Four Staten Island Yankees Numbers Retired, Is Cervelli Next?

Four numbers have been retired by the Staten Island Yankees. They are Jason Anderson (#19), Chien-Ming Wang (#41), Robinson Cano (#17) and Brett Gardner (#6). I was there for two. Each made it all the way from Rookie A Ball to the Bronx.

Anderson was the first player who donned Yankee Pinstripes in 2003. He was a reliever who also had a stint with the Mets. He was honored on July 15, 2003.

Wang was part of two NY-Penn League championships (2000, 2002). He became a fan favorite as a Yankee who finished runner-up for Cy Young. His arrival in 2005 coincided with Cano. Both rookies were instrumental in turning that year around. It proved that the Yankees could develop homegrown talent. While injuries to Wang derailed his Yankee career, he’s made it all the way back with the Blue Jays, picking up a win the other day. Cano actually finished second to Huston Street for Rookie Of The Year. My favorite prediction was telling our buddies that the second baseman would become an All-Star. Cano has graduated into the top second baseman who the Bronx Bombers must re-sign.

Gardner was part of another championship team in 2005. I caught on late in time for an exciting run. The speedy outfielder was making diving catches and hitting line drives at the top of the order. He’s one of those classic overachievers who is easy to root for. One of the few Yankees who is a stolen base threat, he’s bounced back from an injury riddled 2012. The Gardner gets it done.

During my years covering the Baby Bombers, I was fortunate enough to be there for Wang’s retirement, which included his own bobblehead. It even looked like him. My favorite part was when I met him and then he was interviewed in different languages. His reaction to having his own bobblehead was priceless. You could tell how much he enjoyed it. It was definitely a fun moment to be at the ballpark in St. George. That same night, a strong thunderstorm shortened a game. I still can remember making a run for it to the car. The trip home was intense.

A year later, Cano had his number honored before the game. He came onto the field for the ceremony but wasn’t made available to the press. Definitely disappointing. It didn’t leave a good impression. I’m sure Robby is a good player to the media but it would’ve been nice if he gave us the light of day. It’s not every day you return to where your pro career started.

As the SI Yanks embark on another season, I wonder if they’ll one day retire Francisco Cervelli’s number. Cervelli has been a great story surpassing expectations. He made it over catchers who were more highly thought of by the organization. Signed as a free agent in 2003, he worked hard to get where he’s at. I enjoyed covering him. At that time, he didn’t speak a ton of English but understood well enough to answer questions. To this day, getting the chance to interview him about making the Mid-Season All-Star Game was enjoyable. I interviewed him, Mitch HilligossSeth FortenberryGeorge KontosKyle Larsen and Nick Peterson. Wilmer Pino also made it but didn’t have a translator available to be part of the piece. That was a great team who needed three games to repeat. Future major leaguer Kontos worked out of a bases loaded jam by striking out the side. In six innings, he fanned 11. Peterson, Jonathan Hovis and Mark Melancon did the rest- touching off a great celebration in the locker room.

I’d love to see Cervelli join Anderson, Wang, Cano and Gardner. The fact he’s still an important part of the big club speaks volumes. He has comeback from a miserable 2012 and is about seven to 10 days away. When the Yankees let Russell Martin walk to Pittsburgh, it opened the door for the charismatic Venezuelan to regain his job behind the plate. Since he went down, Chris Stewart’s done an admirable job. Cervelli is clearly the best of a trio that includes Austin Romine. Wouldn’t it be something if the Cisco Kid backstops this team to October? In a parallel to his career, it won’t come easy. Just the way he likes it.

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More HB: Yanks can’t beat Red Sox

The Daily News illustrates what the Red Sox have become to the Yankees in a now familiar role reversal of the most storied rivalry.

The Daily News illustrates what the Red Sox have become to the Yankees in a now familiar role reversal of the most storied rivalry.

It’s Thursday and another crummy day here in Shaolin. If the calendar didn’t say June, we’d swear it was late March/early April. Be that as it may, we’re less than 10 days away from the start of the NY-Penn League season over at the nice ballpark by the Ferry terminal.

Hopefully, that will be a breath of fresh air compared to the state of panic on today’s airwaves with Yankee and Met fans carrying on with Mike Francesa following a pair of frustrating losses last night to the Red Sox and Phillies respectively.

Let’s first get to the latest Yankee failure in Beantown when Joe Girardi foolishly had Chien-Ming Wang go in the middle game versus Tim Wakefield. Not long ago, that match-up would’ve favored the Yanks but not no more with the predicted run-o-meter reaching four with a struggling Wang not even getting through three frames before Phil Hughes replaced him. Hughes’ only mistake was a two-run homer to Kevin Youkilis in his first full inning putting the Yanks in a 6-2 hole. Afterwards, he was solid fanning five in 3.2 IP giving his team a chance to comeback. They nearly did thanks to back-to-back solo shots off the bats of Johnny Damon and AL home run leader Mark Teixeira (No.19). But Terry Francona went to ace setup man Hideki Okajima, who tossed one and a third scoreless fanning three including Hideki Matsui stranding a runner in the eighth. Then Jonathan Papelpon closed it out popping out Jorge Posada to left in front of the Green Monster leaving the tying run on second for his 15th save in 16 tries.

And so, once again the Bronx Bombers fell to their bitter nemesis making it 0-for-7 in 2009. Can heavily hired ace Ca$h Cow Sabathia end the drought tonight versus Boston fifth starter (soon to be gone) Brad Penny? If he doesn’t, they might need to fit a team psychiatrist into that payroll. Ahhh. Money can’t buy everything.

The Yanks trail Boston by a game for the division. If they get swept, it will be 0-8. But hey, at least it’s June 11. Could always be worse.

At least Girardi started rookie Francisco Cervelli behind the plate giving Posada a night off. We’ll see how that pans out in a big game preceding the overhyped three-game set at the New Palace against the guys from Queens.

