Thursday, June 30, 2011

Superb CC fans 13 Brewers to seal sweep

Yankee Stadium- There was really no chance that CC Sabathia would stay in Milwaukee after the 2008 season, but that didn't stop him from hoisting the Brewers across his broad shoulders, trying to carry them to their first World Series title.

A date with the Yankees was all but inevitable, and Sabathia's winning flourish seemed a fit for the Bronx. Celebrated by a standing ovation on Thursday, 13 strikeouts in his pocket and on the way to a 5-0 win over the Brewers, Sabathia never felt more at home in the Bronx.

"I was pretty nervous," Sabathia said, flashing a toothy grin. "I didn't think I would be. That was my team, and that was a special moment I had with them in 2008."

As Sabathia crossed the foul line with one out in the eighth inning, he heard the cheers of 46,903 fans savoring a pitching performance that had his old teammates thinking, "Yep, that's the same old CC we knew."

"He's got a lot of close friends on that team," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "CC could spend a week on a team, and you'd fall in love with his personality. That's the type of guy he is. I'm sure it's always fun to face your old teammates."

Saying that he felt more jitters than even in the 2009 playoffs with New York, Sabathia's idea of fun was tying his career high in strikeouts, which he set on Sept. 14, 2007, with the Indians against the Royals.

Sabathia racked up the most punchouts by a Yankees pitcher since Roger Clemens on June 3, 2002, leading New York to its 15th win in 19 games and a sweep of the Brewers on his way to claiming a share of the Major League lead in wins with 11.

"This is a big series," Sabathia said. "These guys are in first place, a really good-hitting team, and we pitched well against them. I just wanted to finish it off today, and we were able to do that."

Sabathia has received 10 or more runs of support in six starts this season, but he did not ask for a whole lot of assistance from his offense this time. Nor did his catcher have to do much coaching, just requesting a heavy fastball that certainly did the trick.

"I just put the glove and he throws," Francisco Cervelli said. "He's the king here. That's it -- just hit the target."

Robinson Cano hit a two-run double in the first inning to give the Yankees an early lead off Brewers lefty Randy Wolf. Mark Teixeira added his Major League-leading 25th home run of the season -- the 300th of his career -- in the third to make it 3-0.

"It's very cool, especially in a win," Teixeira said. "They're always important home runs if you can help out CC, and he didn't need much today."

Cervelli contributed RBI singles in the fourth and eighth innings, helping the Yankees prepare for a six-game trip that will see them pay visits to the Mets and Indians.

In winning his fourth straight start and his eighth in a span of nine outings, Sabathia struck out the side in the first inning and fanned two each in the third, fifth, sixth and seventh.

Perhaps the biggest challenge Sabathia faced was in the third, as Prince Fielder dug in with the bases loaded and two outs. Sabathia whiffed Fielder, part of what would be a three-strikeout, hitless day for the slugger.

"It's like facing a Cy Young [Award winner]," Fielder said. "It's tough. It was real cool, though. Me and him are good friends."

As Fielder discarded his batting gloves and lumber, Sabathia acknowledged breathing a small sigh of relief.

"He's a great hitter -- one of the best in the National League, one of the best in baseball," Sabathia said. "To be able to get a strikeout there was big for us and big for the game."

The only batter Sabathia had trouble getting out was Ryan Braun, who hit three singles and drew a walk. That'll provide Braun with some ammunition the next time Sabathia fires a text message to a clubhouse that still talks about him in reverential terms years later.

"It's pretty cool to see those guys," Sabathia said. "You just try to make an impact, not even on the field, but just in the clubhouse."

Braun's single with two outs in the eighth brought in Boone Logan, and Sabathia was done after 118 pitches, 77 of which were strikes.

"Just a great performance by CC," Girardi said. "He was in control the whole day. The only thing that got him was his pitch count at the end."

Sabathia had no trouble leaning on those who followed him to wrap up the shutout, as Logan, resurgent in his role as the Yankees' lefty specialist, struck out Fielder upon entering in the eighth and Luis Ayala got the final three outs.

The moment when Sabathia towered over Girardi at the mound in the eighth, proud of his workload for the day, should be a feeling that the lefty should be used to after going 8-1 with a 2.70 ERA in his last nine starts.

But as Sabathia crossed the foul line, his workload done against some impressed and humbled old friends, the thrill of being the big man in New York still doesn't seem to have grown old for the left-hander.

"It felt good, especially here at Yankee Stadium, the biggest stage in baseball," Sabathia said.

Mets slowed by Verlander, missed chances

Comerica Park, Detroit- Eighty-one down, 81 to go, and here the Mets stand: third place, with a winning record, well into their most difficult stretch of the season. But there is more to it than that. They are playing without David Wright and Ike Davis, two of their best three power hitters. And yet over the past nine weeks, the Mets are 36-27, posting one of the league's best records.

So the Mets did not fret following Thursday's 5-2 loss to the Tigers because, in many ways, it was the mulligan that they deserved. Their offense had overachieved to such an extent during the team's recent four-game winning streak that they could afford a solitary glitch against Justin Verlander, one of the game's best pitchers, at Comerica Park.

They hiccuped and still they displayed some positive signs. The Mets swarmed Verlander, even if they did not overwhelm him in the same fashion they had other pitchers in recent days. If not for Mike Pelfrey's career-high five walks resulting in his briefest outing since April, the outcome may have been different.

As it was, the Mets muttered few complaints.

"We feel pretty good," catcher Josh Thole said. "As we should."

They feel good because they began a daunting 16-game stretch leading up to the All-Star break with consecutive series wins against two first-place American League teams -- all on the road. And they feel good because even in Thursday's defeat, they forced the game's hottest starting pitcher to labor, never quite allowing the game to slip out of hand.

"We had the utmost respect for them going in," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said, "but I didn't know they were that good."

Most of the significant damage against the Mets came in the third inning, when Pelfrey's free passes finally doomed him. After walking Jhonny Peralta to load the bases for the second time in three innings, Pelfrey allowed a sacrifice fly to Alex Avila and an RBI single to Ramon Santiago. Another run came around on Angel Pagan's throwing error, and that was enough. More than enough, really, despite the continued efforts of a record-setting offense.

Coming into the game with more runs over a four-game span than any team in franchise history, the Mets managed to tax Verlander early, forcing him to throw 98 pitches over the first five innings. Though Jose Reyes led the attack, doubling to lead off the game, walking in the third inning and singling in the fifth, he also made two outs on the bases. The Mets squandered their best rally in the fifth inning, putting runners on the corners with one out but not scoring. They touched Verlander for only one run, on Daniel Murphy's homer in the second, but they also created plenty of opportunities.

There was a play at the plate in the seventh inning, for example, when Tigers left fielder Brennan Boesch gunned down Lucas Duda attempting to score on Thole's fly ball. There was a two-out rally in the fourth inning, a pair of stray doubles off Detroit's bullpen late in the game, and Carlos Beltran's solo homer in the eighth. But the Mets simply could not replicate the offensive barrage that saw them pound out 69 hits and 52 runs over their previous four games. Nor did anyone expect them to.

"We were facing one of the best pitchers in the game," Beltran said, shrugging it away.

Of greater issue were the struggles of Pelfrey, who walked the bases loaded in the first inning, allowed Austin Jackson's RBI single in the second and was unable to complete five innings for the first time since April. Over 100 pitches by the fifth, Pelfrey actually limited the damage, considering the 13 baserunners against him. But that was all in relative terms.

"You're happy we had a good road trip," said Pelfrey, the losing pitcher in both defeats. "We won two series from two very good teams. But I want to get in on the winning, too."

Others could more clearly discern the context of Thursday's loss. Six games into the stretch that was supposed to break them, the Mets are playing, unquestionably, their best baseball of the season. Nothing easy lies ahead, with a Subway Series looming this weekend and a West Coast trip leading into the break. But the Mets are confident now in ways they could not have imagined one week ago.

"Right now, we're feeling good," Reyes said. "I know we lost this game, but we won two out of three. Every time we win two out of three, we're going to be in good shape."

"Even today, you face Justin Verlander," manager Terry Collins said. "Whether he had his good stuff or not, he's still an outstanding pitcher and we battled him."

So the Mets took solace on their plane ride back to New York City, believing their offense and pitching still have plenty left to give.

"I think we did pretty good," Beltran said, "even though we lost."

He felt positive. They all felt positive. Now officially halfway through the season, in fact, sitting in third place, the Mets have rarely felt better.

"If you didn't have respect for the Mets going into this game, there's something wrong with you," Leyland said. "It was very impressive. I mean, I was surprised myself."

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Brewers continue to face good test in Bronx

Yankee Stadium- The first-place Brewers have no doubt proven they're a club to be reckoned with in not only the National League Central, but also down the road come playoff time.

And while most of baseball has its eyes in Philadelphia this week as the Red Sox and Phillies face off in a potential World Series preview, there's no question that another potential Fall Classic matchup also could be happening in New York, no matter what the final outcome Tuesday.

"This is a very good team that has power and speed and they have the guys in the middle that can do a lot of damage," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of the Brewers.

Still, for all of the Brewers' assets, there are certain benchmarks a club must meet before they are taken seriously. For Milwaukee, one of those is winning on the road. The Brewers are 29-11 at Miller Park, but only 15-25 away from Milwaukee. Another is winning against top teams. The Brewers have struggled against some -- Cincinnati (2-7) and Boston (1-2) -- and played well against others -- St. Louis (4-2), San Francisco (2-1) and Philadelphia (2-1).

Wednesday's second game of a three-game series at Yankee Stadium is another chance for the Brewers to gain confidence in both of those areas.

"It's fun. I think all of us look forward to the challenge of playing against a great team," Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun said. "For us to get to where we need to be, where we want to be, you have to go in and perform and beat good teams.

"It helps to have an experience playing in this ballpark like this against a team that's this good. So I think we look forward to it, but every game counts the same."

