Sports Outside the Beltway

Break out the brooms: Yanks sweep Sox

The Yanks top three outpitched Boston’s top three. Yankee pitchers allowed just six hits in the last two games. Wang pitched six hitless innings today before a 7th inning single. He reached 96 on his sinker, and held David Ortiz hitless (with two Ks). Boston’s offense is very different without Manny (who sat out the last two games with a muscle strain).

Robbie Cano had a plurality of the offense, crushing two HRs off Schilling (both to Death Valley), which would have been enough but the Yanks tacked on three against Okajima (who’s frankly been pitching over his head most of the year). Edwar relieved Joba in the 9th and fanned Lowell and popped up Drew to end the game.

Joba may have been throwing at Youkilis. Even though Joba’s control isn’t great yet, he put two fastballs in the exact same spot (over Youkilis’ head) – perhaps it was retaliation for Arod getting hit in game one. However, he is a 21-year-old rookie with just 10 innings of major league experience who throws 95+. Also, he did NOT have great command today, walking his first batter since his major league debut, so control may have been the primary issue. And Joe Torre made a good point in the postgame show: if the umpire thought there was intent behind the first pitch, why was there no warning issued?

Boston should not complain though – they lead all of baseball in hitting batters since 2000 (612 beanings). The Yanks have hit 456 batters (about average). Second is Tampa Bay (with 604, who at least has the excuse of having poor pitchers). What’s Boston’s excuse?


Beckett allows career most hits in loss vs. Yankees

13 to be exact. Despite that, the Yanks scored just three in the 2nd and one in the 7th. Fortunately, it was enough as Clemens shut down Boston’s lineup for six innings (hitless through five), followed by solid outings from Vizcaino and Mo. Farnsy did his best Eric Gagne impression, giving up a two-run shot to Youkilis in the 8th that brought Boston within one. He k’ed JD Drew, then walked Varitek. Joe brought in Mo for the four-out save. It worked as Mo dominated all four batters he faced – no one even hit a ball out of the infield.

Arod, Matsui and Posada went 6-11, while Melky collected three hits. Despite getting 13 hits off Beckett (a career high for him), they couldn’t put the final nail in the coffin, leaving nine runners on base.

ESPN’s broadcasters just could not stop talking in disbelief about the ‘Joba Rules.’ Is it really that hard to believe? He’s the best arm in the entire organization, playing in his first professional year, under none other than Joe Torre – he has to be protected. Of course, if the Yanks make the playoffs, I’m sure the rules will be amended to allow for greater freedom. They made one incredibly stupid comment about why would Brian Cashman go along with the ‘Joba Rules’? He’s the freakin’ one who instituted them! They also said something akin to the Yankee minors dictating to the majors – the one who’s dictating is the General Manager, not some non-defined ‘minors.’ Given that it was ESPN (featuring Steve Phillips), none of the stupidity really surprised me.

Seattle lost again to Anaheim, so the Yanks are mere percentage points behind them in the wildcard.

Wang vs. Schilling tomorrow afternoon.


Yanks win, Kennedy coming up

A good, good win tonight for Pettitte and the Yanks. Andy went seven solid innings and (as usual) stopped the losing streak.

Ian Kennedy was announced as Saturday’s starter against Tampa Bay. Kennedy was selected in the first round of the 2006 draft, and has put up stellar numbers in his first professional year: 146.1 ip, 1.91 era, 91 h, 50 bb, 163 k. He does, however, have a slightly scary groundout-to-flyout ratio of .88. If there’s any weakness to his game, it will be the HR.

So on back to back days (Friday and Saturday), the Yanks will send to the hill a 21 (Hughes) and 22-year-old. Who’d have thunk it at the beginning of the year?


John Henry: Red Sox are “the little engine that could”

True confessions time. I am a Red Sox fan. This season has held the magical feel of a Championship run, without the typical Red Sox fan baggage of the feeling of doom when the lead shriveled. So different then was the calm assurance I felt when New York closed to within five games almost three weeks ago. The tough stretch that awaited New York would slow down the surging Yankees. Sure enough, a 9-9 record since the 8th of August has restored the Red Sox lead to eight games. As an added bonus I was vindicated. This is not 1978.