Speaking of Queens, the Mets try to bounce back from a tough 11 inning 5-4 defeat to their own bitter rival the Phillies. They’ll send fifth starter Tim Redding to the hill versus crafty veteran southpaw Jamie Moyer at Citi Field. If it’s anything like the first pair of games, then we’re in for quite a treat tonight. Both were decided by a run going down to the wire.

The good news for the Amazin’s is the NL’s best lineup hasn’t figured out closer Francisco Rodriguez yet with the former Angel holding two one-run leads and tossing two scoreless yesterday including the 10th thanks to a great unassisted Fernando Tatis double play off a line drive to first. You have to wonder though if K-Rod will be available for the rubber match. If not, does Jerry Manuel use Bobby Parnell to close after he allowed the winning home run to Chase Utley? Or perhaps Brian Stokes gets the call. For some reason, we see Rodriguez being around late if the Mets have the lead. He’s a gamer.

Had the Mets not left a ridiculous 27 on base last night including several from the eighth to 10th when one big hit would’ve meant a ‘W,’ they’d be 5-1 versus the Phils this year. Instead, they’ll settle for four of the first six trailing first by three. Even minus stars Jose Reyes and Carlos Delgado, the Amazin’s can take another series tonight and get within two. It’s more important for them than the defending champs to stay within striking distance. We’ll see what they come up with.

Much of the talk today on WFAN in NYC has centered around how the Mets only scored three runs in the fourth when they nearly batted around versus an ineffective Cole Hamels, who went just five permitting four earned on 11 hits while walking a pair and fanning only one. Mike Pelfrey was the big hitting star delivering a couple of hits including an RBI single that got them going in the frame. The trouble was they kept getting station to station base hits with unaggressive third base coach Razor Shines holding runners including on leadoff man Luis Castillo’s dunk to right that should’ve plated two flustering the second baseman. On the play, Ryan Church, who scored was waving teammate Omir Santos home. Instead, he stayed at third coming in on Alex Cora’s base knock. Following a Carlos Beltran 5-4-3 twin killing which first base umpire Dan Iassogna’s latest botched call, Pelfrey was left at third with what would’ve been a huge insurance run against an opportunistic lineup. That would comeback to bite them when Pelfrey got lousy D from a pair of Gold Glovers in Beltran (missed catch somehow ruled a hit) and David Wright (ground ball for eighth error) allowed the Phils to score three with Jimmy Rollins’ RBI fielder’s choice tying it in the seventh.

That’s all a championship ballclub would need to comeback and take the second game making Met fans scratch their heads because these are the kind of games their team’s lost forever. It must change eventually.

And so, you have two NY teams that are good but don’t win games against division rivals instead finding ways to lose. It doesn’t matter that they have the two highest payrolls in baseball. Until proven otherwise, neither is as good as Boston or Philadelphia. That doesn’t change even if they both win tonight. Talk to us in September.

-Tonight is Game 4 of the NBA Finals with Dwight Howard and the Magic looking to draw even against Kobe and the Lakers. If they want to have any realistic chance, they must win setting up a pivotal Game 5 in their building this weekend. The 2-3-2 format puts a ton of pressure on the team hosting the middle three. Especially when they lose the first two. The Magic can’t go back to LA down 3-2. They must find a way to get it done.

So far, despite no LeBron, the series has fared well garnering good ratings including their highest in over a decade. Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel has a good piece on these Magic, who have earned respect this Spring.

They’ll try to continue it tonight looking for big games again from D-Howard, Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu and key role player Mickael Pietrus.

-And finally, this absurd comment from an incensed Yankee fan to Francesa earlier on the great Mariano Rivera:

He shouldn’t close anymore.

Welcome indeed to the Twilight Zone.

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Random Thoughts

These are a few of the things floating around my head as a new week begins: 

1.How if you’re the Mets do you lose all four games to the hapless Padres in San Diego? They’d entered playing a better brand of ball taking their last three series and starting to look like the ballclub many expected them to be. Then, somehow they lost not one, not two but three consecutive 2-1 games to a team which had a brutal record in one-run games. To top it off, closer Billy Wagner couldn’t hold a two-run lead serving up a two out pinch hit three-run jack to veteran Tony Clark in the eighth which made San Diego an 8-6 winner sending the Amazin’s reeling back to Shea two under .500 (30-32). Now instead of building on two of three at San Fran, they trail the red hot Phillies by seven and a half. The Phils just got done sweeping the Braves to increase their lead to three and a half over second place Florida with a three-game series beginning tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the Mets will try to rebound when they return to Shea Tuesday and play host to struggling NL West leader Arizona. They could use some home cooking to get this turned around.

2.He did pitch into the fifth yesterday and threw a much better ratio tossing 53 of 78 for strikes but I still feel this Joba Chamberlain move to the rotation is all wrong. The Yankee pen is just not equipped for it and what happens when Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes return?

3.It’s amazing to think that suddenly Jason Giambi has rediscovered his stroke leading the Pinstripes with 14 dingers including a go-ahead in their 6-3 win over the Royals. Where would they be without the rejuvenated first base slugger? Ditto Johnny Damon who has been unbelievable lately.

4.When you look at the Mets’ inconsistency, you no longer can say that it’s Jose Reyes who isn’t performing. The shortstop who bats leadoff has done his part heating up for the Queens club frequently hitting and getting on base. He’s hitting for power and stealing bases again. It’s the rest of his teammates which aren’t getting it done. Why is Carlos Beltran so streaky? How come David Wright’s hot streaks come and go?

5.A day later, I’m still extremely disappointed in Roger Federer’s performance against Rafael Nadal. Why was his energy lacking in such a big match? Sure. Nadal was too good. We get that but you don’t normally see him just mail it in. Once the second set was over, I knew where the match was headed. Pretty sad state of affairs for the 12-time slam champion who continues to fail at winning on the red clay at Roland Garros.