Like most opposing managers, one of the Brewers Girardi is most impressed with is first baseman Prince Fielder, who is near the NL lead in RBIs, extra-base hits, home runs, slugging percentage, walks, on-base percentage and total bases. Prior to Tuesday's 12-2 win, Girardi said jokingly of Cecil Fielder's son, "you realize you're getting older when two series in a row, sons of former guys that you played with are here [Colorado's Eric Young Jr. being the other]."

"He was dangerous when he was 12 or 13 when we saw him hit the ball out of Anaheim Stadium. I mean, he's really dangerous. He's had a great year up to this point, been extremely productive, so just a really, really good player."

Brewers: Marcum good to go
Right-hander Shaun Marcum starts Wednesday for the Brewers, and said he will have no restrictions following a strained left hip that hindered him in his last two starts. Marcum pitched only one inning on June 17 in Boston before leaving with the injury, and was held to only three innings and 54 pitches in his last start against Toronto. He played catch at Miller Park on Friday, and said then that he didn't think there would be any issues in his next start.

"It's a non-issue," Marcum said. "I shouldn't have any restrictions on Wednesday, especially with the two extra days off."

Marcum, who the Brewers acquired this offseason from the Blue Jays, is 1-4 with a 6.55 ERA in 11 games (nine starts) against the Yankees.

  • Top prospect Mat Gamel was recalled from Triple-A Nashville on Monday as an extra bat for the Brewers' stretch of games in American League parks where they'll use the designated hitter. Gamel was Milwaukee's DH on Tuesday, going 2-for-4 with an RBI.

Yankees: Which Burnett will Yanks see?
Wednesday's starter, A.J. Burnett, has continued to puzzle the Yankees. Just this month, the right-hander is 2-3 with a 4.50 ERA. On June 8, he allowed eight runs (seven earned) in 5 2/3 innings. In his next start, he struck out eight and allowed one run in 7 2/3 innings. He's coming off yet another subpar outing, however, in which he allowed four runs on seven hits and five walks in 6 1/3 innings on Friday against the Rockies.

  • Derek Jeter took batting practice, fielded ground balls and ran the bases for the first time Tuesday in Tampa, Fla. Girardi estimated Jeter put forth 50-60 percent effort and wasn't sure on a timetable for the shortstop's return.

Worth noting
  • Braun extended his hitting streak to 18 games Tuesday. He is the only player in the Majors this season to have three hitting streaks of 10 or more games (11 games from April 15-26, 13 from May 10-23 and 18 from June 8-present).
  • With Tuesday's win, the Yankees are a season-high 15 games above .500.

Tweets from last night's Mets-Tigers game

(Tweets courtesy of MetsWFAN)

Reyes, Harris DH, Beltran, Murphy 3B, Pagan, Bay, Duda 1B, Turner, Thole, Dickey P. and btw, #VoteForTheMan.

Reyes leadoff single. #VoteForTheMan

Oh, those 2-out hits. RBI doubles by Murphy and Pagan. 2-0 Mets.

Jackson leadoff single. #NotTonightBoss

What do you call it when a guy hits the ball over the fence? Oh yeah, a home run. Thole time. 3-0 Mets in the 4th.

Bases loaded for Bay. #SlamWatch

Yeah, that's right. Jason Bay. #SlamWatch

Bases loaded for Beltran. Now what do we do?  
Slama Lama Ding Dong ... PUT IT IN THE BOOKS!! Mets 14 Tigers 3. Bay and Beltran are grand. #FiveHundredPlusOneWatch

Tex hits 24th homer as Yanks rout Brewers

Yankee Stadium- When Tuesday's rout was over, after the Yankees' 12-2 win over the Brewers gave them their 13th victory in 17 games and put them 1 1/2 games ahead of the Red Sox in the American League East, the players and their manager threw around a term not often heard during hot Bronx summers.


One of the men most responsible for that vibe is Nick Swisher, who hit his second home run in as many games, his 10th of the season and seventh this month.

"Right now more than anything, it's loose in here, and guys are laughing, having a good time, not stressing about things," Swisher said. "You know how it can be here in New York when you lose a couple games here and there. But right now, we feel that we got everything under control, not to be taken for granted in any way. But the way the guys come to the ballpark, the smiles on guys' faces, guys laughing, having a good time.

"And I always say for myself, when I'm laughing and having a good time, that's when I play my best. It might be the same for this team, as well."

Mark Teixeira also homered, hitting a two-run blast in the sixth inning for his 24th of the season, tying Toronto's Jose Bautista for the Major League lead. Teixeira has homered in his last three games.

Teixeira, who hit RBI groundouts to second base in the first and second innings, agreed with Swisher's assessment of the clubhouse.

"Winning obviously helps," Teixeira said. "It's the old, 'Does winning create good chemistry or does good chemistry create winning?' It's a little bit of both, and we're having a lot of fun together right now and we're winning some games."

Minutes earlier, Swisher offered a very similar take.

"There's always that debate whether winning causes fun or fun causes winning," he said. "But either way, I feel like we have both of it right now and we don't want to lose it."

Swisher dazzled in the field as well against the Brewers, throwing out Corey Hart at the plate from right field to end the sixth inning.

Asked if the homer or putout felt better, Swisher quipped: "I'm going to take both of them. Is 'C' an answer?"

Catcher Russell Martin, who caught the throw and tagged Hart out, offered Swisher the ball because, as Swisher recalled with a laugh, "That doesn't happen very often."

Until recently, neither did homers, or much of any strong performances from the left side of the plate for the switch-hitting Swisher.

But his last four homers have come off right-handers, and the 2010 All-Star, who entered this month a .213 hitter, has seen his average climb all the way to .249.

Teixeira, another switch-hitter who is no stranger to bad starts of his own, had pulled Swisher aside earlier this season to offer his encouragement.

"I just said, 'Hey man, you've done it for a long time. Just keep doing what you're doing,'" Teixeira recalled. "'As long as you're physically all right, just ride it out because it's going to turn.' And it did."

Swisher's play at the end of the sixth sent Freddy Garcia off with his fourth straight quality start, as the 35-year-old allowed just two runs over six innings. At 7-6, Garcia finds himself over the .500 mark for the first time since April, when he was 1-0.

He received seven runs of support in the first two innings, when the Yankees knocked around Zack Greinke on five hits and walked three times.

"I just couldn't pitch any worse than I did," said Greinke, who threw just 56 pitches over two innings, his shortest start in more than four years. "It was no one's fault but mine."

Nyjer Morgan slipping in the grass in center while playing Curtis Granderson's fly ball certainly did not help Greinke, who had hit Brett Gardner to lead off the first. Granderson was in with an RBI triple.

Casey McGehee, who could not make a close play at third on a Jorge Posada grounder with two on and one out, did not help Greinke's cause, either.

But Greinke was the only one to blame in the five-run second, which was highlighted by a Robinson Cano RBI single and Swisher's three-run homer to right.

Marco Estrada replaced Greinke to start the third and made it to the sixth unscathed before Teixeira's homer and Alex Rodriguez's second single forced in Zach Braddock.

Posada singled home Rodriguez, who scored twice, and Cano later scored on a fielder's choice.

Swisher added an RBI double in the eighth for the game's final run. The hitting, along with the souvenir from Martin, left Joe Girardi pleased.

"I think it's real important," the manager said. "I think the ribbing each other and having fun while you're playing ... because this is a long season and you have to enjoy what you do. And our guys do. And I think it's important and I think they keep each other on track and bust each other's chops once in a while."

Slam drought evaporates in Mets' grand win

Comerica Park, Detroit- The slam streak had long since become the stuff of local legend, bandied about as statistical fuel for criticism, motivation, surrealism, whatever. Mets manager Terry Collins brushed aside a line of questioning involving the streak last weekend, quipping that he'd happily settle for a solo shot. Forget grand slams. Power had been that scarce for the Mets, who had not hit a home run in five games.

The Mets had little time to ponder that opposing teams had out-slammed them, 18-0, since Angel Pagan last hit one on Aug. 1, 2009. Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran, the men who finally snapped the inexplicable streak on Tuesday and started a new one of their own, knew of the drought -- but not of its details. Pagan had no idea.

So when it finally ended Tuesday, behind slams from Bay and Beltran in a 14-3 victory over the Tigers at Comerica Park, the Mets -- above .500 for the first time since April 6 -- struggled to explain it.
"This game is so remarkable," starting pitcher R.A. Dickey said. "Right when you think you've got a handle on it, it shows you something entirely different."

Something like this, for example. Already up five runs on the first-place Tigers in the fourth, the Mets loaded the bases against starter Rick Porcello and reliever Daniel Schlereth, before Jason Bay crushed his third career grand slam over the left-field fence. An inning later, after another quick rally against Schlereth, Beltran hit his own slam over the same wall.

In the span of minutes, the Mets not only vaporized their drought, but also started a new slam streak. It's now two and counting -- in the black, not the red.

"In this game, there are things that take a while to happen," Beltran said. "No explanation for it."

Since Pagan's slam, the Mets had come up empty in 280 consecutive at-bats with the bases loaded, over the span of 299 games. The league's 29 other teams had combined for 197 grand slams during that time, including 18 against the Mets -- the most unanswered slams in Major League history. In terms of games, it marked the longest streak without a slam since the Marlins endured a 363-game dry spell from 2002-04.

In many ways, the streak was a product of the quirks and aberrations so unique to baseball. The Mets have suffered through losing seasons recently, but they have hardly been inept. They have struggled to hit home runs, but they have hit enough, statistically, that a slam should have long since happened.

Yet it did not. Somehow, it did not. When relatively anonymous opponents such as Justin Maxwell, Jake Fox and David Ross hit slams against them, the Mets proved unable to return fire. When more typical suspects such as Ryan Howard, Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez slammed them both at home and away, the Mets did nothing to respond. Eighteen times, their outfielders looked up and watched balls whiz over their heads, turning to see four-man carousels circle home.

Then Tuesday came. The Mets had not homered in five games. They were playing without arguably their top two power hitters, David Wright and Ike Davis. They were visiting Comerica, one of the game's foremost pitcher's parks, to battle a first-place team. They were opposing Porcello, a sinkerballer. Bay was still struggling to overcome a season-long slump. Beltran was struggling from the right side of the plate.

