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Archive for June 15th, 2010

So much for a pitchers’ duel. The heralded matchup between Roy Halladay and C.C. Sabathia didn’t turn out exactly as expected as the Yankees belted three home runs off the Phillies’ ace en route to an 8-3 victory.

Roy Halladay looks toward right field in disbelief after surrendering his third home run of the game (Photo: AP).

After a scoreless first inning, Halladay uncharacteristically struggled to command his cutter and curveball in the second. Robinson Cano lead off that inning by grounding out, but Halladay then gave up a hit to Nick Swisher on a 3-1 count before walking Jorge Posada on four pitches. With runners on first and second, Halladay once again fell behind in the count before yielding a two run triple to Brett Gardner on a 3-1 cutter.  Gardner would end up being stranded at third base, but by the end of the inning, Halladay had thrown 29 pitches.

C.C. Sabathia eased through the first three innings, striking out six batters along the way. Meanwhile, the Yankees went back to work on Halladay in the bottom of the third. Curtis Granderson led off the inning by sending a wayward changeup deep into the right field second deck. Then, after Mark Teixeira flied out to deep right, Cano lashed a curveball into the right centerfield gap for a double and later scored on Nick Swisher’s round tripper, which again came on a cutter.

Now staked to a 5-0 lead, Sabathia had his only hiccup in the fourth inning. Chase Utley led off the inning by singling off Sabathia’s left hand. It was the second time in Sabathia’s last three starts that he extended his pitching hand in the way of a batted ball, and each time thereafter the big lefty seemed to struggle with his location. After a visit from the trainer, Placido Polanco singled off Sabathia’s glove and then hit Ryan Howard with a pitch. Before plunking him in the shoulder, Sabathia had Howard set up for a third straight swing and miss at a slider low and away, but inexplicably tried to bust the Phillies slugger up and in with a fastball. Two consecutive RBI singles by Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez then followed, after which Ben Francisco’s 3-4 force out (which could have been a double play if Sabathia remembered to cover first base) plated another run.  Sabathia rebounded to strike out Castro and retire Ruiz on a ground out, preserving the lead at 5-3.

With the Phillies back in the game, it looked as Halladay had regained his form by relying more on his fastball. Perhaps out of stubbornness, however, he tried to sneak one more cutter by Mark Teixeira, who promptly deposited the pitch just over the 314 sign in right. The extra run seemed to reinvigorate Sabathia, who finished off his night by easily retiring the side in the sixth and seventh.

The Yankees tacked on two more insurance runs when Francisco Cervelli worked his two out magic with runners in scoring position by singling with the bases loaded. All that was left was for Dave Robertson and Chan Ho Park to close out the game and give the Yankees a leg up in the first game of their World Series rematch.

Facing Roy Halladay was a true test for an offense that had been feasting on less than stellar pitching over the past three weeks. Even with Arod out of the lineup for his fourth straight game, the Yankees passed with flying colors.

CC Sabathia’s Pitch Breakdown

Avg. Speed

Max
Speed

Count Strikes Percentage
Changeup 87.3 88 9 7 77.8%
Curveball 81.1 83.2 18 10 55.6%
Four Seam Fastball 93.2 96.1 64 42 65.6%
Sinker 92.7 94.2 16 6 37.5%
Slider 81.6 82.2 4 3 75.0%
Inning Pitches Strikes Percentage
1 14 10 71.4%
2 16 9 56.3%
3 12 9 75.0%
4 29 20 69.0%
5 17 7 41.2%
6 14 8 57.1%
7 9 5 55.6%
  • Coming into the game, Roy Halladay had only given up three homeruns, none of which were to left handed hitters. The Yankees not only doubled Halladay’s season total, but all three home runs were hit by lefties.
  • Halladay surrendered a career high three home runs in a game for the ninth time. The prior two occasions were also against the Yankees on August 4 and July 4 of last season.
  • The Yankees six runs off Halladay matched the most they have ever scored against the righty. The other time the Yankees reached Halladay for six runs was on April 30, 2000.
  • By beating the Phillies, Sabathia earned his first victory against a team other than Orioles since April 16.

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When Shane Victorino steps to the plate to lead off tonight’s game, you can’t blame the Yankees if they immediately flashback to his groundout that ended the 2009 World Series. The Yankees haven’t become  a successful franchise by looking back, however, so while the fans revel in that recollection, you can bet the team will be focused on the task at hand.