6.Who cares what Tiger Woods thinks about the NHL anyway.

7.Nice performance by Team USA finishing in a scoreless tie with Argentina in a men’s soccer exhibition where nearly 80,000 packed Giants Stadium last night. Freddy Adu showed off some serious ballhandling skills generating several great chances late and veteran Landon Donovan was sensational.

8.NL MVP race:

A.Chase Utley, Phillies

B.Chipper Jones, Braves

C.Lance Berkman, Astros

D.Albert Pujols, Cardinals

9.AL MVP race:

A.Josh Hamilton, Rangers

B.Carlos Quentin, White Sox

C.Manny Ramirez, Red Sox

10.Can anyone explain why ESPN/ABC continues to troll out Michael Wilbon for these NBA Finals?!?!?!?!?!

11.You know what’s sad about Hillary Clinton. Even after she finally conceded, the New York Senator still thinks it’s all about her when she was outclassed by Barack Obama.

12.You really could see what all the hype was about with Reds rookie center field prospect Jay Bruce.

13.Belated congrats to Chipper Jones on slugging career home run No.400 a few days prior. To think that the third base Atlanta Brave veteran did it while hitting over .400 is just remarkable. He’s going to miss a few games but when he returns, who doesn’t want to see him take a run at .400 a la John Olerud circa 1993?

14.When Daily News sports columnist Mike Lupica claims that the Yanks haven’t produced a starting stud through their farm system since Andy Pettite and Ron Guidry, I don’t know about you but Chien-Ming Wang isn’t exactly chopped liver. Though he has been struggling lately. Speaking of which, here’s a little trivia for Mr. Lupica. When exactly is the last time the Mets produced a starter out of their system who could win 18-20 games like Wang? You have to go all the way back to Dwight Gooden because they foolishly gave away Scott Kazmir.

15.I don’t know about you but when Chris Bosh buried his Raptors jersey out back in TD BankNorth before Game One of the NBA Finals, I had a good chuckle.

16.Jim McKay came before my time but from everything you read and hear about the legendary former ABC Wide World Of Sports anchor, he had the kind of memorable broadcasting career many could only wish to emulate. From all accounts on his unbelievable humanizing of the awful 1972 Munich Olympics tragedy which saw 11 Israeli athletes murdered by malicious terrorists, you can tell just how much McKay’s chilling details meant to the world of a terrifying ordeal. Watching the video the other day and seeing all the tributes to this man made me realize just how special he was. He’ll be sorely missed. :-(

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Joba not the savior in first outing

Copyright Getty Images

Joba Chamberlain is pulled in the third inning of his first big league start by skipper Joe Girardi. The much anticipated move to the rotation didn't go smoothly with Chamberlain lasting just two and a third before giving way to a paltry bullpen. 

By show of hands, who actually believed into the ridiculous hype of this rush job regarding pushing Joba Chamberlain from eighth inning fixture to starter? Exactly.

I’ve gone on record as saying moving Joba to the rotation is a mistake which could prove costly for the Yankees this year. The way the organization has mishandled this move is a joke. What exactly was the rush? Giving the 22 year-old Lincoln, Nebraska native basically a two week window to go from setup to starter makes about as much sense as the Bulls hiring Doug Collins two decades later out of the TNT broadcast booth.

The Yanks should’ve been more patient and stretched Chamberlain out a few more relief outings to build up his arm.

End result against Toronto ace Roy Halladay last night:

2.1 IP, 2 R, ER, 1 H, 4 BB, 3 K, 62 pitches (32 strikes)

Not a very pretty line. In fact, Joba needed 38 pitches to escape his first inning permitting a run.

It’s going to take time for the former 2006 first round supplemental pick to adjust back to being a starter. Last year, he won eight games across the minors before being shifted to the pen to setup for Mariano Rivera. The difference was the organization made certain to give him enough stints before recalling the fireballer to overwhelming success.

Anyone who’s looked at this season’s Pinstripe edition can see that pitching is an issue. However, by subtracting Joba from the pen, it further weakened the seventh and eighth innings which now fall on the shoulders of Kyle Farnsworth along with bust LaTroy Hawkins. There’s also inexperienced guys such as Ross Ohlendorf, Jose Veras and Edwar Ramirez. Hardly reassuring options for a mediocre club which dropped its third straight and saw their pig pen implode a second game in a row turning a one-run game into a Toronto 9-3 laugher at The Stadium.

So what’s the plan exactly? Does the organization eventually elevate relief prospect Mark Melanchon from Double-A Trenton where he’s having good success? Don’t expect it anytime soon.

It’s hard to fathom who’s calling the shots here. Hank Steinbrenner voiced his displeasure about Chamberlain’s role wanting him to start. But is it best for the team right now? Chien-Ming Wang is a reliable seven inning starter. Vets Andy Pettite and Mike Mussina can go six. Darrell Rasner has proven to be effective thus far able to pitch deep into games while keeping the ballclub afloat. How many innings on average can Chamberlain be expected to go? Tough to gauge. His command must improve if this gamble is to pay off.

Here’s another question for Yankee brass. Why mess with Joba when Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy should be returning for the second half? What exactly is the plan when either comeback? They’ve been starters their entire pro careers which means that’s a numbers problem.

Unless the Yanks are planning to move Rasner to middle relief, it’s an issue. Why move Rasner if he continues to fare well? That’s what the Bronx zoo is like these days where you’re on an emotional rollercoaster trying to figure out what they’ll do next.

Frankly, this team isn’t that good and deserving of their 28-30 last place record seven behind Tampa and six and a half behind Boston. The Jays are showing signs even without Vernon Wells four out and they’ve got much better pitching than the Bronx Bombers.

So, is it going to get any better? Probably not for a while. Especially with a relief corps providing comedy for opponents.

This is what Joe Girardi signed up for and what Joe Torre got away from. Which Joe do you think is smiling these days?