So of course they hit two grand slams; one simply would not have fulfilled their quota for the absurd. And of course Bay and Beltran were the men to do it, becoming the second pair of Mets to hit grand slams in the same game. (Beltran and Cliff Floyd were the first, in 2006.)

"It's hard," Pagan said. "When you have three men on base, you're not thinking about getting a grand slam, but getting the job done."

Still, it happens. In some ways, the streak seemed akin to the Mets' no-hitter drought, now halfway through its 50th season. Statistically, logically, it should have happened by now. Probably more than once.

"It was pretty heavy," Bay said of the slam drought. "So to go from that to two in one game was pretty unforeseen."

It was also an apt reflection of the offense, which has exploded in equally unforeseen ways. Playing two consecutive series against first-place American League teams, the Mets have won three in a row, averaging a dozen runs and 16 hits over that span.

Until Tuesday, they had done it mostly with singles and doubles and two-out hits, relying on the otherworldly offensive run of Jose Reyes. And it seemed as if they would continue doing so in the early innings Tuesday, after Reyes singled and scored to open the game, singled and stole a bag with two outs in the second and hit his 15th triple of the season in the fourth.

Reyes finished 4-for-4, reaching base five times, finishing a homer shy of the cycle and prompting Tigers manager Jim Leyland to call him "one of those dynamic-type players." Every other starting Mets position player recorded at least one hit. Even catcher Josh Thole hit his first home run of the season, backing Dickey, who allowed three runs in seven innings.

It was all quite unexpected and quite remarkable, even to the men involved. Asked to explain his team's multiple slams after a two-year drought, Collins twisted his face in an expression almost resembling pain.

"What can I say, except we got guys on and we came through with a big hit?" Collins said. "We came through with a big swing."

Two, in fact. Somehow, some way.

"I guess the no-hitter's next," Dickey said. "Right?"

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Collins, Dickey both looking forward to Detroit series

Comerica Park, Detroit- Tuesday will mark a homecoming of sorts for first-year Mets manager Terry Collins.

When the Mets travel to Detroit to kick off a three-game series with the Tigers, it will be the first time Collins -- a Midland, Mich., native -- returns to his home state as a Major League manager since Aug. 13-15, 1999.

Back then, Collins -- who plans to spend the off-day visiting his father, Bud, in Midland -- was the manager of the Angels, and took two of three from the Tigers a mere two hours away from his hometown. More than a decade later, Collins returns to Detroit to square off against the Tigers and manager Jim Leyland, who Collins coached under for many years in Pittsburgh.

"I'll have a lot of fun for the next three days," Collins said. "Before the games start, on the field, I'm sure [Leyland] will have a thousand stories. He'll tease me about how we should be in first place, like he does every year. His team is close to first, so we've got a challenge on our hands, that's for sure."

R.A. Dickey will try to make Collins' return a successful one, and the right-hander has a good track record for being able to do so.

Dickey has a 1.23 ERA in four career appearances at Comerica Park, including a shutout in his only start there, Aug. 20, 2003, as a member of the Rangers. In fact, Dickey also earned a save in that series, closing out a 4-2, 16-inning win on Aug. 18.

But Dickey will have his work cut out for him this time. Detroit has won 30 of its last 49 games dating back to May 3, and has the second-best record in the American League during that span, trailing only the Red Sox.

Standing in the way of a welcome homecoming for Collins will be right-hander Rick Porcello, a Morristown, N.J., native who grew up a Mets fan, although his father took him to a lot of Yankees games growing up.

But there will be no rekindled love between Porcello and the Mets, as the righty faces his childhood team for the first time in his young career and tries to end a three-game winless streak during which opposing batters are hitting .365 against him.

Taking the no-decision in his last start, the Tigers' right-hander gave up five runs on nine hits in just 4 2/3 innings against the Dodgers. Porcello (6-5, 4.50 ERA) struck out two and walked one.

Mets: Pelfrey adds cutter
Mike Pelfrey picked up on a trend that has spread throughout the league.

The Mets' right-hander recently added a cut fastball to his arsenal after noticing how effective opposing pitchers have been with it. After working with pitching coach Dan Warthen, Pelfrey introduced his cutter to hitters earlier this month, modeling the pitch after that of teammate Jason Isringhausen.

The cut fastball is now the sixth pitch in Pelfrey's arsenal and provides a complement to his two-seam fastball, which moves in the opposite direction of the cutter, when correctly thrown.

"It's another weapon," Pelfrey said. "I'll put it in their heads, hopefully get some outs with it, and it will be good."

  • Dickey was impressive when he faced the A's in his previous appearance, striking out nine while surrendering no walks and allowing just one run over eight innings. Over his past seven starts, the knuckleballer has a 2.23 ERA.

Tigers: Thomas has encouraging rehab outing
Detroit reliever Brad Thomas struck out the side in order on Monday in his lone inning of work for Triple-A Toledo.

While it is uncertain how long his Minor League rehab assignment will be, Mud Hens manager Phil Nevin told the Toledo Blade that Thomas will pitch an inning Tuesday on the road against Columbus, and then be re-evaluated.

Thomas, who went on the disabled list more than a month ago with inflammation in his left elbow, has been on rehab since June 14.

Worth noting
  • The Mets are 124-117 all time in Interleague Play. The Tigers are 139-120.
  • Prior to Tuesday's game, Justin Verlander and Alex Avila will be presented with commemorative awards from the Tigers in recognition of their efforts in Verlander's no-hitter against Toronto on May 7 at Rogers Centre.
  • Tigers catcher Victor Martinez is hitting .391 with nine doubles, two home runs and 21 RBIs over his past 29 games, dating back to May 27.

Yanks, Brewers to kick off Interleague set

Yankee Stadium- The Brewers make a long-awaited trip back to New York this week for an Interleague series that could have major implications for both clubs.

Milwaukee and New York, which sits atop the AL East after a series win against the Rockies this weekend, will meet for the series opener at 7:05 p.m. ET on Tuesday at Yankee Stadium.

It's the first New York meeting between the two teams since Interleague Play began in 1997. Before the Brewers switched to the National League, the teams were Divisional rivals during the 1970s and early 1980s, when Milwaukee came to prominence with Hall of Famers Robin Yount and Paul Molitor.

The Yankees own the all-time series between the teams, 208-182, with one tie, though the Brewers took two of three games when the teams last met in 2005 for an Interleague Series at Miller Park.

This trip affords the Milwaukee players their first look at the new Yankee Stadium.

"You hear about how much guys like hitting in it, so I'm looking forward to that," said Brewers right fielder Corey Hart, who experienced the old Yankee Stadium at the 2008 All-Star Game. "It's new, but it's still a cathedral, so it will be nice to check it out. Any time you go to a new stadium, you get excited. You never know when we'll play there again."

The Yankees will see the surging Zack Greinke (7-2, 4.77 ERA), as the young right-hander looks to earn his second straight win. Greinke, formerly with the Royals, has experience against the Yankees.

In the Yankees' win on Sunday against the Rockies, Colorado hurler Juan Nicasio retired the first 13 Yankee hitters he faced.

"You've got to remember, in Interleague Play, there are a lot of guys that you've never seen before," Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher said. "Obviously, the first time through, his fastball was really getting on us. I think we turned the dial up there coming through the second and the third time. We were able to put some runs on the board, but early, he was impressive."

But the Yankees should be a bit more familiar with Greinke, who is 2-3 with a 5.77 ERA in his career against New York. He has struck out 10 hitters in two straight starts.

Brewers: Changes coming
After Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke indicated over the weekend that the Brewers might make some moves in advance to the series opener, the club recalled left-hander Zach Braddock and infielder Mat Gamel from Triple-A Nashville on Monday.

Braddock, who spent time on the disabled list earlier this season while being treated for a sleep disorder, had been reporting late to the ballpark, and the Brewers decided to send him out. They have worked with an all right-handed bullpen since June 17.

The club mulled promoting Gamel before the previous trip to an American League city, but decided against it, because it was just three games in Boston.

This time, the team faces six straight days with a DH in New York and Minnesota, so bringing up an extra hitter makes makes some sense. In 76 games with the Sounds this year, Gamel is hitting .321, with 18 homers and 58 RBIs. He's logged 167 Major League plate appearances over the past three seasons, but has yet to stick.

Yankees: Rotation set for series
On Sunday, Yankees manager Joe Girardi named his rotation for the Milwaukee series. Freddy Garcia will throw on Tuesday, followed by A.J. Burnett and CC Sabathia.

Garcia has earned a victory in two of his past three outings, throwing seven shutout innings against the Reds in his most recent start.

"For the first three innings, I was a little off," Garcia said afterward. "But after the fourth inning, I pitched my game."

Worth noting
  • Since Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter was placed on the disabled list on June 14, leadoff hitters Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher have combined to go 14-for-45 (.333) with 12 runs, three doubles, a home run, two RBIs and nine walks in 12 games.
  • Brewers closer John Axford got a look at the old Yankee Stadium back in 2007, when he was a Yankees farmhand pitching at Class A Staten Island. Axford and some teammates were treated to a behind-the-scenes tour.
"I guess there's a little something in me that wants to get there again, maybe pick up three saves," Axford said.

  • Yankees closer Mariano Rivera has reached the 20-save plateau for the 15th time in his career, tying Trevor Hoffman for the most such seasons all-time.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Behind the News with Bill Ritter

June 27, 2011-The celebrating isn't surprising, given that gays and lesbians in New York now have a civil right most everyone else takes for granted.

The whoops and hollers you heard this weekend - and especially at the big Gay Pride Parade on Sunday - were natural reactions to New York State legalizing same-sex marriage. And, in the process, granting dignity and human rights to a large group that had been denied them.

Yes indeedy there are many who opposed legalizing same-sex marriage. Polls show it's less than half of Americans - still a sizeable number to be sure, but it means that most Americans are in favor.

This was, in the end, a question of individual freedom. No one should be forced to marry a same-sex partner. But if you find love and want to act on it, then why should any adult be stopped?

