By Jeff Freier on May 14th, 2010 10:03 AM
We’ll start off this week with a tribute to catchers. Francisco Cervelli, Rod Barajas and Henry Blanco all had a memorable couple of games last weekend. New York has had many legends behind the plate, such as Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Thurman Munson, Jerry Grote, Gary Carter and Mike Piazza, and we’ve had our fare share of backups who did something special, too – Todd Pratt instantly comes to mind. But those three present-day local backstops are cut more from the cloth of the likes of Butch Wynegar, John Stearns or Jake Gibbs. Barajas’ and Blanco’s back-to-back game-winning home runs made major league history, as it was the first time catching teammates accomplished that feat. In fact, we haven’t seen offensive heroics like that from a catcher since Jake Taylor surprised the Yankees by beating out a bunt single, which allowed Willie Hayes Mays to score all the way from second to win the AL East title back in the late ’80s (little-known fact: Barajas’ father was actually Taylor’s backup in the Mexican League for one season). Ok, Omir Santos did hit that homer at Fenway just last year – we forgot about him pretty quickly, haven’t we? Barajas leads the Mets in home runs with nine and is fourth in the NL. And between him and Blanco, the Mets have the perfect tandem to deal with all the fragile head cases the team has on its pitching staff. It’s hard enough just getting Oliver Perez pointed in the right direction so he doesn’t throw a ball into right field, let alone nursing him through a full game.
For the Yankees, Cervelli stepped in for the injured Jorge Posada and did an amazing job. He drove in five runs with three hits against archrival Boston on Saturday, and the Yankees actually have a catcher that pitchers enjoy throwing to. Posada’s a great hitter but has had his ups and downs behind the dish during his career and should probably be DHing nowadays. He should have taken lessons from Crash Davis years ago on how to handle a pitching staff, but instead he got his advice from Susan Sarandon. Sure, he now knows how to breathe through his eyelids, but that doesn’t help his defensive skills. Cervelli didn’t even start catching until he signed with the Yankees, but he’s already passed Posada by defensively. Posada’s now back in the lineup and behind the plate again, and Yankee pitchers will once again shake him off and look longingly into the dugout to Cervelli.
Here are the top stories of the week in the world of New York sports.
Up and Down: The walk-off dingers by Barajas and Blanco and the six-run eighth-inning explosion on Tuesday were great, but those were the only wins for the Mets all week. The team has a lot more heart and fight in them than previous versions, but even though they crawl their way back into every game, they still find ways to lose and just can’t hit consistently. The whole team is in a good news/bad news, up-and-down funk. John Maine has now had three straight starts of six innings while allowing a total of five runs in those games. But then there’s Perez. His pitches resembled the garbage blowing all over the field during his last start – floating around here and there, some up, some down, with anybody’s guess where they would finally land. I think he even beaned Mr. Met up in the mezzanine level. Mike Pelfrey and Jon Niese regressed, while Johan Santana was his vintage self last night. Ike Davis and Chris Carter provided a few heroic moments. But Jose Reyes is running into outs again, and his lack of spring training (or is it batting third?) is killing him and the team. And God knows, the man cannot bunt. It’s time to put him back in the leadoff spot where he belongs. Hisanori Takahashi continues to be the brightest spot of the pitching staff. Frankie Rodriguez, on the other hand, continues to give up runs in big spots. David Wright is a conundrum all to himself. After striking out in nine consecutive official at-bats, he then got a hit in five straight official at-bats. Now that’s streaky. He’s not a complete disaster (.279/.408/.525, 7 HR, 22 RBI’s), but his strikeouts are overshadowing everything else. A quick look at his last at-bat in Tuesday’s game will give us some evidence of what he’s doing wrong. He saw five pitches, but none of them were close to being in the strike zone. Yet he swung at three of those pitches for another whiff. He also flinches and backs away from every inside curveball. And he lets perfectly hittable pitches go right by him without taking the bat off his shoulder. All those things add up to a lot of strikeouts. And finally, Met fans now have two new swear words: Roger Bernadina.