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More HB

-The Willie Randolph watch continues after the Mets fell to the Rockies 4-1 to drop two of three to a depleted Colorado club who placed NL MVP runner-up Matt Holliday on the DL before the game. Jose Reyes gaveth and taketh away literally. The enigmatic shortstop’s runscoring single had given John Maine a one-run lead. But his E6 of a potential inning-ending double play ball proved costly when a batter later, Seth Smith slugged his first career home run to put the Rockies ahead 3-1. Despite Colorado only getting three hits, Smith’s big one was plenty for starter Aaron Cook, who had the Amazin’s off balance all day going the distance tossing a four-hitter to win for the seventh time. His team has only 20 wins. So he’s accounted for 35 percent of them.

For the Mets, it ended a brutal week which saw them go 1-6 in Atlanta and Colorado after sweeping the A-Rod less Yanks last weekend. Now, they’ll fly home and Randolph will have his pow wow with Met management tomorrow before hosting the first place Marlins for a crucial three-game set at Shea with his team two under .500. Will Willie still be in the dugout? Who knows anymore? I guess we’ll have a better idea sometime on Memorial Day.

-The Yanks continued their winning ways rallying past the Mariners by scoring four in the eighth to pull out a 6-5 win making it five in a row and pulling them within four and a half of Boston, who again lost at Oakland. Following a Bobby Abreu RBI double, Hideki Matsui’s infield hit and Robinson Cano’s sac fly off Seattle closer J.J. Putz tied the game taking Chien-Ming Wang off the hook despite permitting five earned in six-plus. Backup catcher Jose Molina delivered the winning hit with an opposite field runscoring double which plated Matsui allowing the Bronx Bombers to sweep a bad Mariner team which is now a dismal 18-33. So much for contending. Closer Mariano Rivera got the M’s in order fanning a couple including Raul Ibanez swinging to notch career save No.455 (12th of season). Reliever Edwar Ramirez picked up his first win working one and two thirds scoreless and K-ing a couple to keep his perfect ERA.

Suddenly, the Pinstripes are back at .500 25 up and 25 down out of cellar half a game in front of Baltimore. They’re also no longer just looking up at Boston but rather the Rays, who won again and are 10 over .500 a half game better than the Red Sox in the AL East. Don’t look now but the Blue Jays have also reeled off four in a row and are four out. The Yanks sit five back which is much better than it could’ve been. Is the sudden turnaround due to Alex Rodriguez? The offense has been clicking much better since the rating AL MVP returned after the Met series. It makes a huge difference having that big righty bat in there relieving pressure off other teammates.

The Yanks will now take to the road for three in Camden beginning tomorrow afternoon.

-I wish I cared about this Stanley Cup between the Pens and Red Wings but I just can’t get into it. Not with the ridiculous overhype of Sid The Kid. I honestly tuned out of the All Pens Network last night and opted for the radio. I have decided I can’t deal with the insanity of network TV. It really is disgusting.

-Could these Laker-Spurs games be anymore competitive?!?!?!?!?!

-The French Open is here. So here are my picks:

Women’s champion: Jelena Jankovic def. Anna Chakvetadze to capture first slam

Men’s champion: Rafael Nadal def. Roger Federer again

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Welcome to the circus

No. This isn’t about Team Dumb and Dumber Clown Management 101 who predictably didn’t win the NBA lottery earlier tonight. 

At last check, the last place Yankees were getting trounced 10-0 by the Orioles at The Stadium. This on the heels of being humiliated by the Mets in which they were swept over an abbreviated weekend set by an aggregate total of 18-6 dropping them to four under .500 and six behind the first place Red Sox. It became six and a half last night when Jon Lester no-hit the Royals.

It only gets worse these days around the Pinstripes. Where the chaos of Hank Steinbrewhiner isn’t helping much. He can make all the vows he wants but just maybe this team isn’t good enough to see October. Yankee brass (Randy Levine) believed it would be good to make a change away from Joe Torre’s laid back style to the edgy persona of Joe Girardi, who looks in over his head. He doesn’t know how to handle the New York press and apparently isn’t putting out the right lineup these days.

Once again, Jason Giambi was hitting before Robinson Cano, who inexplicably continues to bat at the bottom third of the order. So what if Alex Rodriguez is back and apparently went yard to break up Daniel Cabrera’s shutout cause it’s really the only positive any Yankee fan could take with this disassembled bunch. Oh. The rating AL MVP’s big righty bat is a welcome sight to an offense which can’t score. If only that would resolve all the team problems.

It still isn’t known when switch-hitting All-Star backstop Jorge Posada will return. The Yanks need every bat these days cause this pitching staff isn’t scaring anyone. For once, Mike Mussina didn’t have it tonight lasting only 10 batters while retiring a couple and allowing seven runs of only one which was earned thanks to teammate Derek Jeter’s throwing error that opened the floodgates. Making matters worse, the Yankee captain left the game after getting plunked on the left hand.

Out of the O’s 10 runs, only two were earned with Johnny Damon misplaying a Luke Scott fly ball in the second leading to three more runs. When it all goes wrong, sloppy team D is common and even umpire’s errant calls such as the other night which negated a Carlos Delgado three-run home run don’t even matter. At least the Met first baseman wound up with an RBI hit in the 11-2 blowout of Chien-Ming Wang Sunday. That’s how brutal Girardi’s Yanks have been. What happened to playing a crisper brand of ball? What happened to executing and winning close games? And what happened to just having solid pitching which could shutdown an offense?

Oh wait. That never got addressed. It didn’t help that Phil Hughes was pitching hurt getting off to a miserable start before finally being DLed. Even that was a three-ring circus with Girardi not even able to properly communicate what was wrong. This guy is just way too sensitive and is proving the Florida reporters right. If he thought that was tough, he really shouldn’t have taken this job.