But all is not well with this Red Sox fan. And part of it stems from the obtuse notions that fill the head of the management/ownership group that handles non-baseball ops at 4 Yawkey Way these days.

Without further ado, I give you the boss, John Henry.

But Henry understands that while the Red Sox find themselves on firm footing in their fight against the Yankees, both on and off the field, a new challenge is waiting around the corner.

“In 2009 their revenues will move to a higher level when they occupy the next Yankee Stadium,” he wrote. “And we are close to being maxed out in the venerable and magical Fenway Park [map]. So we will be presented with great challenges.

“It will be difficult,” he later added. “We are often called a large market team because our fans provide us with great revenues. But the fact is that we operate the 16th largest television territory as measured by the number of households. The Red Sox are ‘the little engine that could.’ It is because we have such devoted fans who live, breathe, eat and sleep baseball. They are the reason we have been able to build exciting teams. And our players as a group and individually have been a galvanizing force in New England and among Red Sox fans across America . . . around the world.”

If the Red Sox are “the little engine that could,” I’m U Thant.

The Red Sox have used every imaginable and conceivable means of adding new revenue streams possible. Highest ticket prices in the game? Check. Consecutive sellout streak intact? Check. Chartered trips so fans unable to score Fenway tickets can see the Sox on the road? Check. A fan club for the fans? You bet. Their own dating reality show on the team owned Cable channel? Hell yes!

Which makes a purist like me groan. The Coke bottles were fine, I get it, we need to raise money to compete with the Yankees who will spend anything and everything in pursuit of titles. And the new seating venues are wonderful. The packed stadium a testament to the ability to draw fans and fill the coziest and most intimate ballpark in the game. Even while the turnstiles spun to welcome throngs of pink hat clad fans to the stadium, arm in arm with their Bosox boyfriends, to buy overpriced beer and watch the beantown nine, the pervasive attitude on Yawkey Way was that Boston could not compete long term with the Yankees, because New York had the ability to earn far more than the Red Sox.

Reality ought to throw cold water on the Red Sox rationale. Of the last six World Series Champs, the 2004 Red Sox had the highest payroll. The Yankees, who spend more money than Congress, have exactly zero titles in that span. In fact, their last Championship, in 2000, was the last year where homegrown Yankees filled the roster and where the character guys like Scott Brosius, Tino Martinez and Paul O’Neill were preferred. Since then the Yankees have added Mike Mussina, Jason Giambi, Robin Ventura, Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Jose Contreras, Javier Vazquez, Kevin Brown, Raul Mondesi, Hideki Matsui, Jeff Weaver, Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright, Johnny Damon, Tom Gordon, Bobby Abreu, Kei Igawa and brought back Andy pettitte and Roger Clemens. Lavishing those big contracts on these players have bought the Yankees exactly one fewer title than the Red Sox have in that stretch. Congrats Red Sox, it’s not a competition anymore, we’ve won. We’ve won by spending more than everyone else, except New York, and finding the happy medium between outrageous and truly obscene spending on payroll.

Money helps teams win, that’s true enough. But more than that, teams need to wisely allocate their limited payroll resources. But still we hear the refrain, New York can still outspend us. Oh boo hoo, wook at the widdle Wed Sox team, in first by eight widdle games, and scared of the big, bad Yankees. Break me a freakin’ give.

And if you are looking for a pair of little engines that could, real ones, try Seattle and Milwaukee. Two teams fighting for their playoff lives, with smaller payrolls than most of their competition. Milwaukee had led the woeful NL Central for most of the season, but have yielded to the Cubs, and the Mariners are playing a big three-game series against the LAnaheim Angels of Orange County, California. Both teams payrolls are smaller than the team they are chasing. Those are little engines that can, John Henry.

The Red Sox certainly are not. No other major league baseball team charges what Boston does for tickets, then says to its fan base, “why don’t you and your kids sign up to be members of ‘Red Sox Nation’ and ‘Red Sox Kid Nation.’” They can do it because a select number of my fellow fans are so obsessive of their support that they buy every Red Sox thing they can – including silly fan club memberships. Chances are they watch the God-awful “Sox Appeal” reality show on NESN. And more than likely they have no idea who Butch Hobson was or that he managed the woeful Sox teams of my teen years. They have probably no idea who Denny Doyle was. And probably had no clue about what Dean Barnett was talking about with his former nom de blog (James Frederick Dwight). Come to think of it, they probably had no clue about Dean Barnett, either. The more I pay attention to them, the less a part of that community I feel.

