By Neil Keefe
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In December, I thought the Yankees rotation in 2011 would be CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett. Today it’s CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Bartolo Colon, Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia. The Yankees are in first place and 5 1/2 games ahead of the 1927 Yankees in the standings. Is this real life? No, really. Is it?
On Friday, in my email discussion with Sweeny Murti, I wrote, “If you told me in December that’s what I would be looking at, I probably would have moved to Europe and become a soccer fan.” I’m only kind of kidding.
I still think Brian Cashman will get at least one starter over the course of the season, if not two (just please get at least one), but take a look at this…
Look at these two pitching lines for the season and try to identify Pitcher A and Pitcher B:
2-1, 33 IP, 30 H, 12 R, 11 ER, 4 HR, 6 BB, 33 K, 3.00 ERA, 1.091 WHIP
2-2, 39.1 IP, 38 H, 17 R, 16 ER, 4 HR, 6 BB, 44 K, 3.66 ERA, 1.119 WHIP
Pitcher A is Bartolo Colon. Pitcher B is Cliff Lee. So, like I said, “Is this real life?”
Cliff Lee and the Yankees were supposed to be together for the next seven years. Along with CC, he was going to create the best 1-2 punch in the American League. Michael Scott was going to let Joe Girardi finish his book “Somehow I Manage…” and Girardi was going to finish it by writing, “When CC and Cliff start, I don’t manage because they hand the ball to Mariano themselves.”
Cliff Lee was going to make life easy because he’s that good. And because his signature on a Yankees contract meant Andy Pettitte would have come back. If you think Pettitte would be outside his home today cutting the lawn and planting begonias, well you’re wrong. If Cliff Lee came to the Bronx, Andy Pettitte was coming back to the Bronx. And if they both were in pinstripes this season, you’re looking at a No. 1, No. 1-A and No. 2 Big Three of all LEFTIES! Ahhhhhhhhhhhh! And you haven’t watched the left-handed dominated lineup of the 1927 Yankees (aka the 2011 Red Sox) face a lefty this season, well don’t because it will only make you sad for what could have been. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh!
Instead of Lee and Pettitte we have CC and four righties. One righty is 34 and still trying to figure out how to win consistently despite having so-called “great stuff” and an $82.5 million contract. Another righty is 36 and hasn’t made 30 starts in a season since 2006. Another righty is 38, looks like he has been working as a taste tester for Haagen-Dazs for the last five years, hasn’t pitched in the league in two years and hasn’t pitched a full season in six years. And the other righty is 24 and started his 12th game in the majors on Sunday. But somehow this combination of old, used and spare parts is working like one of those crazy project shows on HGTV. Again, “Is this real life?”
I still have dreams about Lee in pinstripes. I had them the other night while watching Sunday Night Baseball when he was in the Phillies’ pinstripes pitching against the Mets and thinking about how good he we would have looked in Yankees pinstripes without a last name on his jersey. Just No. 36 on the back of his jersey, attacking the strike zone and working six-pitch innings. Or he could have been No. 33 if he wanted it. I’m sure we could have arranged for Nick Swisher to change his number. But it wasn’t meant to be. And at some point I will get over it. At least I think I will. Dwight got over Michael not recommending him for the managerial position in Scranton, right? So, I can get over Cliff Lee snubbing us for Philadelphia.
Cliff Lee leaving Yankees fans at the altar hasn’t been so hard to take (though you wouldn’t know that from reading my previous paragraphs) because Bartolo Colon has been good. Actually he’s been really good. No, wait, he’s been great. That’s right, Bartolo Colon has been great. I thought there was maybe a five-percent chance that I would write that sentence on the day the Yankees signed him and that is being generous. I was the last person that wanted Colon to make the Yankees, and I didn’t even want the Yankees to sign him. I would just like to once again thank Tony Pena for watching Colon pitch over the winter and for telling Cashman to sign him.
I have done every thing in my power to keep Colon on the right track. On Twitter I have used reverse jinxes and bribed him with Wendy’s Baconators for getting through innings. I have expected the worst to happen with him, but it hasn’t and hopefully won’t. I didn’t expect him to throw 93 mph, and I certainly didn’t expect him to pull 96 out of his bag of tricks in the final pitches of his last two outings. Maybe it’s because I expected so little out of Colon that I’m so ecstatic and so impressed. The same thing happened when I went to see “Superbad” in the afternoon on the day of its release before my friends had a chance to tell me about it and recite every line and joke from it. I went into it with no expectations at all and it turned out to be the funniest movie since “Dumb and Dumber.” Maybe Colon is my version of “Superbad.”
Maybe it’s his odd applause for himself after an inning when he claps his right hand into glove or the way he throws a two-strike two-seamer and heads for the dugout as soon as it leaves his hand because he knows it’s going to be a called third strike. Maybe it’s because he’s getting the job done when he looks like he should be doing anything other than getting out major leaguers or maybe it’s because he keeps helping the Yankees win games, but I like Bartolo Colon. I really do. New Yankees always have to earn my trust and I think Bartolo Colon has done that.
