Memo to Brian Cashman: Starting Pitching Matters
Want proof. Look no further than Games 6 and 7 of the World Series, where Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer pitched brilliantly in leading the Washington Nationals to their first World Series championship.
Or take another look at Gerrit Cole’s, right, performance in Game 5, which brought the Houston Astros to the brink of their second title in three years.
Starting pitching throughout the playoffs ran counter to such noveau strategies as the opener, bullpen games and the super bullpen.
For years now the Yankees have been building a powerhouse teams with a stacked lineup and the best bullpen in baseball, a team capable of winning 100 games each of the past two seasons, and reaching the ALCS two of the past three years.
While spending big bucks on Giancarlo Stanton and fortifying the lineup and bullpen, Cashman and the Yankee brain trust have taken the cut-rate route on starters. Lacking a true number one ace (save for Luis Severino in the first half of 2018), the Yankees have used duct tape and baling wire to piece together a rotation, both at the front and back end.
Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton have been serviceable pitchers, but not aces. Domingo German’s future is uncertain, based on his domestic abuse issues.
Instead, the Yanks banked on CC Sabathia, who had nearly as many injured list visits as victories the past two years, and JA Happ, the so-called Boston killer who has wilted against the Red Sox.
Sonny Gray, a 2017 trade acquisition, turned out to be another Ed Whitson. Lance Lynn didn’t last. Michael Pineda. Jaime Garcie. Need we go on.
It wasn’t enough. While the Astros and Nationals thrived on starting pitching in the playoffs, the Yankees couldn’t hit in the clutch. Eventually their vaunted bullpen wore down, saddled down by innings, opposing batters becoming more familiar and comfortable with each appearance.
Well Hal Steinbrenner, above left, austerity no longer flies with Yankee fans. We know you have the money. Heck, your father wrote an $80,000 check in 1973 when he fronted an investors’ group that bought the Yankees for $8.8 million from CBS.
The Yankees earn 20 percent more than the next wealthiest baseball team, and their $4 billion market value is second in sports, behind only the Dallas Cowboys.
Well Brian Cashman, above right, time to bring on some pitching. Cole would look good in pinstripes. Strasburg and Madison Bumgarner too.
There’s work to be done. 2020 is up next. Time to bully up Yankees.
If this were a travel review, I’d wax poetic about the wonderful two weeks I spent in California. Every day was a highlight, starting with Grant & Andy’s wedding at Jack London’s ranch in the wine country. Spent some time farming in the sweet air at Glentucky Farms in Sonoma with Mike, Grant’s father and my friend since first grade.
During the trip I found my old home and school in Daly City, and visited such sports as Mission Carmel, Big Sur, Hearst Castle, magical Moonstone Beach in Cambria, Morro Rock and the Santa Monica Pier as I made my way down the Pacific Coast Highway to Southern California.
I even managed to cross off a bucket list item with a visit to Dodger Stadium, the third oldest ballpark in the majors. With the help of the SeatGeek app, watched Washington defeat Los Angeles in an NLDS playoff game. Afterwards, battled LA traffic and made my way to see another lifelong friend, Janie, and her husband Kevin, in Marina del Rey.
From there, went to Coronado to visit my college roomie Paul and his wife Karen. We saw the historic Midway aircraft carrier, the San Diego Zoo and the famed Hotel del Coronado.
On the final night of the trip, Paul suggested we make an appearance at the Island Beer Club, pictured above. What a concept, Drinking beer with your neighbors outdoors in the beautiful weather.of San Diego.
Since I was wearing a Yankee cap, a club member told me I should meet Chris. Well, Chris Sheppard turned out to be the son of legendary Yankee PA announcer Bob Sheppard, who was nicknamed “The Voice of God” by Reggie Jackson. Carl Yastrzemski once said: “You’re not in the big leagues until Bob Sheppard announces your name.”
Sheppard was the PA announcer for the Yankees for 56 years. During that time, the Yankees won 22 pennants and 13 World Series. Shepperd announced six no-hitters and three perfect games at Yankee Stadium.
He called his first game on April 17, 1951, six days before I was born. The first player he introduced was Dominic DiMaggio of the Red Sox. Mickey Mantle made his debut that day. Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto and Johnny Mize of the Yankees and Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr and Lou Boudreau of the Red Sox were also introduced by Sheppard during the game.
Sheppard earned $15 a game his first year with the Yankees, $17 for a doubleheader.
He was also the PA announcer for the New York Giants for more than 50 years, encompassing nine conference championships and three NFL titles, including two Super Bowls.
Sheppard was the starting first baseman for three years and the starting quarterback for four years for St. John’s University, graduating in 1932. During World War II was a gunnery office for the US Navy and served in the Pacific Theater. He taught speech at several schools, including his alma mater.
Bob Sheppard worked until he was 97, and passed away three months before his 100th birthday in 2010, two days before George Steinbrenner died.
