The Mets have one last chance to advance to the National League Championship Series. Their surprising season has led them to a Game 5 division series matchup with Zack Greinke and the Dodgers, and a full 16 percent of their 25-man roster has a legitimate connection to the Yankees. Some are more important pieces than others, but the Yankees have played a part in putting these Mets together.
The everyday player
Leading into the 2010 season, the Yankees traded away three young players for Curtis Granderson. He fell flat at first, restructured his swing and hit 115 home runs with two All-Star appearances in his four years with the Yankees. He turned that stint into a four-year deal with the Mets, and was this season asked to move back into the leadoff role. He responded with the second-best on-base percentage of his career. He was a run-producer with the Yankees. He’s been a table-setter with the Mets.
“I think the fact that Kevin (Long) is here helps him a lot,” manager Terry Collins said. “They have such a great rapport. He was so happy when we hired Kevin, and I think Kevin keeps him calm. Kevin knows his swing better than anybody. I think if he gets out of whack, he can be fixed in a hurry. But you’re right, he’s had a tremendous year not only on the power front, but on getting on base.”
The role player
Last year, the Yankees tried an experiment of sorts. They took a chance on Kelly Johnson — mostly a second baseman in his career — could be a regular at third base, a position he’d started only 12 times in the big leagues. Johnson wound up losing time to Yangervis Solarte, played five different positions and didn’t provide nearly the left-handed bat the Yankees had expected. He was traded away at the trade deadline, and he signed this winter with the Braves to be a true utility man.
As the Mets started retooling this season, they went after Johnson, who’s bat had significantly improved in his return to the Braves. As a left-handed bench bat, Johnson has played six different positions with the Mets including every spot in the infield. He’s not necessarily a trusted shortstop, but he’s been there in a pinch. It was the Rays who first used Johnson as a utility man, the Yankees reinforced that idea, and now the Mets are taking advantage of it to help round out their bench.
The second-chance starter
When the Yankees signed Bartolo Colon in 2011, it seemed like the longest of long shots. He hadn’t pitched at all the year before and it had been five years since he last pitched a full season. The Yankees gave Colon a second chance and he completely resurrected his career (perhaps with some medical and chemical help). He’s now finishing off a two-year deal with the Mets, and after making 31 starts for the second day in a row, he’s been a go-to long man in their bullpen this postseason.
“Anytime you mention Bartolo Colon’s name, it’s the same,” Collins said. “He pounds the strike zone, keeps the ball down for the most part, fields his position, all the things you want done, holds runners. And as far as did we think about what we had in the bullpen, we didn’t know because he hadn’t done a lot of relieving in his career. We just said when we put him down there, we knew we had somebody that could come in. We used him in L.A. because we knew we were going to get a groundball and we got a groundball. It’s nice to know you’ve got a guy down there that you’re not concerned about base on balls. They got to swing the bat.”
The surprise setup man
A ninth-round pick in 2003, Tyler Clippard pitched his way into becoming a pretty decent rotation prospect with the Yankees. He made his big league debut in 2007, and although his first start was excellent — six innings, one run — he finished the year with a 6.33 ERA through six big league games. He had a 5.19 ERA in Triple-A and the Yankees seemed to give up on him, dumping him to the Nationals for Jonathan Albaladejo. It was a mistake. One thing the Yankees had never tried was putting Clippard in the bullpen, and it turns out Clippard is a pretty good reliever.
In his second year with the Nationals, Clippard became a key setup man. In his fourth year he was an all-star, and in his fifth year he was a closer. Oakland traded for him this winter, put him back in the ninth inning and wound up trading him to the Mets at the deadline. His strikeout rate has dipped a little with the Mets, but so has his walk rate and he had a 1.05 WHIP in his 32 games with them. The Yankees never tried Clippard in their bullpen, and now the Mets are benefiting from having him available in theirs.
Associated Press photos
This game didn’t have to be a farewell. The Orioles are certainly heading toward the playoffs, and if the Yankees were heading the same way, there would still be some chance of Derek Jeter returning to Baltimore for one last postseason showdown. But the Yankees are going the other way, and it seems Jeter’s career has two weeks until its expiration date.
“I’ve always talked about, you want to be in a position where you control what happens,” Jeter said. “Unfortunately now we’re not in control of what happens. We’re in control of our games, but now you need help from other people. We need to continue to come out and play well, and more importantly to win games. We’re at the point now where playing well isn’t good enough. We need to win games, and then we need some help from some other teams. It’s not an ideal situation, but we are what we are.”
Five games out of the second wild card with 14 games to play. That’s what the Yankees are. Tonight was an opportunity to gain ground on every other team in the race for that final postseason spot, but the Yankees took yet another one-run loss. They’ve been good in close games most of the year, but five of their past six loses by been by two runs or less. Four have been by one run.