Roy Halladay was not a member of last year’s pennant winning Phillies team, but the Yankees are still intimately familiar with the talented right hander. In 35 career starts against the Bronx Bombers, Halladay sports an 18-6 record with an ERA of 2.84, including seven complete games and three shutouts.

Of course, the Yankees haven’t been Halladay’s only victim over the years. Since 2001, Halladay’s ERA+ of 147 ranks second to only Johan Santana’s 150. With his move to the National League, Halladay has managed to increase his level of dominance, compiling an ERA+ of 212 and throwing a perfect game along the way.

While the trade for Halladay has certainly worked out for the Phillies (even if the corresponding trade of Cliff Lee serves as a mitigating factor), not much else has gone right for the National League champs. At only 32-29, the Phillies find themselves closer to the last place Nationals than the first place Braves. Part of the reason for the Phillies’ struggles has been the loss of All Star short stop Jimmy Rollins for much of the season. His absence, along with disappointing early season returns from Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez, has robbed the Phillies offense of its trademark explosiveness (perhaps best exemplified by Placido Polanco hitting cleanup). Meanwhile, beyond the 1-2 punch of Halladay and Cole Hamels, the Phillies rotation has also underperformed, with Jamie Moyer, Kyle Kendrick and Joe Blanton all currently sporting ERAs well above the league average.

With Halladay on the mound and Alex Rodriguez still out of the lineup, Yankees’ starter C.C. Sabathia will need to be at his best.  The Yankees big lefty has not won a game against a team other than the Orioles since April 16, and has posted a 5.27 ERA in his last seven starts. In order for the much anticipated pitcher’s duel to come to fruition, Sabathia will have to improve the command of both his fastball and curve as well as keep the Phillies sluggers from leaving the yard.

After enjoying a very soft schedule since the end of May, the Yankees embark on a week that will begin with Roy Halladay and end with Johan Santana. By the end of the week, we should have a better idea about whether the Yankees are the major’s best team, or a paper tiger created by an easy schedule.

vs. Roy Halladay PA BA OBP SLG HR RBI
Derek Jeter SS 100 0.242 0.296 0.286 0 5
Curtis Granderson CF 14 0.417 0.500 0.833 1 1
Mark Teixeira 1B 38 0.250 0.289 0.444 2 4
Robinson Cano 2B 49 0.208 0.224 0.375 2 5
Nick Swisher RF 18 0.235 0.278 0.471 0 0
Jorge Posada DH 65 0.278 0.400 0.426 2 3
Brett Gardner LF 18 0.235 0.278 0.294 0 1
Francisco Cervelli C 3 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Ramiro Pena 3B 6 0.333 0.333 0.667 0 0
Total 311 0.250 0.299 0.387 7 19
vs. C.C. Sabathia PA BA OBP SLG HR RBI
Shane Victorino, CF 7 0.429 0.429 0.429 0 1
Chase Utley, 2B 3 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Placido Polanco, 3B 45 0.326 0.341 0.535 1 3
Ryan Howard, 1B 7 0.429 0.429 0.571 0 1
Jayson Werth, RF 6 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Raul Ibanez, LF 43 0.275 0.326 0.525 2 9
Ben Francisco, DH 6 0.200 0.333 0.400 0 0
Juan Castro, SS 20 0.278 0.350 0.333 0 4
Carlos Ruiz, C 3 0.667 0.667 0.667 0 0
Total 140 0.295 0.321 0.462 3 18
Yankees vs. Phillies
Season: 2010 Season: 2009 Season: 2008 All-Time
TIED: 0-0 PHI: 1-2 TIED: 0-0 NYY:11-10
  • Before the game, Sergio Mitre was placed on the disabled list with an oblique injury. Boone Logan was recalled from Scranton to take Mitre’s place on the roster.
  • Since 2001, Roy Halladay and C.C. Sabathia are the two pitchers in the major leagues who have compiled the most wins. Halladay has won 143 in that time span, while Sabathia trails closely behind with 142.
  • Halladay’s 18 wins against the Yankees is the most by an active pitcher. Tim Wakefield ranks second with 11 wins.
  • The last time the Yankees engaged in a World Series rematch during the regular season was on June 10-12, 2002, when the team took two of three from the Diamondbacks.
  • The Yankees will need one win in the series to avoid falling under .500 against the Phillies in regular season play. The only two teams with a regular season advantage over the Yankees are the Reds (4-2) and Dodgers (2-1).
  • At 137-97, the Yankees have the best cumulative record in interleague play, ahead of the Twins at 135-99. The Phillies, on the other hand, have the fourth worst interleague record at 98-125.