What's surprising to me were all the people who didn't care about marriage suddenly excited about the prospect. Maybe it wasn't the actual notion of marriage that got to them - just the fact that they now had the right to do it. But clearly there are many gays and lesbians who will now get married. Estimates of how much money that means for the state's economy range upwards of $200 million a year - I mean, c'mon, we're talking some fab parties here!

Those who opposed this new legislation that takes effect next month are not backing down in their criticism of it. But they will not be forced to condone it either. No one will be required to perform a same-sex marriage.

We'll have the latest on the fallout from the new law, tonight at 11.

Another big development in the last-minute state legislature compromises involved New York City's budget - and the big catastrophe predicted by Mayor Bloomberg over the budget, once again, isn't happening.

No teacher layoffs. No firehouse closings.

Remember the dire predictions about 4,000 teachers gone and 20 firehouses shuttered?

The Mayor has now pulled the doomsday card a couple of times. If he pulls it again, will some then feel justified to look at Mr. Bloomberg has nothing more than the boy who cried wolf?

They may not believe him next time.

We'll have the latest on who won, and who lost, at 11.

Also at 11, tenants in a million rent-regulated apartments in New York City tonight will learn their rent-increase fate for the next year.

The Rent Guidelines Board will hold its final vote tonight. The increases on one-year leases will range from 3 to 5.75%, and from 6 to 9% on two-year leases.

Any increase for people who are out of work or on a fixed income or who haven't gotten a raise in years is tough, of course. But it's also tough-sledding for landlords who are facing increases in the cost of just about everything. Why anyone would consciously want to be a landlord - I've no idea.

On the other hand, if they weren't making money, then few would actually do it.

Lucy Yang is covering the vote for us.

And with summer here and some peeps obsessed with their weight, we take a closer look at two diet fads, and whether they really work.

The first is baby food. Yup - some folks are popping those little jars of pureed fruits and veggies and other goodies that my 23-month-old loves. And, yes, they taste good (I have all sorts of opportunities to sample the fare when I feed her). But at only a few dozen calories per container, they are hardly the stuff adults can really thrive on. And there's no chew factor, let's not forget; which is why even my toddler gets food that involved actually mashing of teeth.

The second is a new kind of cleanse that floods your body for a few days with all sorts of fruits and veggies. Pounds and pounds of it.

Lots of peeps feel better after these kinds of cleanses, but experts warn that these kinds of treatments should be done under the supervision of a health professional. Kemberly Richardson has our story tonight at 11.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Meteorologist Jeff Smith (in for Lee Goldberg) with his AccuWeather forecast, and Rob Powers with the night's sports, including the travails of the L.A. Dodgers, which today filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The team, with its owners caught in a nasty divorce case, blames Major League Baseball for not approving the multi-billion dollar television deal that would have kept the team solvent. What a terrible state for what was once baseball's premier organization.

I hope you can join Sade Baderinwa and me, tonight at 11.

Rent Guidelines Board votes for rent hike

SoHo- The Rent Guidelines Board has increased the rent for the city's one million rent-regulated apartments.

One-year leases will go up 3.75%. Two year leases will increase by 7.25%. The 1% fuel surcharge for buildings heated by oil did not pass.

The board had proposed rent hikes ranging from 3 - 5.75% for one-year leases and 6 - 9% for two-year leases.

The new rates take effect October 1st.

Blagojevich guilty on 17 counts

Chicago- Rod Blagojevich, who rode his talkative everyman image to two terms as Illinois governor before scandal made him a national punch line, was convicted Monday of a wide range of corruption charges, including the incendiary allegation that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama’s Senate seat.

The verdict was a bitter defeat for Blagojevich, who had spent 2½ years professing his innocence on reality TV shows and later on the witness stand. His defense team had insisted that hours of FBI wiretap recordings were just the ramblings of a politician who liked to think out loud.

He faces up to 300 years in prison, although federal sentencing guidelines are sure to significantly reduce his time behind bars.

After hearing the verdict, Blagojevich turned to defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky and asked “What happened?” His wife, Patti, slumped against her brother, then rushed into her husband’s arms.

Before the decision was read, the couple looked flushed, and the former governor blew his wife a kiss across the courtroom, then stood expressionless, with his hands clasped tightly.

The decision capped a long-running spectacle in which Blagojevich became famous for blurting on a recorded phone call that his ability to appoint Obama’s successor to the Senate was “f---ing golden” and that he wouldn’t let it go “for f---ing nothing.”

The former governor spoke only briefly with reporters as he left the courthouse, saying he was disappointed and stunned by the verdict.

“Well, among the many lessons I’ve learned from this whole experience is to try to speak a little bit less, so I’m going to keep my remarks kind of short,” Blagojevich said, adding that the couple wanted “to get home to our little girls and talk to them and explain things to them and then try to sort things out.”

Blagojevich, who has been free on bond since shortly after his arrest, becomes the second straight Illinois governor convicted of corruption. His predecessor, George Ryan, is now serving 6½ years in federal prison.

The case exploded into scandal when Blagojevich was awakened by federal agents on Dec. 9, 2008, at his Chicago home and was led away in handcuffs. Federal prosecutors had been investigating his administration for years, and some of his closest cronies had already been convicted.

“The conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave,” U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said before a bank of television cameras after the arrest.

Blagojevich, who was also accused of shaking down businessmen for campaign contributions, was swiftly impeached and removed from office.

The verdict provided affirmation to Fitzgerald, one of the nation’s most prominent prosecutors, who had condemned Blagojevich’s dealings as a “political crime spree.” Mentioned at times as a possible future FBI director, Fitzgerald pledged to retry the governor after the first jury deadlocked on all but the least serious of 24 charges against him.

This time, the 12 jurors voted to convict the 54-year-old Blagojevich on 17 of 20 counts after deliberating nine days. He also faces up to five additional years in prison for his previous conviction of lying to the FBI.

Blagojevich was acquitted of soliciting bribes in the alleged shakedown of a road-building executive. The jury deadlocked on two charges of attempted extortion related to that executive and funding for a school.

Judge James Zagel has barred Blagojevich from traveling outside the area without permission. A status hearing for sentencing was set for Aug. 1.

Federal guidelines and previous sentences meted out to other corrupt Illinois politicians suggest Blagojevich could get around 10 years in prison. But judges have enormous discretion and can factor in a host of variables, including whether a defendant took the stand and lied. Prosecutors have said that Blagojevich did just that.

After his arrest, Blagojevich called federal prosecutors “cowards and liars” and challenged Fitzgerald to face him in court if he was “man enough.”

In what many saw as embarrassing indignities for a former governor, he sent his wife to the jungle for a reality television show, “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here,” where she had to eat a tarantula. He later showed his own ineptitude at simple office skills before being fired on Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice.”

To most Illinois residents, he was a reminder of the corruption that has plagued the state for decades.

For the second trial, prosecutors streamlined their case, and attorneys for the former governor put on a defense — highlighted by a chatty Blagojevich taking the witness stand for seven days to portray himself as a big talker but not a criminal.

Testifying was a gamble for the former congressman, who had promised to take the stand in his first trial but failed to do so after his attorneys rested their case without calling a single witness.

Prosecutors dropped Blagojevich’s brother as a defendant and cut down on the number of charges against the ousted governor. They summoned about half as many witnesses, asked fewer questions and barely touched on topics not directly related to the charges, such as Blagojevich’s lavish shopping or his erratic working habits.

Blagojevich seemed to believe he could talk his way out of trouble from the witness stand. Indignant one minute, laughing the next, seemingly in tears once, he endeavored to counteract the blunt, greedy man he appeared to be on FBI wiretaps. He apologized to jurors for the four-letter words that peppered the recordings.

"When I hear myself swearing like that, I am an F-ing jerk," he told jurors.

He clearly sought to solicit sympathy. He spoke about his working-class parents and choked up recounting the day he met his wife, the daughter of a powerful Chicago alderman. He reflected on his feelings of inferiority at college where other students wore preppy “alligator” shirts. Touching on his political life, he portrayed himself as a friend of working people, the poor and elderly.

He told jurors his talk on the wiretaps merely displayed his approach to decision-making: to invite a whirlwind of ideas — “good ones, bad ones, stupid ones” — then toss the ill-conceived ones out. To demonstrate the absurdities such brainstorming could generate, he said he once considered appointing himself to the Senate seat so he could travel to Afghanistan and help hunt down Osama bin Laden.

Other times, when a prosecutor read wiretap transcripts where Blagojevich seems to speak clearly of trading the Senate seat for a job, Blagojevich told jurors, “I see what I say here, but that’s not what I meant.”

The government offered a starkly different assessment to jurors: Blagojevich was a liar, and had continued to lie, over and over, to their faces.

Lead prosecutor Reid Schar started his questioning of Blagojevich with a quick verbal punch: “Mr. Blagojevich, you are a convicted liar, correct?”

“Yes,” Blagojevich eventually answered after the judge overruled a flurry of defense objections.

The proof, prosecutors said, was there on the FBI tapes played for jurors. That included his infamous rant: “I’ve got this thing and it’s f---ing golden, and I’m just not giving it up for f---ing nothing. I’m not gonna do it.”

Prosecutors may also have been helped by testimony from Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who was called to testify by the defense but whose testimony backfired. During cross-examination, he told jurors that Blagojevich did not appoint Jackson’s wife to head the Illinois Lottery in part because Jackson hadn’t given the governor a $25,000 campaign donation.

In closing arguments, prosecutor Carrie Hamilton likened Blagojevich as Illinois’ chief executive to a corrupt traffic cop tapping on car windows and pressing drivers for a bribe to tear up a speeding ticket.

MLB News: Dodgers file for bankruptcy protection

Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles- The Dodgers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in a Delaware court Monday, citing Commissioner Bud Selig's decision not to approve a media contract and triggering the start of legal proceedings that will decide the fate of Frank McCourt's ownership.

With payroll obligations of approximately $40 million due this week and the organization's cash drained, McCourt sought the court's intervention in staving off a seizure and sale of his club by MLB.