“It’s very difficult because of what we’re trying to do,” Joe Girardi said. “Each game that you lose like this, it just makes it harder and harder to get to where we want to get.”
It now seems that those two emotional wins at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday and Thursday were little more than the last gasp of a team that hasn’t been able to maintain much of a winning streak all year. They had a real chance to win all four games here in Baltimore — two were one-run losses, another was a shutout — but the Yankees scored a total of six runs in the series and managed just one win.
“We’re in a spot where we’ve got to win,” Brian McCann said.
And at this point, even that might not be enough.
• Dave Robertson threw 35 pitches on Friday, but he threw just 11 pitches last night and told Girardi pregame that he actually felt pretty good. Girardi decided he would use Robertson in a save situation. “I felt great,” Robertson said. “He came up and talked to me in the outfield, asked me how I felt, and I told him I feel good, I was ready to go if we got a save situation. I wasn’t able to do it today, I just stunk. It wasn’t how I felt, it was how I pitched.”
• Girardi on the decision to go to Robertson for a third day in a row: “I mean, he’s my closer. That’s the thing. It’s the time of year (to use him aggressively). That’s why I try to take care of him all year long. You get to September and sometimes you’ve got to do that. Like I said, he’s been great for us all year and it just didn’t work out.”
• Any thought of simply using Dellin Betances for two innings? “No, no. Absolutely not,” Girardi said. “Dellin has been used a lot too, so, no.”
• With his strikeout of Adam Jones in the eighth inning, Betances tied Mariano Rivera’s 1996 record for the most strikeouts in a season by a Yankees reliever with 130. Betances reached that number in far fewer innings. “Yeah, but he did it with one pitch though,” Betances said. “Big difference. … It’s a great accomplishment, especially after everything I’ve gone through to get up here. I’m honored to be a part of this team, and for me to just be in the same area, or just by Mariano, that’s a huge accomplishment for me.”
• Betances said he didn’t realize he’d reached the record. “I had no idea,” he said. “I’m just trying to go out there and do my job, I’m not really worrying too much about that. As soon as Joe asked for the ball I had a feeling something happened, but I didn’t know if I had tied or gone ahead, I don’t know.”
• The problem for Robertson was hanging breaking balls. He left balls up in the zone, which seems to be an indication of fatigue, but Robertson said he really didn’t think that was the case. “I pitched like crap,” Robertson said. “I left three balls up to three of the best hitters in the game, and they all hit doubles. It was a terrible job by me out there. … I felt good in the pen, felt great warming up earlier today, and I thought I had good enough stuff to get people out, but I just kept leaving pitches up, and those guys are too good to leave pitches in the zone.”
• Hiroki Kuroda was awful last time out, but he was awfully good tonight. He went seven innings with one run. In the third inning, he reached 3,000 innings for his career (1,700.1 of them came for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp). It actually seems Kuroda might be effective through the end of the season this year, but it also seems unlikely to matter.
• Girardi said he found out after batting practice that Carlos Beltran felt good enough to pinch hit. He had a four-pitch at-bat in the seventh inning and swung only once. He swung and missed to finish off the strikeout and end the inning. He hadn’t played since Tuesday.
• Jeter is hitless in his past 24 at-bats and in the midst of a six-game hitless streak. It’s the second-longest hitless stretch of his career behind a seven-game streak in 2004. He has only got hitless in five or more games three times in his career (once in 2004, once in 2008 and now in 2014).
• Martin Prado is doing the opposite. He’s hit safely in 10 of his past 13 games including seven multi-hit games. In that span he’s had three home runs and batted .391. He’s now hit seven homers in 36 games with the Yankees. He hit five home runs in 106 games with the Diamondbacks.
• Chris Young’s six-game hitting streak ended.
• Final word goes to Jeter: “That (McCann home run) was huge, because it was a pitchers’ duel up to that point. I don’t know how many hits we had up to that point, but Mac hit that big home run and obviously we were all excited. But then, those guys aren’t going to give up over there, so we still needed three outs, and they came up with some big hits. Robertson’s been good for us all year long.”
Associated Press photos
Opening up the DH spot • 07.28.14
Joe Girardi is looking forward to Carlos Beltran being able to play some in right again because it’s going to give the manager more flexibility without having one guy locked into the DH role.
“I’m sure Gardy could probably use a DH day,” Girardi said. “Ells could use a DH day. These guys are run out there on a regular, regular basis. It probably wouldn’t hurt them. By having (Beltran) and Ichiro, who’s an outstanding outfielder as well, I could probably do some things.”
Girardi indicated Beltran could be back out there as soon as next week, barring any setback with the bone spur in his right elbow that caused him to miss 21 games while on the DL in May and early June.
“He’s continuing to throw,” Girardi said. “He has progressed and he has thrown more and more distance as we’ve went on, and he’s done some outfield drills early.”