Chris Sheppard played basketball and baseball at Marquette, and sometimes filled in for his father at Yankee Stadium. He joined the Marines and later became a commercial airline pilot. He lives in Coronado, where he is a member for the Island Beer Club.
Justin Verlander joined an elite group when he tossed the third no-hitter of his career yesterday.
Verlander became just the sixth pitcher to throw three or more no-hitters. He joins baseball legends Nolan Ryan (7), Sandy Koufax (4), Cy Young (3), and Bob Feller (3). And then there’s Larry Corcoran. Hardly a household name.
Pitching for the Chicago White Stockings, Corcoran threw no-hitters against the Boston Red Caps in 1880, Worcester Worcesters in 1882 and Providence Grays in 1884.
Corcoran was one of the smallest players in baseball history. Born in 1859 to Irish immigrant parents, the Brooklyn native stood just 5’3” and weighed 127 pounds. Nicknamed “Little Corcoran,” he was one of the early masters of the curveball.
Corcoran won 170 games for the White Stockings over that five-year span, including 43 wins in 1880 and 35 in 1884. Corcoran averaged 456 innings and 34 wins per year during that stretch, helping Chicago to three National League pennants.
But all those innings put a strain on his arm, and his career went downhill after 1884. Corcoran later pitched for the New York Giants, Washington Nationals, and Indianapolis Hoosiers, and wound up his career with a 177-89 mark, a 2.36 ERA and those three no-hitters.
Unable to adapt to life after baseball, Corcoran turned to alcohol. He died in 1881 of kidney failure. Larry Corcoran was just 32 years old.
The moment it happened, the first line of his obituary was forever defined:
“Bill Buckner, made fateful error in 1986 World Series…. “
You know the story. One play, a hopper that got past Buckner and helped the Mets overcome the Red Sox, overshadowed a very good baseball career.
A play that never should have happened. Throughout the season, Red Sox manager John McNamara frequently sent in Dave Stapleton to sub for Buckner late in ballgames for defensive purposes. Buckner was a good first baseman in his prime, but was hobbled by ankle injuries later in his career.
That night, Game 6, Buckner allowed Mookie Wilson’s grounder to slip through his legs and the Mets won 6-5 in 11 innings. Two nights later, the Mets won the World Series and extended the Red Sox drought to 68 years.
Bill Buckner died this week at the age of 69 of Lewy body dementia. Although I’m not here to advocate the Hall of Fame candidacy of Buckner, his career and numbers are eerily similar to those of Harold Baines, who was elected to he HOF by the Veteran’s Committee earlier this year. In my book, Baines is not a Hall of Famer.
Buckner and Baines each played 22 seasons and had lifetime batting averages of .289. Billy Bucks is one of the few players in MLB history to play in four different decades.
Baines had 2,866 hits, Buckner 2,715. Baines had a big edge in the power categories (384 HRs to 174) and better slugging and OPS numbers.
But Buckner stole 183 bases as opposed to 34 for Baines. Buckner won a batting title (.324) with the Cubs in 1980.
Oh and get this. Buckner struck out just 445 times in in 9,397 at bats, and Baines 1441 in 9,908 ABs. The year Baines won the NL batting title, he fanned 18 times in 578 ABs.
Neither player ever won World Series. Buckner was on pennant winners with the Dodgers in 1974 and the Red Sox in 1986; Baines with the A’s in 1990.
One other big differential; Buckner played first base and outfield throughout his career, Baines was primarily a designated hitter.
Take away that one error, and is the Veteran’s Committee looking at Buckner?
Been following baseball for 60 years, but can’t ever recall an injury list longer than the Yankees this year. Lots of hobbled talent right now. Heck it takes three innings just to give the injury report.
At one point the Bombers had 13 men on the injured list, including 3 outfielders, two shortstops, a catcher, a first baseman, the staff ace and a top reliever. And others.
Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, Luis Severino, Didi Gregorius, Dellin Betances, Miguel Andujar. It’s an All-Star list. Aaron Judge, shown above, the most indispensable Yankee of them all, is sidelined with an oblique injury and there’s no timetable for his return. With Judge is Yankee trainer Steve Donohoe, who is getting way too much air time these days.
Despite this staggering outbreak of injuries – at one point the Yankees had 176 home runs on the IL — the team has maintained a competitive pace, 4 games above .500 and well ahead of the slow-starting Red Sox in the AL East.
Granted much of that has come against weak competition and a favorable schedule. But just last year the Yankees were criticized for not being able to beat the bottom feeders consistently. Beating lousy teams is a good thing.
Guys like starter Domingo German, outfielder Clint Frazier, utility man JD Lemahieu and Scranton callups like Tyler Wade, Gia Urshela and Mike Tauchman have helped keep the ship afloat during tough times.
The reinforcements are starting to arrive. Gary Sanchez came back last week and hit a monstrous grand slam in San Francisco which is still traveling. Frazier, third on the team with 17 RBI and hitting .324, and third baseman Andujar, out all season with a partially torn labrum, are supposedly ready to return to the lineup.