On Monday afternoon, Selig issued a statement regarding the bankruptcy filing:

"The Commissioner's Office has spent the better part of one year working with Mr. McCourt and his representatives on the financial situation of the Los Angeles Dodgers, which was caused by Mr. McCourt's excessive debt and his diversion of club assets for his own personal needs. We have consistently communicated to Mr. McCourt that any potential solution to his problems that contemplates mortgaging the future of the Dodgers franchise to the long-term detriment of the club, its loyal fans and the game of Baseball would not be acceptable.

"My goal from the outset has been to ensure that the Dodgers are being operated properly now and will be guided appropriately in the future for their millions of fans. To date, the ideas and proposals that I have been asked to consider have not been consistent with the best interests of Baseball. The action taken today by Mr. McCourt does nothing but inflict further harm to this historic franchise."

McCourt will ask the court to approve a $150 million loan from a J.P. Morgan Chase hedge fund to make payroll and will request an auction be held for the television rights, potentially luring Time Warner to bid against FOX Sports to maximize value. It was FOX's $3 billion deal with the Dodgers that Selig blocked last week. The priority for a bankruptcy judge is to ensure payment to creditors, which McCourt and the Dodgers hope play in their favor with the requests.

The case has been assigned to Judge Kevin Gross, who will have the first hearing Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. ET.

According to the filing, McCourt received a commitment of $150 million in debtor-in-possession financing that will "enable the Dodger organization to fully meet its obligations going forward," including making payroll and benefits payments coming due. There would be no disruption in the club's day-to-day business, the release stated. According to Sports Business Daily, hedge fund Highbridge Capital Management is providing the interim financing.

McCourt in the release also said the bankruptcy filing is meant to protect the franchise financially and provide a path that will enable the club to consummate a media transaction with FOX Sports, which Selig last week said he would not approve because it was not in the best interests of the Dodgers, their fans and MLB.

"Critically, the transaction is structured to facilitate the further diversion of Dodgers assets for the personal needs of Mr. McCourt," Selig said in a release last week. "Given the magnitude of the transaction, such a diversion of assets would have the effect of mortgaging the future of the franchise to the long-term detriment of the club and its fans."

McCourt repeatedly has said that he needs the upfront payment from the TV deal to pay his bills. He added in the release that MLB was made aware of his looming financial obligations over the past year, during which he negotiated the deal with FOX to provide needed liquidity, and has sought the Commissioner's approval "for months." A month-ending payroll of $30 million, which includes $8 million in deferred payments to ex-Dodger Manny Ramirez, is due by Thursday.

Ramirez is listed in the filing as the club's biggest creditor at $20,992,086, followed by another former teammate, Andruw Jones, at $11,075,000. The Chicago White Sox are owed $3.5 million (presumably to defray Juan Pierre's salary), and players long gone such as Kaz Ishii ($3.3 million), Pierre ($3.05 million) and Marquis Grissom ($2.7 million) also are listed, as are all current players with multi-year contracts and last year's first-round Draft pick, Zach Lee, at $3.4 million. Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully is owed $152,778.

The rejected FOX deal called for an upfront payment of $385 million, with $173.5 million going to the McCourts and their attorneys. Of the $385 million, $80 million would have repaid debt, $23.5 million would have repaid a personal loan from FOX used to meet last month's payroll, $10 million would be for legal fees, $10 million would have gone to the McCourts and $50 million could go toward a $100 million payment to Jamie McCourt if the club ultimately was ruled Frank McCourt's property through the divorce proceedings.

"The deal with Fox demonstrates that the Dodgers have enormous value which substantially exceeds the team's current and future liabilities," said Bruce Bennett, McCourt's bankruptcy counsel from Dewey & LeBoeuf, in the team release. "The team is entering the bankruptcy case with enough committed financing to meet all of its short term expenses and to successful reorganize. The media rights will, one way or another, generate enough value to facilitate a reorganization."

Selig appointed former Texas Rangers president Tom Schieffer to monitor the team's business operations on April 25 because of "deep concerns regarding the finances and operations of the Dodgers" and further ordered an investigation into the club's finances and related entities.

In a recent Dodger Stadium meeting, McCourt told employees he sent a letter notifying Selig that Schieffer and his group were no longer needed because the bankruptcy court has authority.

Divorce court documents have revealed that the McCourts took more than $100 million of Dodgers funds for personal use. McCourt has said the new FOX deal was structured in accordance with MLB guidelines and similar to those of other clubs.

"The Dodgers have delivered time and again since I became owner, and that's been good for baseball," McCourt said. "We turned the team around financially after years of annual losses before I purchased the team. We invested $150 million in the stadium. We've had excellent on-field performance, including playoff appearances four times in seven years. And we brought the Commissioner a media rights deal that would have solved the cash flow challenge I presented to him a year ago, when his leadership team called us a 'model franchise.' Yet he's turned his back on the Dodgers, treated us differently, and forced us to the point we find ourselves in today. I simply cannot allow the Commissioner to knowingly and intentionally be in a position to expose the Dodgers to financial risk any longer. It is my hope that the Chapter 11 process will create a fair and constructive environment to get done what we couldn't achieve with the Commissioner directly."

The release continued: "Under Chapter 11, the Dodgers will continue to operate in the ordinary course of business. Pursuant to that authority, and additional authority the Dodgers have sought in motions filed today with the bankruptcy court: All salaries of Dodger employees will be paid and all Dodger employee benefits will continue. The Dodgers will operate within their existing budget to sign and acquire amateur, international and professional players. Ticket prices will remain the same and purchased tickets will continue to be honored. All amenities at Dodger stadium will continue in place, and promotions will continue as usual. Dodger vendors and suppliers will be paid any post-petition amounts in the ordinary course, with the intention of paying any pre-petition amounts in full prior to or at the conclusion of the bankruptcy case."

Chapter 11 filings were also made for LA Real Estate LLC, an affiliated entity that owns Dodger Stadium, and three other related holding companies.

"It's sad," said Joe Torre, Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball operations, and the manager of the Dodgers from 2008-10. "The Dodgers were a very storied franchise in my years in Brooklyn growing up, and as a player going out to L.A. I know the decisions the Commissioner has made certainly weren't easy for him to make. He felt that the organization and the city deserved better than that."

This is the third MLB franchise to be placed in bankruptcy in recent years. Sam Zell did it with the Cubs in 2008 and Tom Hicks did it with the Rangers last year. In Zell's case, it was Cubs owner Tribune Co. that was placed in bankruptcy, but the team was sold out of the bankruptcy proceedings. In Hicks' case, the team was auctioned off to the current owners out of bankruptcy court.

MLB News: Nationals' Johnson debuts against Angels

Angel Stadium, Anaheim- Davey Johnson will take the field for the first time as a manager in more than a decade on Monday.

Johnson, who was named the Nationals manager for the remainder of the season on Sunday, will make his debut with the club when it opens a three-game set against the Angels. He last worked as a manager in 2000 with the Dodgers.

"Davey, I feel, is the perfect fit for this job at this particular time," Washington general manager Mike Rizzo said. "He is a guy who has a track record that is beyond reproach. He knows the system. He knows the staff, he knows the Major League club and he is a terrific baseball guy and a proven winning manager."

That proven record includes three World Series titles, including two as a player and one as manager of the 1986 Mets.

While the Nationals, winners of 13 of their past 15 games, will have to adjust to the new addition to the club, the Angels are still trying to get comfortable with all the personnel they have shuffling in and out of the lineup -- particularly at home.

The Angels have stumbled to a 15-20 record at Angel Stadium, despite being one of the best road teams in the league, and are batting just .235 with 14 home runs at home, compared to 45 on the road this season.

"A lot of guys are trying to get comfortable in a lot of ballparks, including our own," manager Mike Scioscia said. "We're talking about the young guys -- Peter [Bourjos], Mark [Trumbo], Hank [Conger] -- and also guys like Vernon [Wells] who are trying to get comfortable in our park."

Angels: Santana better than record indicates
Ervin Santana, who will toe the rubber for the Angels in the series opener, has been better than what his 3-8 record through 16 starts shows, according to Scioscia.

Although the righty has had issues with giving up home runs (15 in 102 1/3 innings), his numbers haven't been that far off from last season, when he won a career-high 17 games. His ERA is up slightly, 4.22 compared to 3.92, but run support has been at the root of his poor won/loss record.

"He's fine. He's definitely throwing the ball well enough to get on a run in the second half of the season -- and we're going to need him," Scioscia said. "Even though his won/loss record isn't very impressive, having seen every start and every pitch he makes, he's hitting spots and his breaking ball is where it needs to be. His stuff looks good -- better than a 4.00 ERA."

Added Santana: "My velocity is very good. My slider sometimes is good, sometimes not so good. My job is to keep the team in games, and I think I've been doing that pretty well. Sometimes things don't go your way and you have to just move on. That's what I do."

  • Outfielder Torii Hunter (posterior rib contusion) remains day-to-day for the Angels. He has missed three straight games since incurring the injury while running into a wall against the Marlins on Wednesday.

Nationals: Lannan looks to stay hot
While the Nationals have been surging through June, southpaw John Lannan has been just as impressive.

Lannan, who will take the mound in the series opener against the Angels, has won his last three decisions and has recorded six consecutive quality starts. During that stretch, the lefty has allowed only five earned runs, and has a 1.44 ERA in the month of June.

Worth noting
  • Santana is 9-7 with a 4.22 ERA in 20 Interleague starts, with 112 strikeouts in 121 2/3 innings.
  • The Angels are 146-113 all-time in Interleague Play, while the Nationals are 125-134, including an 8-4 mark this season.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Johnson to manage Nats through this season

U.S Cellular Field, Chicago- The Nationals made it official on Sunday afternoon, naming Davey Johnson as the team's manager.

This will be Johnson's fifth managerial stint. He skippered the Mets, Reds, Orioles and Dodgers and went a combined 1,148-888 with one World Series title with the Mets in 1986. The last time he managed in the big leagues was in 2000, with the Dodgers.