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Yesterday’s off day brought news of the untimely passing of former Yankee Oscar Azocar, who died in his native Venezuela at the age of 45. Although Azocar was only a footnote during a down period, his short career epitomized a tumultuous era in Yankees’ history.

Oscar Azocar was part of a "youth movement" by the Yankees in 1990. After bursting on the scene, Azocar would struggle down the stretch and eventually be traded during the off season.

The 1990 Yankees’.414 winning percentage was the fifth worst in franchise history and the lowest since 1913. The team’s last place finish was also only the fifth time the Yankees ended the year in the cellar. After years of organizational turmoil, managerial turnover and neglect of the farm system, the Yankees had finally hit rock bottom.

At the same time the team was reaching new lows on the field, the Yankees were making unflattering news off of it. The beginning of the 1990 season revolved around George Steinbrenner’s ongoing dispute with and subsequent attempt to trade David Winfield, and culminated in the owner’s eventual lifetime ban for actions involved in the Winfield feud. Amid that backdrop, the Yankees won four of the first games to start the season, but then plummeted thereafter. By June 5, the team was already nine games out of first with an 18-31 record, which cost Bucky Dent his job as manager. Adding insult to injury, the axe was wielded while the Yankees were in the midst of being swept at Fenway Park, the site of Dent’s most heralded achievement.

With the season basically over before it started, and George Steinbrenner preoccupied with saving his baseball life, the Yankees began the process of rebuilding the team for the first time since the mid-1960s. Unfortunately, there weren’t many Roy White’s, Thurman Munson’s, Mel Stottlemyre’s or Bobby Murcer’s in the pipeline just yet.

Instead, the Yankees promoted a litany of non-prospects to bolster the club, which was now being managed by Stump Merrill, who previously had managed the team’s triple-A affiliate in Columbus. Along with Mike Blowers and Deion Sanders, who started the year with the big club, the Yankees’ mid-season “youth movement” also included Azocar, Kevin Maas, Hensley Muelens and Jim Leyritz.

Although Kevin Maas looked to provide the most promise, thanks to a stretch in which he hit 15 HRs over his first 42 games, it was Azocar who made the biggest splash, hitting .386 with 4 HRs and 9 RBIs in his first 15 games. In his first start on July 18 against the Royals, Azocar went 3-4 with a HR to help lead the Yankees to a 5-3 victory. In fact, the rookie trio of Azocar, Maas and Leyritz combined for six hits and three runs scored. Things were looking up.

I like this lineup now. It’s fun playing with Leyritz, Maas, Azocar and Deion. You see some serious talent there. And they’ve been impressive.” – Don Mattingly, quoted in the July 19, 1990 edition of the New Tork Times

On July 31, one day after George Steinbrenner’s lifetime suspension was announced, the team had two rookies in the everyday lineup sporting an OPS above 1.000 as well as a young catcher/3B in Jim Leyritz with an OPS of .840. Whereas the eve of the trade deadline was usually a time when the Yankees were shedding young players, this time around, the team’s youth movement seemed to be paying off. Of course, those early results were merely an illusion.

From August 1 until the end of the season, Azocar posted a brutal line of .197/.211/.242 in 161 PAs. Azocar was really never a prospect anyway, and that offseason he was traded to the Padres for a player to be named later. Like Azocar, Maas and Muelens would quickly flame out, while Blowers and Sanders would have limited success with other teams. Only Leyritz wound up leaving an indelible mark on the franchise as the author of two huge post season homeruns.

In what truly was a disastrous season for the Yankees, Oscar Azocar helped to offer some hope, even if it was just a glimmer that was destined to be extinguished. For Yankee fans who suffered through that period in team history, names like Maas and Azocar still elicit a wry smile…not only because they serve as a reminder of how far the team has come, but also because they provided a reason to watch amid so much despair.

Rest in peace Oscar Azocar…and keep swinging.

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