Monday, April 02, 2007

Open Season

On a normal day, it’s a virtual impossibility to imagine myself climbing out of bed at 2 or 3am for any reason, let alone to watch television. This was not a normal day. Opening Day is a ritual. It’s a tradition. There is no way I could miss Opening Day at the Stadium, no matter the time. So, there I was, on my couch, covered in a blanket. I was neither sleepy, nor regretful about my decision to spend those early morning hours with the Bronx Bombers.

This was a more subdued Opening Day, with the Lidle ceremony and the knowledge that Bobby Murcer would be in the booth, still very much fighting for his health. Carl Pavano was on the mound against Scott Kazmir, which never makes for a comfortable outing, let alone on the big day of celebration. There were errors. There was a mediocre Pavano. There was A-Rod booing. Still, there was enough of that fresh Yankee lifeblood in the atmosphere to keep things interesting, and eventually celebratory. A 9-5 victory in this situation was about as much as anyone could ask for, given the circumstances. It was a comeback win that shouldn’t have had to be, but it was a good win. Some of my thoughts on the game:

* This is Pavano
Carl Pavano is a mediocre pitcher. He looks like that. The problem with Pavano has nothing to do with his lack of interest, but rather his lack of an out pitch. He gets the ground ball, which is good. He can’t get the punch out when a guy is on 2nd with nobody out. That runner will score on Pavano more often than not. It may be true that the runner on 2nd with nobody out will score on most pitchers, but with Pavano it seems like a run surrendered before it scores. It’s all the more reason to marvel at Wang’s success last year. For the record, I think Wang will strike out more batters in 2007. He has that kind of ability.

* Alex Rodriguez is a Beast
The reason people are morons for booing A-Rod has nothing to do with the touchy-feely magical power of positivism that will drive the Yankees to a championship. It has everything to do with the fact that this player is one of the 5 best in the entire sport and even after an error he can line a hit, steal a base, and score a run on a follow-up single. He can drive a pitch into the black of dead center field on a swing that looks as effortless as swatting a fly. Booing him is an exercise in stupidity of great proportion. He is a marvel to behold, whatever the perceived failings of his personality may be.

* Bunting Good vs. Bunting Bad
I hate sac bunting. I think the whole practice of giving up an out to move runners is silly. There should be an asterisk on “silly” in that sentence because I think there is an argument to be made for the 6th inning bunt that Mientkiewicz put down against Sean Camp. The run expectancy goes down with that bunt, but you must consider the batter. Torre had a choice. Hit Josh Phelps against Camp, and go for the big inning. Pinch hit Mientikiewicz for the lefty/righty matchup and let him hit for the big inning. Pinch hit Minky and sac bunt to move the runners for Melky. In the first scenario, you are banking on Phelps hitting it in the air, or at least grounding out to right side to move the runners. The track record on Josh is not such that we know he will do either at this point. He may hit into a double play. Minky isn’t a great hitter either, whatever handedness he possesses. He also can’t run. If he hits into a double play, Torre looks like a big fat goat for allowing him an at bat there. If they bunt the runners over, play for the tie, they probably give away a more robust scoring opportunity, while assuring themselves of a couple shots at the 2 RBI hit. I’ll take it. It worked, so we can’t complain too much, but I was also not throwing things at my TV when it all went down.

The Melky bunt later on was useless. That was Torre playing small ball unnecessarily. With Mientkiewicz on first and no one out, Melky has the chance to put a pitch in play and move the runner on a hit. This is the Devil Rays bullpen we’re talking about. This is a bullpen so bad that last year it participated in blowing more than 60 games the D-Rays led. Melky should be putting good wood on the ball there. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

* The Pen was Stellar
I like this bullpen. Bruney to Henn to Vizcaino to Farnsworth to Mo. We didn’t even need EDSP. What’s up with that? On days when Pavano starts, or even Igawa, we can expect to see that pattern. Throw in EDSP in Farnsworth’s place on some days and you have a bullpen of interchangeable parts that could be one of the strengths of the club. You have Myers in reserve and at this point Rasner for the long relief opportunities. I like it.

* Mariano is a Cyborg
Don’t worry Yankee fans. Mo will retire with us, in the new Stadium. In fact, he’s still so good it’s hard to imagine when he will finally decline. After a perfect Spring, Mo comes into a 4 run game and strikes out all three Rays. The best one was Elijah Dukes. He was so amped to have hit his first Major League homer that he pumped his fist rounding first. Good for him. I thought it was kind of cool to see how excited he was. I was equally amused by the look on his face as he was dominated by Rivera in his final at bat. He was so overmatched it was almost like watching a grown man throwing hard to a 10 year old in the backyard. “C’mon Dad. Really throw it!” Whiff! HUH?!!

Mariano is in frighteningly good shape, and has such an easy motion that I could see him closing games in the Bronx until he’s over 40. Why not? Is there any sign that he’s in a declining pattern so severe that he isn’t one of the best 3 or 4 closers in the game? Francisco Rodriguez, Trevor Hoffman, B.J. Ryan, Papelbon, Nathan, Rivera…. He’s near the top of that list, if not still the King. If I were a betting man, I’d put money on the idea that Mariano will be the Yankees closer for at least the next 5 years.

That was a lot of fun. Good to have the games back. I’m really looking forward to getting up early for the return of Andy Pettitte. To quote Nas, “I never sleep ‘cause sleep is the cousin of death.” See you tomorrow. Go Yankees!!!