Ian Kennedy has struggled and remains winless with the Yanks hoping one of these days, the former first round pick out of USC will put it all together like he did when he came up. If he could just locate, it’s bound to turn around. Andy Pettite’s been a bust in his second season meaning that only Wang and Mussina were performing up to expectations. Toss in surprise recall Darrell Rasner who will get another big start tomorrow trying to put a halt to a four-game skid.

There’s also the bullpen which soon could be renamed the pigpen. Kyle Farnsworth had shown improvement until his implosion a few days ago in which he served up two homers to Met duo Jose Reyes and David Wright putting Saturday’s game out of reach. The problem is that even with Girardi using the hard thrower more, he’s already allowed six gopher balls. Or one more than Aaron Heilman. So how reliable is he?

Russ Ohlendorf is still a work in progress and LaTroy Hawkins is proving to be the latest Brian Cashman mi$take. Unless Edwar Ramirez becomes a solution, the Yanks only have the same 1-2 punch of Joba Chamblerlain and Mo Rivera to finish games which is why Steinwhiner’s idea of moving the Nebraska setup man to the rotation would be a colossal mistake making even more a mess of their pen.

I still want to know how Morgan Ensberg was signed while a younger and more versatile Andy Phillips was let go. How Ensberg is even still on a major league roster begs questioning. This is what the Yankees have become. Where misfits somehow wind up with jobs. What? Like Eric Duncan couldn’t be given a shot to sink or swim? The organization needs to get their heads out of their collective asses.

How is it getting any better? Unless the team snaps out of it, they’re in for a tough go because the AL East is no longer a joke. Not with the Rays much improved and the O’s showing signs of life. Even the Jays are coming around.

So, is it over? Hardly. After tonight, the Yanks will have completed 45 games meaning that there’s still 117 to go. They have been in this unenviable position before and comeback to make the postseason. Still, falling into the same early habits isn’t a good trend. One of these days, it’s going to comeback to haunt them.

Is this finally that year? Only time will tell. For now, this team is a mess headed on the road to nowhere.

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More HB

-Make it two straight losses for the Yankees, who were blanked by resurgent southpaw Cliff Lee 3-0 in the Bronx tonight. A year removed from an injury sidetracking him back to Buffalo to get fixed in Triple-A, the 29 year-old Lee has returned better than ever dominating opponents. He’s now won all six starts walking only two in 44-plus. The Yanks managed six hits in seven innings but couldn’t come up with the big one to bail out tough luck loser Chien-Ming Wang, who permitted a run in the first, fourth and fifth. He went seven falling to 6-1. The best chance Joe Girardi’s club had was a two out rally but Lee buckled down getting Hideki Matsui swinging on a wicked curve to end the sixth. The lefty fanned seven before giving way to 1-2 punch Rafael Perez and Rafael Betancourt with the latter getting the Yanks in order to save his second straight.

-While the Mets dominate the airwaves in this city for their inconsistencies in the wake of a forgettable September, it’s the Yanks up and down play which has gotten lost in the shuffle. What exactly is this team which wins a few, then loses a few and never seems to be able to come up with the big hit when behind after seven innings? At 17 up and 18 down, the Bronx Bombers are an enigma which continues to lose ground to a much stronger Red Sox club. Only due to the Tigers scratching out two against stingy closer Jonathan Papelbon did Boston not increase their lead which remained at four and a half over the Yanks. Sure. They’re still without Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada which impacts the lineup. However, the good teams find a way to overcome obstacles. Right now, they’re very mediocre with the April excuse behind them. It’s time to step up.

-The final day of a six-game Western swing was a very good one for the Mets, who hammered Brad Penny for 10 earned in four and two thirds en route a 12-1 rout of the Dodgers, salvaging the final game of the series to even their record to 3-3. The Amazin bats awakened with four in the second including a two-run single from third string catcher Raul Casanova. Up five, they batted around for six more in the fifth. Even starter John Maine got into the act with a two-run single. Luis Castillo’s walk forced in a run. Following a David Wright two-run double, Castillo came into score on a wild pitch for an 11-0 lead. Right fielder Ryan Church continued to swing a hot bat taking ex-Yankee Scott Proctor deep into the Dodger bullpen tying Wright for the club lead with six dingers. He paced the Amazin’s with three hits and three runs scored. 

It all came in support of a sharp Maine, who came within two outs of a too rare complete game shutout. Matt Kemp broke up the shutout with an RBI single. After 117 pitches, Maine was done giving way to ex-Dodger Duaner Sanchez, who recorded the last two outs getting James Loney swinging to end it. Maine went eight and a third allowing one earned on four hits with two walks and four K’s improving to 4-2 on the season.

-Now, the Mets return home to Shea for a seven-game homestand beginning Friday with three against the Reds and four versus Lastings Milledge and the Nats before a fun three-game series at Yankee Stadium next weekend.

-Speaking of Milledge, he’s gotten out of the gate slowly. After taking the collar in three plate appearances in a 4-3 walkoff loss to the Astros, the former Mets’ 2003 first round selection is hitting .256 with one home run, 11 RBI’s, 15 runs and three stolen bases in six attempts. Not the kind of start the 23 year-old Bradenton, Florida native wanted in his first full season manning center field in D.C. There’s still plenty of time for him to get going but you’d have to be foolish not to notice the early returns on that trade so far for Omar Minaya. With Church becoming the Mets’ most consistent performer in their lineup and catcher Brian Schneider (.308-0-8, .395 OBP) playing well in 19 starts despite injuries, it couldn’t be going much better for the Mets.

If Church and Schneider continue to perform well, there won’t be much to complain about for Amazin fans when it comes to that deal. Come to think of it, nobody’s had much to say lately about it choosing to take our their frustrations on Oliver Perez, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Aaron Heilman, Willie Randolph and Jose Reyes.