"Davey, I feel, is the perfect fit for this job at this particular time," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "He is a guy who has a track record that is beyond reproach. He knows the system. He knows the staff, he knows the Major League club and he is a terrific baseball guy and a proven winning manager."

Johnson will direct the Nationals on the field for the remainder of the 2011 season. He also agreed to a three-year consulting contract that will have him remain with the club after this season and allow him to participate in the hiring of his successor. The consulting contract starts with this season. He'll make his Nats debut on Monday against the Angels.

There is a possibility that he could be back with the club in 2012, but the Nationals have to go through an interviewing process which includes talking to minority candidates. If Johnson is the manager for 2012, the team will pick up an option that is part of his current contract.

"We followed the guidelines -- the fact that he is managing through the 2011 season and then we are going to go through a managerial search after the 2011 season allows us to do so and fulfill the Commissioner's Office requirements," Rizzo said.

Johnson's hiring came three days after Jim Riggleman resigned. Riggleman left the team after Rizzo declined to talk about picking up Riggleman's option for 2012. Johnson was the first person Rizzo thought of hiring as the new field boss.

"You automatically go into Plan B mode and try to think outside the box and make the decision rationally, clearly," Rizzo said. "We are fortunate to have such a clear-cut, easy alternative within arm's reach."

Johnson, 68, was a senior advisor to Rizzo before assuming managerial duties, and he takes over a team that has improved dramatically from last year. Entering Sunday's action, the Nationals were 39-38 and only 4 1/2 games behind the Braves for the National League Wild Card.

Johnson first dealt with the Nationals in 2006 as a consultant. He was the one who told then-general manager Jim Bowden to select catcher Jesus Flores in the Rule 5 Draft in December of that year. He didn't return to the club until November of 2009.

Johnson played 13 seasons in the Major Leagues for the Orioles, Braves, Phillies and Cubs, hitting 136 home runs in 1,435 games. His best season was 1973 with Atlanta, when he tied Rogers Hornsby's record with 42 home runs as a second baseman, hitting a 43rd as a pinch-hitter.

Johnson has managed in international play for the Netherlands and the United States. He was at the helm for Team USA during the 2008 Olympic Games, when his roster included injured Nats ace Stephen Strasburg.

Young Nunez delivers on Old-Timers' Day

Yankee Stadium- The Yankees' 65th Old-Timers' Day was highlighted by their youngest player and finished by their oldest.

A Sunday afternoon that began with the Yankees celebrating stars such as 86-year-old Yogi Berra and 82-year-old Whitey Ford featured 24-year-old Eduardo Nunez providing the decisive hit, a seventh-inning RBI single in the Yankees' 6-4 win over the Rockies that kept them in first place after the Red Sox's win earlier in the day.

Forty-one-year-old Mariano Rivera struck out the side in the ninth to end the day and tie the Mariners' Brandon League for his American League-leading 20th save of the season. Rivera tied Trevor Hoffman for the most 20-save seasons all-time with 15.

"I think it's so fitting," manager Joe Girardi said. "We were joking with Mo that he should come out and get in between a few of us. But Mo's still got some time left, which is great."

So too does 39-year-old Jorge Posada, whose solo home run in the fifth tied the game at 3.

Posada played as big a role as any in the pregame festivities, where the Yankees honored longtime athletic trainer Gene Monahan, who is retiring at season's end after 49 years with the organization.

Monahan, who received an assortment of going away presents from the club, threw out the first pitch before the Old-Timers' game, and requested that the former catcher Posada be the man on the receiving end of it.

"He wanted me out there with gear on, cleats, everything," said Posada, now the designated hitter. "I said, 'Geno, I don't have a mask.' He said, 'Go get one.'

"He got emotional. I was trying to keep him loose and keep him happy, and as soon as his family came out, he lost it a little bit but threw a strike. Mariano was giving him tips to throw a cutter -- he threw kind of a little bit of a cutter. Geno means a lot to us."

Posada and Rivera, the two oldest active Yankees, played key roles in the Old-Timers' Day victory. Those two, along with the injured Derek Jeter and recently retired Andy Pettitte, made up the "Core Four" that guided the Yankees to five World Series titles, four coming under former manager Joe Torre, who was part of the Old-Timers' Day celebration for the first time.

"Those guys are Old-Timers already," Mark Teixeira said of his teammates. "We love joking with them. It's a good thing Jeet wasn't here, because he would've heard it today too, especially being his [37th] birthday. But those guys have been so good for so long, you know they have to step up on Old-Timers' Day."

Teixeira accounted for the game's final run in the eighth inning with his 23rd home run of the season, tying him with Toronto's Jose Bautista for the Major League lead. It followed former Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez's two-run blast in the Old-Timers' Game.

Martinez's homer was the difference in the Bombers' 2-0 win over the Clippers in the Old-Timers' Game, and Teixeira took notice.

"I can't let Tino show me up on Old-Timers' Day," he said with a laugh. "I still hear a lot of people that want Tino back at first base every time I have a couple bad games."

Sunday's game started off on the wrong foot for Nunez, who started his 12th game straight game in place of the injured Derek Jeter by botching a double-play ball in the first inning, his ninth error of the season.

But after Posada and Russell Martin led off the seventh with a walk and an error, respectively, Nunez delivered the clutch blow, singling to the left side and bringing home Chris Dickerson, who pinch-ran for Posada.

Nunez said he has been able to put the tough plays in the field behind him, and it certainly helped that he was able to chat before the game with several Yankees greats, who told him to keep doing his job and to not worry about trying to replace Jeter.

"They gave me a lot of confidence," Nunez said.

Nunez's hit was his 12th since replacing Jeter, who celebrated his birthday by rehabbing from a right calf strain in Tampa, Fla.

Nunez has batted .293 since Jeter went down, and with five of his 12 RBIs this season giving the Yankees the lead, Nunez has even displayed some of the clutch hitting so often exhibited by the team's captain.

His RBI Sunday put the Yankees on top after they climbed back from 3-0 and 4-3 deficits, thanks in large part to two solo home runs by Ty Wigginton and one from Chris Ianetta, all off Ivan Nova.

Nova's counterpart, Juan Nicasio, sat down the first 13 Yankees hitters, calling to mind the likes of Dwight Gooden, David Wells, David Cone and Don Larsen on a day those four no-hitter-throwing pitchers took part in the Yankees' pregame ceremonies.

But with one out in the fifth, three batters changed that. Robinson Cano singled to the opposite field, Nick Swisher launched a two-run home run to right and Posada followed with a solo shot to tie the game at 3.

"When you throw two balls, three balls, then go to the zone, they can hit you," Nicasio said.

Alex Rodriguez tied the game at 4 with a single in the sixth, scoring Brett Gardner and giving Rodriguez an RBI in six straight games.

"The way Old-Timers' Day is -- you're bringing back the great Yankees that make this organization what it is -- you've definitely got to send those guys off on a win," Swisher said, before adding, "I feel like a little kid again. I try to soak this game up as much as I can. I just kind of hang around the guys [and] rub elbows, talk to them a little bit. Once again, it was just a wonderful day."

Reyes, Mets' glove work carry Gee to win

Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas- Again, the Mets did not hit a home run. Again, they did not need to.

New York's singles barrage continued Sunday in an 8-5 victory over the Rangers at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, giving the Mets a key series victory over the reigning AL champions. Rapping out at least a dozen hits for the second straight day, the Mets opened their most daunting stretch of the season with two wins in three games.

For the second game in a row, Jose Reyes led off with a single, this time stealing second base and scoring on a passed ball. Reyes, who finished with three singles and a his 14th triple for his league-leading 39th multihit game of the season, drove in the Mets' third run in the second inning, and later scored on Carlos Beltran's two-run single.

Reyes also made a critical play in the bottom of the first when, after the Rangers had scored twice to take a 2-1 lead and threatened for more with the bases loaded and two outs, the Mets' shortstop gloved a hot grounder off the bat of Taylor Teagarden and threw to second for the forceout to end the inning.

Two additional runs came around in the sixth inning for the Mets, on an RBI double from Daniel Murphy and a run-scoring single by Ruben Tejada. By the time they were done, the Mets had recorded 12 hits against Rangers starter Derek Holland, scoring seven runs. Their only starting position player without a hit was left fielder Jason Bay, who finished 0-for-4.

The offense was enough for Mets starter Dillon Gee, who grew up in Texas and played college ball at the nearby University of Texas-Arlington. Pitching in front of roughly three dozen family members and hundreds of fans from his hometown of Cleburne, Gee allowed three runs on eight hits over six innings.

Michael Young opened the scoring off Gee with a solo homer in the first, with Mitch Moreland adding an RBI single later in the inning. But Gee settled down to retire seven straight Rangers and submit three consecutive scoreless innings, before allowing a third run on Young's single in the fifth.

It was a fine beginning to a most daunting stretch for the Mets, who are scheduled to wrap up the first half of their season with road series against the Rangers, Tigers, Dodgers and Giants, all sandwiched around a Subway Series matchup with the Yankees at Citi Field.

The school from hell

Kids hoot and yammer so loudly that their ruckus drowns out the teacher. A trash can is overturned in class and dumped. Grimy floors are littered with sunflower-seed shells, spit out by the hundreds.

Books and supplies fly out the windows. Mouse droppings are everywhere, even on the computers.

MS 344, the Academy of Collaborative Education in Harlem, is a hellhole where teachers should get combat pay -- they are cursed, assaulted and sometimes groped.

"It was literally war," said a teacher who once found a sticky used condom in her purse. "I was pushed, shoved, scratched, thrown against the wall, spit on and pickpocketed. I just wanted peace."

The Department of Education has tried twice since last year to shut MS 344, the city's worst-performing middle school. MS 344 has made the state's list of "persistently dangerous" schools, and just two of 88 eighth-graders last year passed the state math or reading exams.

But the United Federation of Teachers and the NAACP went to court to block the closure and 21 others, arguing the DOE did nothing to fix the ailing schools. A Manhattan judge heard arguments last week and is expected to rule soon.

Meanwhile, MS 344 has festered.