Last May, I wrote “Judging The New Yankees” and used the categories of Love, Like, Dislike and Hate to place them. Curtis Granderson and Marcus Thames were under Love. Randy Winn was under Like (biggest mistake of my journalism career?). Javier Vazquez was under Dislike (probably should have been lower). Nick Johnson, Chan Ho Park and Boone Logan were all under Hate (fair assessment).
With May under way, I decided to take a look at the new Yankees in 2011. But instead of the four categories from last year, I decided to just list them in numerical order by jersey number since I like all of them except for one. (Can you guess who the one I don’t like is?)
Number 12, Eric Chavez, Number 12
It’s still pretty odd to see Chavez in a Yankees uniform. A six-time Gold Glove winner who hit at least 26 home runs a year from 2000-2005 and 22 in 2006 has been the best bench player the Yankees have had in a long time. He makes you forget that only a couple seasons ago the Yankees were turning to Cody Ransom and Morgan Ensberg when they needed an infield bench option. Now they have one of the best third basemen of the last decade.
I feel confident when Chavez is at the plate and I feel even more confident when he’s in the field. When A-Rod can’t play or is getting a day off, it hurts the lineup, but not as much when Chavez is the guy filling at third. He’s certainly not the player the A’s gave the six-year, $66 million extension to in the spring of 2004, but with the Yankees he doesn’t need to be. He just needs to keep playing like the guy who’s a bench player now.
Number 18, Andruw Jones, Number 18
I wanted Marcus Thames to come back in 2011 after his success in a limited role with the Yankees in 2010. I was skeptical about the signing of Andruw Jones instead of Thames, but Jones has been solid and when you put him in the outfield, you don’t have to hope a major leaguer will catch a fly ball or take a route to the ball like he got directions to it from an attendant at a gas station.
Sometimes I forget that Jones is only 34 years old (younger than Jeter, A-Rod and Posada) because of the way it all unraveled for him from 2007 to 2008. I always remember Jones as the 19-year-old kid that went for 8-for-20 with two home runs in the 1996 World Series against the Yankees, and for the guy that has seen limited playing time the last three-plus seasons. Jones has done a good job to shed the image he created in 2008 with the Dodgers when it looked like his career was over for good. He might just be an option for Girardi against left-handed pitching now, but he’s the made the most of his opportunities.
Number 29, Rafael Soriano, Number 29
Sometimes I’m not sure if it’s a $35-million setup man on the mound or Jose Veras. That’s probably not a good thing. It’s also not a good thing when you’re praying that the day’s starter will go eight innings or that the Yankees will break open a lead before the eighth inning because if they don’t it means your $35-million setup man will be coming in.
Am I being too hard on Soriano? Probably. Is it still early? Kind of. Should he be better? Yes. And I think he will be. Actually, I know he will be. Well, actually I don’t know that he will be, but since he’s going to be here for the rest of this year and at least next year if he keeps pitching like this, and then probably a third year too, he better be better.
His last two appearances (2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K) haven’t been the “Get Out The Shot Glasses” outings I grew accustomed to with him in April, which is a good sign. Now that we have the “scoreless inning” thing down we can work on the “1-2-3 inning” thing since his last and only 1-2-3 inning came on Opening Day (March 31). Hopefully these last two appearances are the first of a string of 36 consecutive scoreless from Soriano.
Number 36, Freddy Garcia, Number 36
Ahh, The Chief. (That was a refreshing “Ahh” and not the kind of “AHHHHH!” when the bullpen door opens Boone Logan comes through it.) I don’t think I have liked watching a non-ace pitch for the Yankees since El Duque as much as I like watching Freddy Garcia (Bartolo Colon is in this category too). There’s something enjoyable and entertaining and extraordinary about the way Garcia maneuvers his way through some AL lineups like he’s on the lawn at a Dave Matthews Band concert and trying to get to the bathroom. There’s something special about him using mid-80s stuff to keep hitters off balance and guessing like he’s the Freddy Garcia of old.
The way Garcia has been pitching for the Yankees makes you wonder how much more dominant Garcia would have been in his prime if he could pitch like this and mix in his old velocity. If he didn’t always try to throw it through a wall back in his 20’s with the Mariners, maybe he would still have some left to use in a tough spot today. But since that’s not realistic anymore, I just want him to keep pitching the way he is.
Number 55, Russell Martin, Number 55
I took French in seventh grade, eight grade, freshman, sophomore and junior years in high school and then for two semesters in college. That’s a lot of French. I should probably be a translator or interpreter for the FBI or at the very least living in Montreal and wearing Canadiens apparel. But actually, I remember very little except for the alphabet and the numbers. I can still read French and write it reasonably, but I could never understand it when someone who actually speaks it is talking or when there were tests where the teacher or professor would speak French quickly and you had to write down what they were saying. But I can understand it and write it down when John Sterling says, “Russell shows muscle! Monsieur Martin est la!” (I think he’s saying “est la” but I also think that means “is the” so I’m not sure).
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