Beltran wants to get back out there, but it’s a process for him. After yesterday’s 5-4 loss to the Blue Jays, he said he had only been throwing for five days.
“Right now, throwing 90 feet isn’t going to do it,” said Beltran, who has picked it up offensively of late, batting .314 on the 10-game homestand to lift his average to .228. “So when I get to I guess 140, something like that, where I can make a throw from the outfield to home plate on a do-or-die play, let it go, then I will be close to playing games. Right now, I’m not.”
The Yankees, of course, could also acquire another outfield bat before Thursday’s nonwaiver deal deadline, which could impact how Beltran would be used.
Then there’s the question of who will mainly be used to back up the now oft-injured Mark Teixeira.
After missing the last seven games with a strained lat, Girardi didn’t rule out Teixeira returning as soon as tonight in Texas, depending on how felt today when he woke up after taking 50 swings yesterday and how he feels following live batting practice later, if he’s good to swing more.
With Kelly Johnson going on the DL Wednesday due to a strained groin, Brian McCann became the regular fill-in at first instead of squatting behind the plate. If Teixeira needs a day off, it figures to be Johnson’s job to fill in once he returns, according to Girardi. Johnson is eligible to return Aug. 7.
“We don’t anticipate Kelly Johnson’s injury is going to be long,” Girardi said. “So probably when I give Mac a day off (from catching), I’ll give him a day off.”
Here’s my latest story on what went on yesterday and Girardi’s frustration over the loss and really the mistakes of the last two days.
Photo by The Associated Press
Yankees in need of more production • 06.23.14
Orioles starters really shut down the Yankees in the three-game series that ended Sunday with Baltimore’s 8-0 win. The Yankees managed four hits to follow up on their one-run, seven-hit Saturday loss. They needed a walk-off three-run homer from Carlos Beltran Friday to claim a 5-3 victory.
The offense really hasn’t taken off on a consistent basis.
Asked if he expected more, Joe Girardi said: “Yeah, I think that’s probably fair to say, but we still have a long way to go. And I see signs of us swinging the bats better. I do. But it is what it is and we’ll go from here.”
They have a lot of below-average averages right now on a 39-35 team. For instance: Carlos Beltran .220; Brian McCann .222; Kelly Johnson .222; Alfonso Soriano .232; Brian Roberts .244; and Mark Teixeira .246. The Yankees also have Yangervis Solarte at 0 for his last 28, dropping him to .263.
“We definitely have more in us,” Teixeira said. “I think we expect more out of each other. Hopefully we can score more runs.
“There’s a lot of time left, but we do need to pick it up.”
Here’s my story on Sunday’s events, from the Old-Timers’ Game to Masahiro Tanaka’s effort to the punchless offense to Steve Pearce’s takeout slide to Teixeira’s fear he had broken a toe or two. And here’s my Yankees notebook on Goose Gossage heading to Monument Park, Jeter’s response to Hideki Matsui’s marital advice and Girardi talking about the Adam Warren/Vidal Nuno situation. Thanks for reading. You’re always welcome to join me on Twitter as well at @bheyman99. Chad will be back with you later.
Photo by The Associated Press.
Yankees waiting for some offense • 04.12.14
“I’m definitely surprised,” said Kelly Johnson, pictured above after going down swinging against Jon Lester in the fifth inning of the 4-2 loss to the Red Sox Friday night. “I think we all are.
“Offenses can do that, can have some ups and down. We’ll make up for that.”
Mark Teixeira is on the DL. And this offense has a lot of new parts, like Johnson. He was asked whether the newcomers may be trying too hard here at the beginning.
“I think it’s human nature,” Johnson said. “I’m not going to say yes. I’m not going to say no.”
Johnson is batting .258 with two homers and six RBI. But Brian McCann and Brian Roberts are new guys who haven’t done much yet. McCann is at .162 with no homers and three RBI. Roberts is at .148 with no homers and one RBI. Carlos Beltran is at .243 with a homer and four RBI. The Yankees have sent up just seven homers. Johnson is tied for the team lead with .216-hitting Alfonso Soriano.
“We don’t have everyone clicking at this point yet,” Joe Girardi said.
But, stating the obvious, it’s still very early.
Here are links to my three stories today on Lohud.com and in The Journal News, first off on CC Sabathia sinking last night in frustration, plus one on Michael Pineda not getting suspended and some injury updates, and then I have a Matt Thornton feature story. He received his World Series ring yesterday from Red Sox management, yet he was profoundly disappointed to have been left of their playoff roster. He’s hopes to win another this year with the Yankees. I spoke to him before last night’s game.
I’m not scheduled for the rest of this homestand, but you can follow me on Twitter at @bheyman99. Enjoy today’s game.
Photo by The Associated Press.