The Mets are 17-15 and still a weird team to get a read on which is why they get plenty of criticism after losses from fans and media alike. It’s because they expect a team which acquired one of the best pitchers in the game to play better than this after how last season ended. The talk from Randolph that his ballclub is more relaxed away from Shea doesn’t take them off the hook. This is New York. Players here must have thicker skin and be able to shake off the booing and heavy criticism. With two last place opponents coming in with a combined record of 28-40, the Amazin’s need to send a strong message by winning at least five of the next seven going into that weekend series against their crosstown rivals. Anything less would raise eyebrows.

-Where would the Braves be without Chipper Jones? With two more hits in a 5-2 home win over the Padres, the 36 year-old switch hitting third baseman is now hitting .429 (51-for-119) with 10 homers and 29 RBI’s. Just amazing stuff from one of the most consistent star players of this era. Last year with his team missing the postseason a second consecutive season, Chipper finished at .337, 29 homers and 102 knocked in despite missing 28 games. With another 42 doubles and four triples, he had 75 extra base hits. Did we mention his OBP was .425 along with a .604 slugging? The guy is just a great player. He needs four more dingers to reach 400 for his career. He’s also closing in on 2,200 hits 32 shy after tonight. By the time he concludes his career, the man they refer to as Larry in Queens will be in Cooperstown.

-Chauncey Billups going down tonight with a possible groin injury changes everything in that Pistons-Magic series. He’s the glue which keeps Detroit together. Tell ya one thing. Rashard Lewis (33 pts, 11-of-15 FG, 5-of-6 3′s) sure is shooting it well. Having Dwight Howard (20 pts, 8-of-13 FG, 12 Rebs, 6 Blk) inside definitely helps. I still think it comes down to the play of Hedo Turkoglu, who came to life in the fourth quarter scoring 10 of his 18 as the Magic outscored the Pistons 38-17 to win 111-86 getting back in the series. If the streaky shooter plays better along with Jameer Nelson, then Orlando should be pretty competitive. Who knows how Billups’ injury will affect him?

-Is there still an NHL playoffs going on? I wasn’t too sure.

-It’s not everyday that Rafa Nadal loses on clay but that happened earlier today when Juan Carlos Ferrero got the better of the Spaniard ousting him 7-5, 6-1 in Rome. It was only Nadal’s second defeat on the red surface in 105 matches. He did play with a blister but give Ferrero his due. This probably isn’t a good sign for Nadal’s future opponents in Roland Garros because it will make the rating three-time French Open champion even more focused and harder to beat.

-I just want to say it’s nice to know that Barry Zito is back in the San Fran rotation again. At least the $128 million man pitched effectively enough to keep his team in a game for a change, only giving up two earned to fall to 0-7. Will he make 20 losses? Hey. His ERA dropped below 7.00. We’re sure Scott Boras is telling Brian Sabean about that.

-Speaking of Boras, when he says Oli Perez is one of the best pitchers in baseball, does he actually believe that?

-Pirate center fielder Nate McClouth is hitting .333 with nine homers, 28 knocked in and 31 runs. Just wanted to make sure you’ve been paying attention.

-The special PBS aired on legendary singer Marvin Gaye was excellent and depicted what one of the most soulful singers went through where despite all his God given talents was never really satisfied. All due to his crazy father, who wound up killing him. It definitely told a sad tale of a man influenced by depression, sex and drugs. If you missed it, find the time to catch it.

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A Yankee habit

When one looks at the AL East standings from the first month, a couple of things will stand out. The Orioles are playing good ball over .500 and the Rays are in first place having won eight of 10.

That also means the Yankees are once again off to a slow start under new skipper Joe Girardi. Something which has become a weird tradition for a team which prides itself on perfection and the pursuit of winning a 27th world championship.

It would be easy to point to the DL stints of MVP Alex Rodriguez and perennial All-Star Jorge Posada for why the Bronx Bombers find themselves two games under .500 (14-16) and three behind both Tampa Bay and Boston. That still doesn’t explain being swept at The Stadium by the Tigers for the first time in 42 years.

Jim Leyland’s resurgent club completed a three-game sweep last night by scoring eight of the last nine runs to turn back a 3-0 Yankee deficit courtesy of a Bobby Abreu three-run first inning blast. No worries for the Tiger bats who pounded out eight extra base hits to the Yanks’ one in rallying back for their eight win in 10 to suddenly pull within a game of .500 (14-15). They started 2-10.

AL MVP runner-up Magglio Ordonez led a balanced 11-hit attack against struggling rookie starter Ian Kennedy. Given a three-run lead, he gave it back when Detroit pushed across four in the third including a tying two-run Ordonez double and a go-ahead Miguel Cabrera RBI triple.

The 23 year-old former first round pick out of USC was looking for his first victory this season but didn’t get much help from Abreu in the field, who according to a few peturbed Bomber fans on WFAN strayed away from the right field wall on two triples in the game. That included a two-run Ramon Santiago three-bagger which was valuable insurance off ineffective losing Yankee reliever Jonathan Albaledejo.

Who??? Exactly.

If you’re a Yankee fan, you know by now that it’s way too early to push the panic button. A-Rod will be back. As for Posada, our guess is as good as anyone’s. Rest is the best thing for the valuable veteran leader.

Even without them, there’s still enough bats to be producing more than what Girardi’s getting. When Melky Cabrera is tied for the club lead in dingers (5), that’s not a good sign. I’m a Melky backer and he’s improved but where the heck is sidekick Robinson Cano?

As usual, Cano’s off to an atrocious start. It’s been the second baseman’s trademark. However, that shouldn’t be an excuse for a talented player capable of winning both a batting title and Gold Glove. Isn’t it about time the 25 year-old who hit .306 with 19 dingers and 97 RBI’s (.343-13-57 Post All-Star in 2007) was held to a higher standard? He now makes more bucks and must start being a more consistent performer because he’s the Yanks’ youngest star in an All-Star lineup with untapped potential.