Letters from its staff to ex-Chancellor Joel Klein begged for Principal Rashaunda Shaw's removal. They complain she's a tyrant who does nothing to impose discipline and respect. They charge she's always late, barely leaves her office "except for the bathroom," and hired a sister-in-law and her boyfriend's ex-wife, among other cronies.

Shaw, 35, also hired former Staten Island Assistant Principal Odufuyi Jackson, a friend who was busted in 2009 on felony charges that he conspired to steal more than $100,000 in Social Security benefits.

He pleaded guilty last year to attempted fabrication of business records. The DOE demoted Jackson to teacher, but Shaw has him doubling as a dean.

Shaw referred questions to the DOE press office. A spokeswoman said only, "A number of allegations are being investigated."

"It needs to be closed, closed, closed, because it's an unsafe place for children," a teacher said of the school. "It's heartbreaking that the small percentage who want to learn don't get the education they deserve."

Insiders gave The New York Post a sampling of the crime and lack of punishment.

  • A teacher was transferred after a student threatened to rape his wife.
  • A math teacher who tried to stop a student from hitting him was accused by Shaw of using "corporal punishment."
  • A scrawny boy pulled out his wallet while surrounded by tough kids in the hall. A teacher learned the kid was robbed by the same gang every day for a month. Shaw reprimanded the teacher for phoning the victim's mom.
A UFT spokesman said the union has met with MS 344 staff in the past year on their safety, health and classroom woes, including "the lack of administrative support" and alleged harassment by Shaw. But the union could cite no results from its effort.

Gee set for homecoming start against Rangers

Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas- When Mets right-hander Dillon Gee takes the mound at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on Sunday afternoon, it won't be an overstatement to say he'll be living a childhood dream.

Gee grew up about 45 minutes from Arlington in Cleburne, Texas, went to school at the University of Texas-Arlington, and even worked in the parking lot at the ballpark back in the day.

He'll be meeting Derek Holland on the mound when the Mets and Rangers wrap up their Interleague series, so he'll be a member of the opposition for this dream outing. But it's little wonder Gee couldn't help but gush this weekend when meeting Rangers icon and now owner of the club, Nolan Ryan.

"It was awesome," said Gee, who was in attendance for Ryan's seventh no-hitter. "Obviously, I grew up watching him and idolizing him growing up, so to be able to meet him and get a ball signed was pretty special."

With about 40 family members and hundreds more expected to come from Cleburne, it's safe to say Gee will have more support at Rangers Ballpark than at any other road venue.

But once Holland releases the first pitch to get Sunday's game under way, it'll all be about two teams tussling over the rubber match in the Mets' rare visit to the Rangers' home turf.

Holland will be making his start on an extra day's rest, coming off a victory over the Astros in which he pitched into the eighth inning for the third time in four starts. He bounced back from a rough one in which he'd allowed six earned runs in five innings against the Yankees.

"To me, there really wasn't that much of a difference," Holland said. "I just executed a little bit better, and my defense made plays for me. The offense did what they always do, but, for me, I think it was just better execution."

Meanwhile, Gee's seven-game winning streak, the longest of his career, came to an end in his last start when he allowed four earned runs in four innings against the A's, thanks in large part to a career-high six walks. That was the first game the Mets have lost among the 11 games in which Gee has appeared this season.

Mets: Bay, Turner should be back Sunday
Left fielder Jason Bay and third baseman Justin Turner are both expected to be available to start Sunday's game after missing Saturday's contest.

Bay had a stiff neck Tuesday and aggravated it after making a diving catch Friday, and Turner aggravated his jammed left thumb in the series opener.

"It's nothing extreme or out of the ordinary," said Turner, who has 29 RBIs in his last 35 games. "It just stung me a little bit."

  • Jose Reyes upped his Major League lead with his 38th multihit game Saturday, also raising his National League lead in runs scored to 58.

Rangers: Andrus to sit out till Tuesday
Shortstop Elvis Andrus' sprained left wrist is not expected to land him on the disabled list, but manager Ron Washington said he's not considering using Andrus the rest of the weekend series against the Mets.

Andrus injured the wrist sliding into third base Friday night, but Washington didn't think the slide was at fault for the injury. Washington said it "was one of those freak things where he just happened to roll over on his wrist."

Since his debut on Opening Day 2009, Andrus has missed consecutive starts only twice, both coming last year: Sept. 6-9 for four games, and Sept. 26-28 for two. Andres Blanco subbed at short Saturday, going 1-for-4.

  • Michael Young recorded his fourth consecutive multihit game Saturday, and has an 11-game hitting streak. He has batted .404 during the streak, going 19-for-47 with four doubles with three homers.

Worth noting
  • Before the Mets scored 14 runs (11 earned) in nine innings against them Saturday, Rangers pitchers had allowed 23 runs (18 earned) in 90 innings of work in Interleague Play so far this season.
  • The Rangers will travel to Houston for the second leg of the battle for the Silver Boot with the Astros, starting Tuesday. The Mets travel to Detroit to meet the Tigers.

Youngsters face off after Old-Timers meet up

Yankee Stadium- The Rockies will turn to rookie right-hander Juan Nicasio on Sunday in the rubber match of a three-game series at Yankee Stadium, and they'll need the 23-year-old to focus on changing speeds while also throwing strikes.

In five starts since Nicasio came up from Double-A Tulsa, he's thrown 345 fastballs (226 for strikes, or about 66 percent), but he hasn't turned much to his breaking and offspeed pitches. He's thrown 53 changeups and 57 sliders -- a pitch on which he relied too heavily during his last outing, a six-run, 4 2/3-inning performance against the Indians on Monday.

"There's going to be some on-the-job training with a guy like this, with the continued development of his changeup, which is a work in progress," manager Jim Tracy said. "It's capable. We've seen some good ones be thrown. Yet what you saw [in his last start] was a young guy who made a couple of mistakes."

The Yankees' lineup, of course, is one that's unforgiving with mistakes. Winner of 11 of its last 15 and seven of nine at home, New York won decisively on Saturday afternoon, 8-3, despite a late rally from the Rockies that saw them plate all of their runs in the final two frames.

For the Yankees, right-hander Ivan Nova will try to build on his last start, when he shut down a potent National League offense in the Reds, whom he held to one run in eight innings, walking none and striking out seven. That was Nova's third straight win and the longest outing of his career, and Nicasio could take notes -- the Yankees are urging Nova to be less of a predictable fastball-curveball pitcher.

Much attention will be paid to Sunday's pregame festivities at Yankee Stadium, where the 65th Old-Timers' Day game will be held.

Former Yankees manager and current Major League Baseball executive vice president for baseball operations Joe Torre is set to appear, as are Lou Piniella and Bernie Williams -- all first-timers.

"Joe [Torre] is not going to be able to play tomorrow," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, Torre's successor. "He had shoulder surgery, so he's on the DL, but maybe he can pinch-run or something.

"But I love when they come back. I'm looking forward to seeing Lou and Joe and Bernie -- you know, the guys that haven't been to [an] Old-Timers' game, like Clay Bellinger. ... I haven't seen him in a while, and it makes it really nice.

"I love when all the guys come back. ... I'm always amazed at how well some of the guys still swing the bat and get around the bases."

Williams, who hit .297 in his 16 big league seasons, all with the Yankees, is 42. Girardi spent four years as his teammate and would prefer not to think of Williams as an "Old-Timer."

"No, not really, because that would make me an Old-Timer," Girardi said. Gates are set to open at 10 a.m. ET for fans with tickets, and ceremonies are slated for an 11:30 a.m. start.

Rockies: Street unavailable Saturday
Rockies closer Huston Street felt tightness in his right groin after notching his 23rd save on Friday night in the series opener, a 4-2 Colorado win, and Tracy said Street was off limits on Saturday.

Street has done well in his career against the Yankees, posting a 0.64 ERA and converting four of five save chances. He played catch with a Rockies trainer on Saturday morning but didn't feel 100 percent.

  • Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who went 2-for-3 on Saturday, is batting .471 (8-for-17) with two home runs in five career games against the Yankees.

Yankees: Birthday boy Jeter continues to heal
Derek Jeter, the Yankees captain who is six hits shy of 3,000 for his career, will celebrate his 37th birthday on Sunday. Jeter took 27 swings off a tee and 30 swings of soft toss on Saturday at the Yankees' Spring Training complex in Tampa, Fla., according to The Associated Press.

Out with a right calf strain, Jeter played catch for a fifth straight day but did not run. Technically, Jeter could return from the DL on Wednesday, but the Yankees expect his recovery to sideline him longer.

  • Jorge Posada went 3-for-4 on Saturday, matching his season high in hits, and he's hit safely in 10 of his last 11 starts since June 5. He's hitting .405 (17-for-42) in those games.

Worth noting
  • Gene Monahan, the Yankees trainer who will retire at season's end after 49 years of service to the organization, is scheduled to throw out Sunday's ceremonial first pitch.
  • Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and Goose Gossage, David Cone, Ron Guidry, Don Larsen, "Moose" Skowron and Darryl Strawberry are also scheduled to participate in Old-Timers' Day.

With A-Rod's help, CC first to 10 wins

Yankee Stadium- Alex Rodriguez began the week in a cramped hallway outside the visitors' clubhouse at Wrigley Field, denying a report that he had a left shoulder strain and insisting that part of his body felt like any other through the course of a 162-game season.

On Saturday, Rodriguez found himself in the spacious home clubhouse inside Yankee Stadium answering questions about another part of his body, this time his right knee.

Rodriguez recorded two hits and drove in three runs on Saturday in the Yankees' 8-3 win over the Rockies, but manager Joe Girardi said after the game that his star third baseman has been dealing with a sore right knee since last Sunday night in Chicago.

Rodriguez said he caught the knee on Sunday as a baserunner at third on a wild pitch in the sixth inning, as he pivoted back to third after thinking of running home. He scored one pitch later on a Russell Martin sacrifice fly.

"It's been pretty much the same way since Cincinnati, but it's getting better," Rodriguez said after Saturday's win. "I think there are some injuries you can play through and some you can't, and this one is one I feel like I can play through."