The schedule heats up immediately with AL best Minnesota, Seattle and AL East leader Tampa Bay up next. Good time for some of the cavalry to return.
1968 will forever be remembered as the “Year of the Pitcher”. Denny McClain of the Tigers won 31 games, the last pitcher to win 30 in a single season. Bob Gibson of the Cardinals pitched to a record low 1.12 ERA; Cleveland’s Luis Tiant led the AL with a 1.60 ERA. San Francisco’s Juan Marichal was 26-9. On and on. Only one batter in the American League, Carl Yastrzemski, batted over ,300….just barely at .301.
And 50 years ago this month, slugger Rocky Colavito, called on in relief, recorded a victory in his final season with the Yankees. Yep, the Rock got the win.
Colavito, a superb outfielder with a strong right arm, hit .374 home runs in a 14-year career, including 42 to lead the AL in 1959.
On August 25, 1968, Colavito pitched 2.2 scoreless innings against Detroit, and wound up with a victory when the Yankees rallied from a 5-0 deficit to win 6-5. Colavito came on in relief in the fourth inning, and retired two batters to strand a couple of runners.
The Yankees got a run back in the fourth, and then struck with two outs in the sixth. Bill Robinson hit a three-run homer followed by a Bobby Cox solo blast that tied the score at 5-5. Colavito then walked and scored what proved to be the winning run on a Jake Gibbs single. Lindy McDaniel finished off the Tigers in the ninth to earn the save.
In the second game, Colavito homered against Mickey Lolich to spark another Yankee comeback and a 5-4 win for a doubleheader sweep.
The Tigers were good enough to win the World Series in 1968, but had a tough August weekend in the Bronx. In a Friday twi-night doubleheader (I was there), the Yankees won the opener 2-1, and then the two teams battled to a 3-3, 19 inning tie ended with curfew, with McDaniel pitching seven perfect innings in relief. On Saturday, the Yankees beat McClain 2-1 behind Mel Stottlemyre.
According to the rules of the time, the Friday game counted as a tie but had to be played again as part of the Sunday doubleheader where Colavito made history.
The Yankees played yet another doubleheader on Monday and shortstop Gene Michael pitched three innings in a 10-2 loss to California. The Stick gave up five runs to the Angels, but none of them were earned. On Tuesday the Yankees again split with the Angels. It was the Yanks fourth doubleheader in five days, including the 19-inning tie.
Rocky Colavito had an outstanding career. He hit four home runs in a game in Baltimore in 1959. Before the 1960 season, Colavito was traded to Detroit for Harvey Kuenn. For the only time in baseball history, a HR champ was traded for a batting champion. There was outcry in Cleveland following the deal.
Rocky Colavito also pitched three scoreless innings in a 1959 mound appearance with Cleveland. His lifetime ERA is 0.00. You can’t do better than that.
The Jinx spans sports and the ages. We’ve seen the Giants crushed in the Super Bowl, the Yankees blanked in both games of a doubleheader, the Knicks lose buzzer-beaters. And so much more. We’re afraid to speak on the phone when the Yankees or Giants are playing for fear of jinxing them.
But The Jinx may have reached a new high…or low depending upon your point of view…..on a rainy Friday night in July in New York.
The evening started out in fine fashion when. Matty nabbed box seats, right behind home plate, for Yankees-Royals at the Stadium. But it rained the whole time we were there, the tarp was never taken off, and finally the game was postponed. Bummer.
So now Matt and I are on a crowded subway heading back downtown. We pull into the Fulton Street station, I reach into my pocket….and realize to my horror my cell phone is gone.
Matty quickly calls my number and to my amazement a guy named Zack answers. Sure I’ve got your phone he said, I found it sitting on a bench at the 149th Street Station in the Bronx.
Shortly after we’re turned around, going back uptown to meet Zack, who’s at 75th and Amsterdam. My man Zack answers the door with a Yankee cap (he too had been at the game), and handed over my iPhone. He refused a monetary reward but did accept the gift of a CC Sabathia bobblehead doll.
Zach if you’re reading this you are my hero. And while calculating the odds of recovering a phone left in a South Bronx subway, I will pass it along.
The story doesn’t end there. As soon as we left Zack’s place a monsoon hit Manhattan. No shelter from the storm. We got drenched.
Finally we find the subway and head back downtown to the Oculus Station at the World Trade Center to take the Path train under the river to Newark. We make our connections, and then rush to make the Jersey transit train for the last leg of our journey back to Fanwood.
We’re just about 10 minutes into the 30-minute ride when the train comes to a stop at the Union Station Keane University stop. A half hour later we’re informed that a vehicle hit a bridge up ahead of us, and that we can’t move until the bridge passes inspection.
Well finally, about an hour and a half later, we’re cleared to go and make our way home.
The Jinx. You can’t make this stuff up.