Comerican’t: After a good start to the week, with two wins up in Boston, the Yankees had a little trouble in Detroit, losing three out of four. Now that it’s May, like clockwork, Mark Teixeira has started hitting again (four home runs and 11 RBI’s in his last seven games). And like clockwork, A.J. Burnett just can’t beat the Red Sox in Fenway Park. He’s 0-3 with a 12.68 ERA in five starts at Fenway as a Yankee. Johnny Damon got a little revenge against his old team, when he smashed a homer in the first game of the series at Comerica Park. Austin Jackson, though, didn’t do much of anything (2 for 16). In the first game of the day/night doubleheader, Javier Vazquez actually pitched well, though the Yanks still lost. They may have found the secret formula for success for Vazquez – 10 days rest and he has to pitch in Michigan. Phil Hughes dominated his start, and now seems like the best pitcher on the Yankees – and maybe even in the AL (he has a league-leading 1.38 ERA). And with Joba Chamberlain and Jose Valverde pitching in the same series, I didn’t know if I was watching baseball or Dancing With the Stars.
Injuries, Ejections, Bereavements & Call-ups: Nick Johnson (insert joke here) and Alfredo Aceves went on the DL this week, and Robinson Cano, Andy Pettitte and Nick Swisher were all nicked up as well. For the Mets, Luis Castillo’s heel is barking, Mike Pelfrey’s shoulder has tightness and Oliver Perez needs his head examined. Joe Girardi, Jerry Manuel, Wright and Reyes were all thrown out of games this week. Maybe they were envious when they saw that Keith Hernandez and Ken Griffey Jr. each took a nap during a game and wanted to catch some shuteye themselves but couldn’t wait until after the final pitch was thrown. Blanco is on the bereavement list and has gone back to Venezuela to be with his ailing mother, so Josh Thole was summoned from Buffalo. Two 27-year-olds get their chance: Chris Carter, who probably should have been with the team all along, was finally called up (with the unproductive – and that’s being kind – Frank Catalanotto sent packing) and drove in the game-winning run in his first at-bat, while Cuban refugee Juan Miranda made his way to the Yanks from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. And Greg Golson got his first major league hit on Wednesday.
What Did We Do? The Phillies were accused by the Rockies of stealing signs using binoculars (after the Dodgers and other teams have accused them of wrongdoing in the past). There’s nothing wrong with stealing signs the old-fashioned way, but using technology and/or binoculars is a no-no. Charlie Manuel denied the allegations (though he got pretty defensive about the whole thing), and somehow even dragged the Mets into the controversy, accusing them of cheating because they have a good home record. Has he seen them hit lately?
Perfect: Dallas Braden threw the 19th perfect game in major league history, and the second one for the A’s – Catfish Hunter pitched a perfect game against the Twins on May 8, 1968 (the Hall-of-Famer also went 3 for 4 and drove in three runs in that game). And somehow Alex Rodriguez was caught in the middle of it all. It’s uncanny how he does that, isn’t it? Braden’s grandmother had the quote of the year after the game when she spoke for many fans and players all over the country (and even some Yankee fans): “Stick it, A-Rod.” There’s no record, though, if Catfish Hunter’s granny made any derogatory comments toward Joe Pepitone 42 years ago for breaking the unwritten rule about having hair dryers in the locker room.
The Swamps of Jersey: The Giants and Jets put in their official bid to host the 2014 Super Bowl – rain, snow, sleet or shine. That’s how football should be played anyway, shouldn’t it? Along with the bid, Rex Ryan snuck in a note declaring that the Jets are the favorite for that game.
No Sleep Till Brooklyn: The NBA approved the sale of the Nets to Mikhail Prokhorov. The wealthy Russian is worth $13.4 billion, and he may need all of it to turn this franchise around. Maybe he can buy Julius Erving back from Philadelphia.
We Are the Champions: Saturday was the 40th anniversary of the Knicks’ first-ever championship and Willis Reed limping onto the court and into basketball immortality. The circa-1970 Knicks were one of the great teams of all time, and had a chance to win four or five championships. Between 1968-’69 and 1973-’74, they made it to the Eastern Conference/Division finals six consecutive seasons, won two NBA titles and made it to a third Finals but lost. Will the Knicks ever win again? We’ll know how close they are in 47 days, as the LeBron James countdown has officially begun with Cleveland’s series loss to Boston last night.
This Is Why I Love Turk Wendell: A where-are-they-now from the NY Post.