Getting Cano untracked would certainly be a big step in the right direction. Here’s a suggestion for Girardi. Try hitting him higher in the order. Could someone please explain why he batted eighth last night behind Cabrera and has been Morgan Ensberg with Chad Moeller as batting protection? It makes about as much sense as trying recently recalled Shelly Duncan cleanup.

Jason Giambi also is more washed up than Cher. Unless he’s bopping the ball out, there’s no place for him in the lineup. He shouldn’t hit ahead of Cano.

The only Yanks who are doing their job at the plate are the aforementioned Cabrera and Abreu along with Hideki Matsui. That means they need more from team captain Derek Jeter. And by that, I don’t mean just singles. He has no stolen bases in 24 games. He’s been back long enough to at least attempt steals and set the tone.

Leadoff hitter Johnny Damon has come around after a slow start. The Pinstripes need the gritty 34 year-old former Red Sock to continue getting on base.

While the depleted lineup is one story, the other is the continued problems with the Yankee rotation. Outside of ace Chien-Ming Wang, it’s been pretty mediocre. The 28 year-old Wang won five of his first six starts entering Friday’s home game against Seattle. He’s done his part even striking out 27 in 39 innings.

Andy Pettite’s been up and down. Some outings, the crafty southpaw veteran has done the job winning half while getting into the seventh. The others have seen the 35 year-old 200-plus game winner show his age giving up five long balls. The good news is that when he’s won, that hasn’t been an issue. The bad is that he’s allowed four homers the last two times out. Not coincidentally both Yankee defeats. Is this what you want from your second starter?

Mike Mussina’s performed admirably as the No.3 winning three and losing three in similar fashion to Pettite permitting seven long balls. He’s basically a five inning pitcher. The problem is that taxes a pen which isn’t very good. Especially when Girardi continues to roll out Ross Ohlendorf (Woh-len-dorf) and latest free agent bust LaTroy Hawkins. Instead, he’s reminding Yankee fans of Andy Hawkins. At least they’re not related.

We’ve already documented Kennedy who after last night is still winless in five starts with Girardi non-committal on whether he’ll stay in the rotation. Like the alternatives are any better? Who’s longing to see Japanese failure Kei Igawa?

The Yanks already have to replace an injured Phil Hughes, who it was discovered had a broken rib along with a right oblique strain. That might help explain a miserable start in which he’s 0-4 with a team worst 9.00 ERA. Somehow, he started his sixth game of the season this past Tuesday getting tattooed by Detroit for six earned runs, eight hits along with the first two homers against in just three and two thirds before coming out.

You got to wonder about the 21 year-old former first round pick’s ability to stay healthy. This is the second straight year he’s gone down and will miss significant time. He shouldn’t be expected back before he turns 22. Maybe that’s a good omen.

The Yanks must be right about Kennedy and Hughes because they passed on Johan Santana putting a lot more emphasis on the younger shoulders of the two hurlers while Joba Chamberlain remains a perfect bridge to Mariano Rivera.

Hank Steinbrenner can bark all he wants but keeping Joba in the pen is best for now. Kyle Farnsworth has pitched better lately but let’s be serious. He can’t be trusted in the eighth inning.

What else is alarming? What the heck are Ensberg and reliever Billy Traber doing on the active roster? Better questions for Girardi and Brian Cashman to answer.

For now, the Yanks will have to make do with what they have. No one ever said it would be easy.

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The Melk Man delivers

Historic Yankee Stadium in all its glory during the final home opener last night. 

AP Photo Courtesy Getty Images by Henry Ray Abrama

On the final Opening Day Night at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees had to win for tradition sake. How else could the Pinstripes go out in their final home opener at the House that Ruth Built 84 years prior christening it with a homer in front of 74,000 back in 1923?

That the power was supplied by center fielder Melky Cabrera was a pleasant surprise. Along with consecutive sensational catches (both web gems much to JPG’s dismay), the ninth place hitter then ledoff the bottom half of the sixth by taking Toronto ace Roy Halladay yard just clearing the 314 right field fence to tie the game at two.

The Melk Man’s big night helped spark the Yanks back to a 3-2 home win over the Blue Jays with the 1-2 punch of Joba Chamberlain (scoreless 8th, 2 K’s) and Mariano Rivera (1-2-3 ninth) shutting the door to give an energized new skipper Joe Girardi his first win on the young season.

The game winning RBI was hardly a big hit but instead a tailor made Hideki Matsui double play ball which was mishandled by Toronto second baseman Aaron Hill allowing the Jays to only get one. 2007 AL MVP Alex Rodriguez came into score the winning run in the home seventh.

Hey. Girardi and the Yankees will take it. Wins don’t have to be pretty as long as they get the job done and during the course of a long 162-game season, you’ll have your fair share of ugly games. As long as you come out with the ‘W,’ that’s all that matters.

The Yanks had to be particularly pleased with ace Chien-Ming Wang, who showed no ill effects of an off Spring going seven strong on 92 pitches while permitting two earned on six hits with a pair of walks and strikeouts. Apparently, deuces were wild for the just turned 28 year-old former Staten Island Yankee who improved to 1-0 this season.

The win also helped the Yanks make a bit of major league history as it was their 11th straight Opening Day win at The Stadium- snapping a tie with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who reeled off 10 in a row from 1945-54 according to Elias Sports Bureau.

Following the last out on a routine 4-3 putout, Rivera gave his new manager the game ball. 

“He just congratulated me and he said that’s No. 1 and let’s get a lot more,” a very happy Girardi said. “It’s a neat moment for me.”

“I know he really wanted to win this game,” Yankee captain Derek Jeter pointed out after getting a hit in four at bats. “I’m happy for him.”

For one night at least, it worked the way the Yanks and Hank Steinbrenner hope it will. Good pitching. Great defense. And timely hitting.

