing by throwing everything but a knuckleball at the Yankees. By featuring a curve as slow as 55 and a fastball topping out around 95, Padilla was able to keep the Yankees off balance for most of the night. Alex Rodriguez didn’t seem to be fooled, however. In the top of the second, Arod led off the inning with a double on a first pitch fastball and eventually scored the tying run on Jorge Posada’s RBI single. Then, leading off the sixth, Arod drove another first pitch fastball deep into the left field seats to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead. Before the series, Torre stated that he didn’t hold any hard feelings toward Arod, but after tonight’s game, he might be singing a different tune.

In addition to throwing against Padilla, Sabathia also took the opportunity to throw at him. After Robinson Cano was plunked in the top of the fourth, Sabathia responded by drilling Padilla in the leg during his next at bat in the fifth. Although the pitch seemed to be in retaliation for the pitch that hit Cano, it could also have easily been a long overdue response for Mark Teixeira being drilled twice by Padilla in his last game against the Yankees while he was with Texas during June of last season. After hitting Padilla, Sabathia took a very aggressive posture, but no further incident ensued. It remains to be seen whether the Dodgers were content to see Padilla take his medicine, or if a response will be forthcoming in game two.

Before the game, the storyline centered on Joe Torre facing off against his old team, but by the ninth inning, a classic battle of future Hall of Famers took center stage. As he has done so many times in the past, Mariano Rivera squared off against Manny Ramirez and once again got the best of the long running confrontation. After striking out Ramirez, Rivera then did the same to Kemp and Loney to close out the game. In a somewhat eerie scene, Torre and Mattingly were not celebrating Mo’s save, as they had done so many times in the past, but were instead angrily disputing the result. Although the protestations from the Dodgers were strong (and carried over to the post game), PitchFX data suggested that each pitch to Loney was in fact a strike. Perhaps he was simply trying to shield his player from any action that might warrant a suspension, but Mattingly’s uncharacteristic display of invective was still a disconcerting sight to see.

Judging by the Dodgers’ reaction at the end of the game, it seems as if the team has placed a little extra emphasis on this series. From the Yankees standpoint, however, building a lead in the AL East remains all the motivation that the team needs. Despite not being able to put together a truly dominant game in some time, the Yankees keep managing to do just enough to win games, even though their rare losses to some less than marquee pitchers have almost made it seem as if they have been struggling. Tonight’s game against Padilla looked as if it was headed down that same path, but Sabathia, Arod and Mariano combined to alter the course.

CC Sabathia’s Pitch Breakdown

  Avg. Speed Max Speed Count Strikes Percentage
Changeup 87.2 88.3 19 12 63.2%
Curve 79.9 82,8 21 17 81.0%
Four Seam Fastball 94.3 96.3 59 36 61.0%
Sinker 94 95.4 9 7 77.8%
Slider 80.5 82.6 7 3 42.9%

 

Inning Pitches Strikes Percentage
1 19 14 73.7%
2 21 14 66.7%
3 12 6 50.0%
4 10 7 70.0%
5 6 3 50.0%
6 17 13 76.5%
7 10 7 70.0%
8 20 11 55.0%
Total 115 75 65.2%

 

  • The Yankees are now 2-2 against the Dodgers in the regular season, leaving the Cincinnati Reds (2-4) as the only team against which they do not have at least a .500 record.
  • Manny Ramirez now has 164 RBIs against the Yankees, his highest total against any team.
  • With is ninth inning strike out, Ramirez is 8 for 39 in 44 plate appearances against Mariano Rivera. Rivera has both faced (44 Pas) and struck out (13) Ramirez more than any other opponent.

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