Eight game lead, heading into the Bronx, while the Yankees are reeling. I ought to be atop the wide world of sport. I’m not. I hate what Red Sox Nation has become. Led by an owner who outspends every other team, except New York, but still cries poor mouth when he speaks to the press, and a marketing department so relentless they sell television programs devoted to showing the dating foibles of “real” fans, is it any wonder, I’m wondering whether I will ever be able to cheer for this team without the bad taste in my mouth?


Yanks ugliest game of the year?

Quite possibly, as the Yanks may look for other options for the fifth starter role after another awful start by Mike Mussina.

In a different time, when the Yankees were touched by magic, even their horror stories had happy endings. David Cone went from pillar to punching bag in 2000, but his season ended with a clutch relief appearance that helped win the World Series.

This tale seems grimmer. Mike Mussina’s rapid decline continued at Comerica Park on Monday in the Yankees’ worst loss of the season, a 16-0 wipeout by the Detroit Tigers. The Yankees staggered home for a series with the Boston Red Sox, a team they trail by eight games in the American League East standings after losing five of seven on the road.

Mussina’s next start is scheduled for Saturday, but there is no guarantee he will make it. He gave up six runs and nine hits in three innings Monday, with no strikeouts and no answers.

“Probably the last nine innings are the worst nine innings that I’ve pitched in my whole career, in a row,” Mussina said. “I don’t even know how to describe it because I’ve never had to deal with it before.”

In his past three starts, Mussina is 0-3 with a 17.69 earned run average, allowing 25 hits and 19 earned runs in nine and two-thirds innings. Opponents are hitting .313 against him this season.

Manager Joe Torre said he would meet Tuesday with Mussina (8-10) and the pitching coach Ron Guidry to discuss what comes next.

Man oh man was that a horrendous showing last night. The (kind of) good news? Seattle also lost (so the Yanks remain two back in the wild card), and Chris Britton was finally called up from Triple-A Scranton to replace the woeful Sean Henn.


Dallas Cowboys Cut 9 to Get to 75 Man Limit

The Dallas Cowboys cut nine players yesterday, including veterans Jamaica Rector and Montavious Stanley.

RB Jackie Battle
NT Ola Dagunduro
LB Dedrick Harrington
T Jason Hilliard
LB Alex Obomese
WR Jerard Rabb
WR Jamaica Rector
WR Jamel Richardson
NT Montavious Stanley

Rob Phillips reports that, “Battle (ankle) received an injury settlement and Rector (knee) was released/injured.”

Battle, a University of Houston product, had an impressive training camp but sprained his ankle in the Aug. 18 win over Denver. Dagunduro and Stanley were competing for the backup nose tackle job behind starter Jason Ferguson.

Rector made the team as a first-year veteran last year but had missed the last three weeks with a knee injury. Rector, Rabb and Richardson simply got caught in a numbers crunch at receiver once rookie Isaiah Stanback returned to practice on Aug. 11.

Monday’s cuts bring the roster total to 76, one above Tuesday’s 75-player limit. The club must trim to 53 players by Saturday, the final cuts coming after the Cowboys’ final preseason game Thursday night against Minnesota.

That they’ve release two of their three backup nose tackles is interesting, indeed. Phillips reports that “Remi Ayodele still could make the team, but he’ll likely need a good showing against the Vikings.” More interestingly, though, they seem to have found their guy at hiding at another position:

[Wade] Phillips felt all along Jay Ratliff could play nose tackle in a pinch, and the third-year defensive end proved him right against the Texans. As expected, Ratliff played some with the first-team defense Saturday night in place of starter Jason Ferguson and showed Phillips he can be a competent backup to Ferguson. “Yeah, and I think he can play in the game for us,” Phillips said. “He’s going to give us a little more rush than Fergie, although Fergie, when he played, got a hit on the quarterback and knocked the ball down. (Ratliff) gives us a little more movement inside. But Fergie gives us that experience and plays solid. I feel good at nose guard now.”

I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if the Cowboys aren’t scouring the waiver wires for another guy to fill that slot.