Rodriguez said that team doctors assured him he cannot aggravate the injury, and his performance since the injury has validated those claims. Rodriguez has recorded 10 hits and batted .556 in the five games since the report on his shoulder surfaced, prior to the game in which he hurt his knee. He has recorded hits in six straight games and finished Saturday as the Yankees' only .300 hitter.

Ramiro Pena replaced Rodriguez at third on Saturday to start the eighth inning.

"I told him that he's beat up," Girardi said. "He's beat up. His legs are sore, and it's that time of year. So I had a chance to get him out, and I took him out."

That left CC Sabathia to take center stage in his eighth and final inning. The big left-hander dazzled all afternoon, striking out a season-high nine batters while walking just one. He was the winning pitcher for a third start in a row and seventh in a span of eight outings, becoming the Major Leagues' first 10-game winner on the season. He had not recorded a win in his first four starts.

In his 85th start with the Yankees, Sabathia matched Chien-Ming Wang as the fastest pitcher to reach 50 wins in pinstripes over the last 30 years.

A two-out, pinch-hit RBI single by Seth Smith accounted for the only Rockies run scored off Sabathia.

"His stuff was as good as I've seen it all year," Girardi said. "He located his fastball extremely well, his slider was good, his changeup was good. It was as good as I've seen him all year."

Colorado's only other threat against Sabathia came in the sixth inning, which began with a pair of singles. But Rodriguez saved Sabathia by turning a Troy Tulowitzki grounder into a 5-4-3 double play that cleaned the bases and ended whatever momentum the Rockies would generate against the southpaw.

"He was lights-out today," Rockies designated hitter and former Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi said. "That's what he normally does. He's their big ace, and he came with it."

Buddy Carlyle came on in the ninth and surrendered a two-run home run to Ty Wigginton.

Rodriguez recorded the third of the Yankees' three first-inning singles, driving in Curtis Granderson to make it 2-0. He followed Granderson's single and Mark Teixeira's double in the third by hitting a two-run double to right-center field to make it 4-0. Nick Swisher's sacrifice fly drove Rodriguez home two batters later, making it 5-0.

"I feel good," Rodriguez said. "Today is a great example of when I'm doing things right at the plate, hitting the ball to right field, two-strike hitting and not try to do too much, not try to overswing."

Even the one time Rodriguez did not get a hit, in the seventh inning, he reached base after a miscommunication between Chris Nelson and Eric Young in shallow right field resulted in a dropped ball, though Young recovered in time to throw Teixeira out at second.

Teixeira, meanwhile, finished the day as the Yankees' leading home run hitter by blasting a two-run shot to right-center field in the eighth for his team-leading 22nd of the season. The long ball put Teixeira one behind Toronto's Jose Bautista for the Major League lead.

That power is something that has eluded Rodriguez for much of this season. The Majors' active career home run leader and sixth all time with 626, Rodriguez has hit 13 homers this season, driving in 50 runs.

But both Rodriguez and Girardi said after the game that home runs are not a necessary means for driving in runs in a lineup as lethal as the Yankees'.

"As long as I'm having good at-bats and I'm hitting the ball the other way, and walking and the team is winning, I've never really worried about the long ball," Rodriguez said. "Those come in bunches."

Beltran, Duda lead Mets' outburst in win

Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas- Ever an optimist, even Terry Collins admitted after Friday's game that his team cannot match the Rangers slug for slug. Only one active Mets player entered this weekend with double-digit homers; no one else on the team could boast more than four.

How, then, to defeat a Rangers team so capable of changing games in an instant? How, then, to compete against a premier American League team in a homer-happy American League park?

The Mets singled 13 times Saturday and doubled four times, backing Jon Niese in a 14-5 victory that could best be called "relentless."

That's how.

"I don't know what it was," Collins said. "We just got balls and put good swings on them."

It was apparent from the game's opening moments that the Mets would have little trouble hitting Rangers starter Alexi Ogando, who entered the day ranked seventh in the AL with a 2.66 ERA and fifth with a 0.98 WHIP. After Jose Reyes and Willie Harris led off the game with consecutive singles, Carlos Beltran tripled home both runners to give the Mets an early lead.

The Mets were already up three runs in the third inning when they struck again, this time on Lucas Duda's two-run double and Josh Thole's RBI single.

"I was trying to make my pitches, and I couldn't get control of it," Ogando said. "I was falling behind in the count, so I had to come over the plate."

The result was offense. Lots of it. And there was more.

Long after Ogando's departure, the first eight batters to face Dave Bush and Michael Kirkman in the sixth inning all reached base, six of them driving in runs. Duda provided the primary highlight with his second two-run double of the day, which fell feet short of a grand slam and helped him set career highs with four hits and three doubles, the trio of doubles tying a Mets single-game record for the club (now done 25 times).

But he was far from alone. All nine Mets starters reached base at least once, all but Angel Pagan -- who flied out to the warning track in the eighth inning -- recording at least one hit. Six Mets batters -- Reyes, Harris, Beltran, Duda, Thole and Ruben Tejada -- finished with multiple hits.

As a result, the Mets scored more runs than they had in their previous five games combined. They were relentless. It was therapeutic.

"It was fun," Duda said. "Texas is a tough ballclub. They pitch well, they play defense well, they hit well. It's a great team. It was just a fun day. Everything was clicking for us."

The only troubling aspect for the visitors surfaced in the sixth inning, when Niese left the game with an irregular heartbeat. But even that did not overly concern the Mets, who considered the issue minor and planned to administer further tests next week. The team removed Niese simply as a precaution, given both the score and the Arlington heat.

To put it bluntly, the Mets no longer needed him. Prior to his departure, Niese drew comfort from his Texas-sized margin for error, allowing back-to-back homers to Adrian Beltre and Michael Young in the fourth inning, but otherwise holding the Rangers in check.

"Our hitters did an outstanding job getting that early lead," Niese said. "It was great. It's fun to watch them when they hit like that."

It is not something that happens often -- especially not lately, with David Wright and Ike Davis, two of the team's top power threats, both on the disabled list nursing serious injuries. Prior to the game, Collins burst out laughing when asked how he could generate more offense from a team ranked 26th in the Major Leagues in homers.

"If I can do it, I'll have a bigger job than this," Collins cracked. "I'll be the world hitting coach."

The Mets, Collins knows, cannot bottle this type of game. They will not always be as sharp and as fortunate as they were on Saturday, in easily their most productive offensive game of the season. Most days, the Mets will not come close.

But as Duda noted, on a personal level, Saturday's exaggerated successes helped to give him confidence. And perhaps there's something to that. Perhaps if the Mets can replicate some of the swagger they earned in pounding the Rangers without the injured Wright, Davis, Jason Bay and Justin Turner, they can start to punish opposing pitchers on a more consistent basis.

For now, they'll simply enjoy their blowout victory for what it was.

"It was one of those days today," Collins said. "We put some good swings on the ball. We attacked."

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Niese, Ogando set to square off in middle game

Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas- Friday's 8-1 loss marked the beginning of one of the toughest stretches of the season for the Mets, who face the Rangers, Tigers, Yankees, Dodgers and Giants in their final 15 games before the All-Star break -- with all but three of those games coming on the road.

On Saturday, that stretch continues in its early stages as New York's Jon Niese (6-6, 3.70 ERA) faces Rangers right-hander Alexi Ogando (7-2, 2.66) at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

"This whole 16 days ... I'd say they're pretty important," said Mets manager Terry Collins, who hopes to have third baseman David Wright back after the break. "We've still got plans to get everybody on the same page in the second half and hopefully make a run at it, because our pitching has been great. If we can continue to make the lineup better where we can score for them a little more, we'll win some games."

Making the lineup better Saturday against Ogando will be a challenge, even though the Rangers' right-hander has cooled a little since his hot start. His last outing -- when he allowed three runs (one earned) in five innings -- was better than his previous start, in which he allowed six runs on six hits and lasted only 1 2/3 innings.

Ogando threw only 72 1/3 innings last season between the Minors and Majors, but already has thrown 88 innings this season. Despite the jump in his workload, Ogando said his arm is fine.

"I have been working hard," Ogando said. "Believe me, really hard. I haven't felt anything. That tells me that even though I have thrown more innings than last year, I have worked hard and not had any effects."

Opposing Ogando is Niese, who is coming off a rough outing against the Angels in which he allowed five runs (four earned) on eight hits in four-plus innings. That outing broke a six-game stretch in which Niese had posted an ERA of 1.58.

Mets: Reyes back in Texas
This weekend, Jose Reyes is returning to where it all began. Eight years ago, the Mets' shortstop made his Major League debut in Texas, and Reyes said he remembers almost every detail of that day.

"I went out to stretch and saw the stadium, and I said, 'Wow. This is amazing,'" Reyes said. "I had never had the opportunity to be in a big league stadium."

Reyes said his biggest thrill in that game came following his second hit, when then-Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez wished him good luck.

"Everybody is so crazy about Alex Rodriguez in the Dominican," Reyes said. "I used to see him on TV all the time, and now I had an opportunity to be on the same field as him. It's something I'm going to never forget."

  • Mets starters have a 2.73 ERA in their last 28 games.

Rangers: Napoli nearing rehab assignment
Mike Napoli (strained left oblique) took swings off a tee and against soft-toss pitching Friday. He hopes to take take full batting practice by Sunday and, perhaps, begin a rehab assignment next week.

"I feel good," said Napoli, who is eligible to come off the disabled list on Tuesday. "I don't feel it at all."

Rangers manager Ron Washington said he would like to see Napoli get at least 20 at-bats in the Minors before he returns.

  • Yorvit Torrealba will start behind the dish on Saturday, while Taylor Teagarden will catch Sunday.

Worth noting
  • Niese is 2-1 with a 5.40 ERA in four career Interleague starts.
  • While Friday began a tough stretch for New York, it marked the beginning of a stretch for the Rangers in which 16 of their 19 games will be played at home.
  • Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton has hit safely in his last 18 home games in Interleague Play, hitting .441 with five home runs and 15 RBIs in that stretch.
  • Texas' Michael Young has a 10-game hitting streak.