Most notably, the well played game took a very reasonable two hours and 31 minutes to play before a sellout crowd of 55,112.

Tonight, veteran Mike Mussina will go against fireballer A.J. Burnett in the second game.

We’ll have more baseball stuff later today including the latest on Pedro Martinez’ hamstring injury. He’ll have an MRI.

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Opening Day Cubbies style

Even Japanese import Kosuke Fukudome's ninth inning heroics couldn't prevent the lovable Cubbies from doing what they do best. Break their fans hearts and lose on Opening Day explaining why they haven't won in so long.  

AP Photos Courtesy Getty Images by Spencer Green

Only the lovable Cubbies could lose on Opening Day at Wrigley Field the way they did. Well, hey. At least Sweet Lou Piniella’s team entered as defending NL Central champs. By show of hands, who thinks that’s happening again?

My good Stanford pal John “JPG” Giagnorio has stopped caring. Or so he says. Would a World Series appearance draw the Chicago native’s attention? Considering that it’s been exactly a century since the Cubs lost won it all, you betcha!

So, how did the Cubs lose a very lengthy extra inning rain filled game against the Brew Crew yesterday? In the typical style which has become a Chicago tradition much like deep dish and fans running for their lives out of Comiskey Park on the other side of town.

Chicago ace Carlos Zambrano matched zeroes with Milwaukee’s favorite DL space Ben Sheets into the seventh before each gave way to the bullpens. Fyi…Zambrano left with a right index finger injury. Already the Cubs season is in jeopardy and they hadn’t even completed Game No.1!

So, you’re probably sitting there wondering how this is any different from other seasons? Well, it’s been 100 years! As they prefer to say, “This is the YEAR!”

It had better be. Well, if there really is a God looking down on them but then again, the heavens seem very unforgiving. Just ask a Buffalo sportsfan!

The game which featured two rain delays remained scoreless until Piniella brought in Kerry Wood to pitch the ninth. He now closes which means he’s probably doomed to fail much like Ryan Deumpster, Turk Wendell and Mitch Williams. Tom Gordon also had a stint there and promptly pointed to God when he blew saves. Well, maybe not.

After following Sweet Lou’s instructions to intentionally walk Prince Fielder putting runners on first and second, Wood gave up a broken bat Ryan Braun RBI single which was the game’s first run. A two out opposite field Corey Hart two-run double plated two more runs giving Milwaukee a three-run cushion they would need.

If you didn’t know why, then all you had to notice was new closer Eric Gagne warming up. Yes! He closes for the Brewers. Guess you can eliminate Ned Yost’s club from taking the division. At the time the once lights out Dodger stopper came in, my brother and I joked about how he’d blow it.

Sure enough, Gagne gave up a leadoff single to Derrek Lee and then managed to walk free swinger Aramis Ramirez on four pitches way out of the strike zone. Up till that point, the Cubbies had only three hits all day including two from new Japanese outfield import Kosuke Fukudome. Say that 10 times fast and let us know how you do!

A century of Cubs futility at Wrigley Field. Will this be the year it finally ends?

He already was perfect on the day with a single, double and walk. With Cubs fans chanting his name and a Chicago fan who I believe was the same one as last year holding up a sign which read, “ITS GONNA HAPPEN,” sure enough, it did as Fukudome destroyed a 3-1 Gagne fat pitch hammering it into the right center stands as cheering Wrigley supporters went ballistic. Tie ballgame!

Gagne hadn’t even retired a batter. And the Brewers gave this guy $10 million to close?!?!?!?!?! He’s more washed up than Jason Giambi.

Ten million just don’t get what it used to these days in the land of free agent in$anity. Hey. At least they didn’t reward Barry “Baked” Zito $126 million a la the Giants. He got bombed again giving up four runs in the first two frames to Joe Torre’s Dodgers in a 5-0 loss. Boy. Are the Giants bad. They actually could miss Barry Bonds. Well, maybe not the clubhouse.

To Gagne’s credit, he settled down retiring the required three Cubs to force the game to extras. I was on a call with my good buddy JPG raving about Fukudome’s heroics and walked into the kitchen to fix myself a PB and J. By the time I got back in, Bob Howry had put runners on the corners and then allowed Tony Gwynn, Jr.’s go-ahead sac fly.

There had to be still hope with David Riske coming in to save it for Gagne. Somehow, the Cubs went in order instead to fall 4-3 doing what they do best. Getting their fans’ hopes up just to break their hearts in the end.

Good god. If this were a movie script, everyone would need a box of Kleenex along with their movie stub.

Well, there’s always tomorrow.

The Mets got off to a strong start posting a 6-2 win over the Marlins down in Miami. David Wright’s bases clearing double gave new ace Johan Santana a six-run cushion. The former two-time AL Cy Young winner acquired from the Twins went seven allowing just a pair of runs while fanning eight to pickup the first of probably 20 wins.

Former Met Lastings Milledge went yard for the Nationals as they outslugged the defending NL East champion Phillies 11-6 to improve to 2-0 on the young season. Don’t be surprised if the Nats aren’t as bad as many have predicted. One look at their lineup should tell people they can do damage. Especially if King Lastings has the kind of season expected now that he’s out of Queens. 

Rating NL MVP Jimmy Rollins tied it with a two-run shot in the home seventh but the Nats pushed across five in the ninth off Gordon to prevail 11-6. The five-run ninth featured four RBI doubles including one from ex-Met backstop Paul Lo Duca.

Losing reliever Gordon’s line:

0.1 IP 4 H 5 R 6 ER 1 BB

Afterwards, Flash immediately thanked God that he still cashes a hefty paycheck!

Ah. Only one day of full baseball and already we’re getting warmed up. The Yankees and Blue Jays will hope for better weather later tonight in what’s expected to be the final home opener at Yankee Stadium. Chien-Ming Wang takes on Roy Halladay.

We’ll have more on the Yanks and other baseball stuff later this afternoon!

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