Yanks edged by Tigers

I’d put the blame 60% on Phil Hughes and 40% on the offense. I really thought Hughes would have a great outing today, being his fifth start since returning from the DL and having his best fastball of the year (outside of the no-hitter) his last time out. He promptly served up a leadoff HR (albeit a fluke) followed by a pair of runs. His line (outside of runs) looked great: 6 ip, 4 h, 1 bb, 6 k. That looks like he should have allowed just one or two runs, but three of the four hits happened to be HR. That’s the opposite of his MO in the minors, when he was a groundball machine, but since joining the Yanks he’s become a flyball pitcher (today he allowed 11 flyouts to one groundout!). In the minors he consistently pitched low in the zone, but after his first three starts (when he had a 21:9 groundout to flyout ratio), his ratio has skyrocketed (12:37). He allowed just six HR in all of 2006, so he reach half that in just three innings today. I don’t mean to kill him (I was disappointed today because I was hoping (and expecting) a better game) – he still has a great k:bb ratio of 3:1, has allowed less hits than innings pitched, did retire 11 of the last 12 hitters and (most of all) is the youngest pitcher in the majors.

The offense should have been able to scratch a run across after the fourth inning though. You just have to find a way to tie the game there. If this game was played six days later (after rosters expand to 40), speedy Brett Gardner (who has stole 105 bases in the minors with a 83% success rate) would have pinch-ran for Giambi in the ninth (not Duncan) and given Torre a better alternative to steal a base and stay out of the DP (which Cano grounded into).


Newman and Ellis Could Miss Cowboys Season Opener

While the Dallas Cowboys have high hopes for the season with the new Wade Phillips-led defense, they face the strong prospect of opening the season without two of their dominant players on that side of the ball, Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News reports.

It’s difficult to imagine the Dallas Cowboys reaching the Super Bowl with Anthony Henry and Aaron Glenn as their starting cornerbacks. Make no mistake. Henry and Glenn are solid players. But neither is in Terence Newman’s class.

With Newman hobbled by plantar fasciitis in his right foot, the Cowboys are facing the prospect of beginning the season without a cornerback Pro Football Weekly rates second only to Denver’s Champ Bailey.

Newman’s ailment is the same one that forced rookie receiver Isaiah Stanback to miss much of his senior season at the University of Washington and all of the Cowboys offseason work. “It is something he needs to stay off of, so that’s what we’re going to do,” coach Wade Phillips said of Newman.

But what if Newman still needs to stay off it come September? Phillips says he thinks Newman will be ready for the opener against the New York Giants on Sept. 9, but Phillips is also the same guy who said this of defensive end Greg Ellis’ bursitis the first day of training camp: “We don’t think it’s serious. It was to be expected that he would have some pain (after rupturing his left Achilles’ tendon in November). But I think (Ellis) will bounce back and do more tomorrow and the next day and the next day.”

Of course, it appears more and more likely that Ellis won’t play in the opener or any other game in the season’s first half. But because they drafted Anthony Spencer in the spring and Bobby Carpenter in 2006, the Cowboys can live without Ellis. The same, however, can’t be said of Newman.

And, unlike outside linebacker, the Cowboys have depth problems at cornerback. The plan now is for the 35-year-old Glenn to fill in for Newman on the left side. But what happens if Glenn goes down? Phillips painted a bleak picture when asked Thursday about the state of the team’s corners not named Newman, Glenn or Henry, who opposing offensive coordinators like to pick on so much.

“I like some of the things they are doing certainly, but I don’t have a great feeling that we’ve got four corners or five corners that can really play,” Phillips said, making it clear he sees nothing special in Nate Jones, Jacques Reeves, Joey Thomas, Quincy Butler and rookies Alan Ball and Courtney Brown.

On the bright side, the Cowboys can compensate for Newman’s injury with a strong pass rush. That’s where Spencer comes in. “We have to whip him into shape,” linebacker Bradie James said. “He has to get out of that college mentality where you just go out and make two big plays and you are done. “But I think he has the character to do it. He will be fine.”

James said he and his defensive teammates haven’t given up on Ellis returning. “If he does return, watch out,” James said. “The sky will be the limit for this defense. If he comes back, offenses not only have to worry about another rusher coming off the edge. They have to worry about Greg Ellis.”

