-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.Â He paced the Amazin’s with three hits and three runs scored.Â
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, whoÂ 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,Â the man they refer to as LarryÂ in QueensÂ 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 makeÂ the rating three-time French Open championÂ 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.