But if Ellis doesn’t return, Spencer is just so-so and Newman is hobbled, the defense could be in for another disappointing season.

Indeed. While Demarcus Ware is the defense’s most exciting player, Newman may well be its most critical. While he lacks the flash of a Deion Sanders and the all-around talent of Bailey, he is the proverbial shut-down corner. Opposing quarterbacks seldom throw the ball his way.

And, as Mickey Spagnola remarks on last nights embarrassing pre-season loss to the hapless Houston Texans,

Here is what the Cowboys learned here Saturday night.

They don’t want to play too many games without cornerback Terence Newman.

They don’t want to play too many more games without Greg Ellis.

And they sure as heck don’t want to play too many games without Terry Glenn.


Let’s start with my “Mr. Indispensable,” Terence Newman, and I will rest my case. The Cowboys were playing without their most significant defensive player, who was left behind at The Ranch to rest his strained heal, something the doctors are calling an acute injury to the plantar fascia, but not the more serious plantar fasciitis, which are two bad words to any athlete.


And when you play without Newman, there is a trickle-down effect, because now when you go to your nickel defense, there also is no Newman to move into the slot. Now, with Aaron Glenn already in the game, that means you are bringing Nate Jones in off the bench to man the slot.

Then there is playing without Ellis, which the Cowboys have all preseason and since the first practice of training camp, the veteran outside linebacker still trying to convince himself he’s able to play with the bursitis in his heel. Now maybe the Texans are very right-handed in their running game, but boy did they sure seem to have a bull’s-eye on rookie Anthony Spencer, running to the side where the rookie still is making the transition from defensive end in college to outside linebacker in the NFL.

See, everyone seems preoccupied with just who can rush the quarterback. But again, if you can’t stop the run, you can’t rush the quarterback. And the Cowboys, who gave up only 84 yards rushing in the first two preseason games, were gashed for 142 by the Texans, who made doing a better job running the ball a priority before the game. Now maybe you understand why Phillips said, and just a tad tongue in cheek, that if Ellis makes it back for the walk-through practice the day before the Sept. 9 season opener against the Giants he would start the 10th-year veteran. The Cowboys need Ellis’ ability to play the run.

Yep. Not too many teams can survive the loss of its best players unscathed.


Stats Inc. must have read this blog

I said days ago that no one had yet to touch Joba Chamberlain’s slider, and apparently Stats Inc. picked up on it yesterday evening. Not to boast, but I was the first person I know to identify this feat. They owe me something (at least a footnote I should think)…


Braves Games Not on TBS Any More

The Atlanta Braves have just a few more games on TBS.

Over the past three decades, thousands of Braves games have been televised nationally on TBS. Just 10 more to go.Sunday’s Braves-Cardinals game and nine September games will end a tradition that began in 1977, when Ted Turner had the seemingly outrageous idea of bouncing his bad baseball team’s games off a satellite and across the nation.

It was an idea that would help shape the fledgling industry of cable television, as well as the business of sports media. For a while, the ubiquitous Braves even earned the moniker “America’s Team.”

But after years of declining ratings for Braves games outside the Southeast, TBS next season will replace the team as national programming with a package of Sunday afternoon league-wide games. TBS also will carry postseason games for the first time starting this fall, airing all four division series plus the National League Championship Series.

Braves games will continue to air locally next season on over-the-air channel WTBS, which will be renamed Peachtree TV, as well as on regional cable networks SportSouth and FSN South.

Truly a shame. The Braves are back to being a regional team and, as a Braves fan living outside the region (even though I’m in the South), that means no more Braves games on free TV. And I’m not willing to pay exorbitant fees to subscribe to a package containing mostly games that I won’t watch. Which means, inevitably, that I’ll eventually lose interest in the Braves and Major League Baseball.

MLB brought this on themselves, though. By allowing teams in gigantic media markets like the Yankees to make a fortune in “local” revenues while teams like the Braves and the Cubs were required to share revenue earned via their “national” superstations, the incentives were to move more games to niche stations. In turn, that meant that fans never knew where to turn for their games and stations like TBS couldn’t get into a programming rhythm.

The NFL has figured out how to make sure that its most attractive teams get on national television on a routine basis. MLB hasn’t. Which is why the ceased being “America’s pastime” years and years ago.


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