Monday, April 20, 2009

My first trip to the new Yankee Stadium; Why it may be time to fire Wedge, and a few other passing thoughts

My first trip to the new Yankee Stadium ended up much the same way as so many trips to the old park did - the Tribe holding on to a lead late into the game, only to be done in by a bad call, a bad bullpen, bad fielding, lousy clutch hitting, stupid managing, or just bad karma. Sunday it was at least five out of six of those factors that did in the Tribe.

The most talked-about moment of the game of course was the fan interference / two-run homer that put the Yanks ahead to stay in the seventh inning.

From my $350 seats (no I did not pay for them - we'll get into that later), I was an entire baseball field away from the chief action of the day. I clearly didn't have the angle - though from my seat it looked like Trevor Crowe had the ball in his glove and then lost it on his way back to earth.

My next-door neighbor, the biggest Yankee fan I know (that's saying something) and who just happens to have Sunday-plan tickets on the right field porch, said, "From my angle, slightly to the left, the ball was over the wall/on top of the wall, very close and the fan’s hands were above the players glove."

How's that for definitive.

After getting home and watching a replay on YES - the Yankees broadcast channel - it looked like a homer. Until I saw another replay, which clearly made it appear the fan was reaching into the field.

The point is, the argument is pointless. Plenty of things went wrong from the seventh inning on - and a split-second decision by an umpire was not one of them (I don't think).

Back to those other five things.

Let's start with lousy clutch hitting. With the bases loaded and one out in the seventh, the Tribe had Mark DeRosa and Vic Martinez coming to the plate. With those odds they should have squeaked across at least one run through osmosis. If Cleveland gets one or two more runs there, maybe Carl Pavano gets to go another inning. At the very least the bullpen would have more margin for error.

Though clearly, by what happened the rest of the way, there is no such concept where the Indians bullpen is concerned.

Our "lefty specialist" comes in to face two lefties. A single, a double - he's gone. Nice job Raffie.

Jensen Lewis - the one pitching this April like last April's version, instead of the August-September guy - is brought in to give up the controversial dinger. Having had to stand around for nine minutes while the umpires watched the replay, Lewis had to come out of the game - yielding to Raffie Betancourt, who fared no better.

Which brings us to the bad fielding, and more bad relief pitching.

After finishing off the seventh inning for Lewis with two Ks, Raffie Betancourt manged two quick outs in the eight, with the Tribe still down one. A double, 2 walks (one intentional) and something scored as a double in the box score made it 7-3 and Betancourt was gone. The three runs scored on a sky-high fly ball to left that Shin-Soo Choo apparantly gave up on as foul (some say he lost it in the sun) or was just not adept enough to get to for whatever reason. The ball dropped near the line in left filed (on the fair side) and the game was out of reach. (I love his bat, I like his arm, but oh that glove!)

Which brings us to bad managing.

Those of you who have read this blog over the years know that I am not a blame-the-manager-first type of guy. But Raffie Perez? With just a two-run lead? You can't just go by the long-term track record. Sometimes it is smart to ask, "what have you done for me lately?" Perhaps the 14.00-plus ERA should have served as a reminder to Wedge that Perez hasn't been getting it done so far this year. Jensen Lewis has been nearly as bad - so of course let's bring him in next.

Any thought of letting Carl Pavano (89 pitches through 6 innings) come out for the seventh instead?

Anybody ever heard of Joe Smith? He comes in two or three times, gets his one right-handed batter out then disappears. Might Wedge have rolled the dice and brought him into the game, even if it meant he would have had to face two, or dare we say it, three hitters? Seems like a better bet than what Lewis has been giving us lately.

Maybe Smith could have gotten us through seven, and Kerry Wood - who has pitched all of three innings in 13 games - might have been pushed for a two-inning save (especially with an off day coming up).

Do we need to try something different?

Didn't someone once say the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result?

I don't say this lightly. But since he is so firm in his ways - ways that seem to backfire on him regularly - maybe the something different we need to try is a new manager. Before this thing gets out of hand.

I say that not because I would have handled yesterday differently, or because the bad managing came on a day that I had tickets and am ticked because we lost.

There have been many times over the years I've been tempted to say it's time to pull the plug on Wedge, but then I think it over and say maybe not.

Well, he's been around for six-plus years now and where has the Tribe gone with him?

The first years were rebuilding years, so we'll look past them. In 2005, the Tribe was one of the big surprises in baseball. But when they needed just one win in the last week of the season to make the playoffs, they couldn't get it done. We can chalk that up to a young team that felt the pressure.

In 2006 there were, justifiably, some rather large expectations. Followed by an awful season. Again, we can say the guys were young. They weren't ready for the pressure.

In 2007 lots of things fell into place and the Tribe made it to the ALCS. They had a 3-1 lead in the series in fact. And then, like a guy on the high wire who makes it three-fourths of the way across before he mistakenly looks down, the Tribe got woozy and choked against the Red Sox.

Last year, again, was a year of high expectations. The season was over by Mother's Day. Once the heat was off, the Tribe managed to right the ship and finish at .500.

And now with most observers giving them at least an equal chance to anyone else to win the Central Division, they've started the season once again with a swan dive.

Are we picking up a pattern here?

Why can't this team play when there is something to play for?

Fans criticize the team's motivation and the low-key approach of the manager. I think this team has heart - but not stomach. They can't handle the pressure that comes with expectation, or moderate success.

Whatever the case, this manager has proven time and time again he can not get the most out of his players when the heat is on.

The Tribe has played 13 games. They have 19 to go before Mother's Day (an arbitrary choice perhaps, but one that seems to be at about the right point in the season). If there has not been a significant change in the team's fortunes by then, Wedge should be gone before the season can't be salvaged.

In the meantime, some quick decisions need to be made about how to get this thing going. Who needs to go. Who needs to replace them. Who should do what in the bullpen.

That said, let's get back to a more pleasant topic.

My first trip to the new Yankee Stadium yesterday was a lot of fun, despite the final score.

As you probably know, the park - on the outside - looks pretty much just like those grainy films you've seen of the original Yankee Stadium, prior to its refurbishment. The nostalgia rush is terrific.

Inside, as much as I thought the old place was fine, the new place is definitely a significant improvement.

At seat level, if you let your mind wander even a little bit, you feel like you are still at the old stadium. The dimensions are the same. The fans are the same, the "feel" is the same. Those of you who are local will be happy to know that even Freddie - the frying pan man - was able to make the transition to the new place.

The biggest improvement of all is in the concourses. The wide, open concourses. At the old place, they were narrow, dirty and tunnel-like. At game's end, with 50,000 people filing out you could scarcely move. In the new stadium there's plenty of room for everyone, you can see the field from the concession stand lines (many of them anyway) and the bathrooms are habitable by human beings after the third inning (something that was not true across the street.)

Still, with all of the improvements and amenities, I'll take Progressive Field and Camden Yards over the new Yankee stadium because they feel more "homey" or intimate. More like ballparks than a stadium.

As it turns out the first ticket I got to the new Yankee Stadium will likely be the best I'll ever have.

The face value on the ticket for the seat I was in was $350. It was nine rows from the field and to the right of the Tribe dugout, about even with the on-deck circle. Since there was no screen to contend with, as there is for seats right behind the plate, I, arguably, had the best seat in the place, especially when you consider that the seats in the first eight rows (in front of a five-foot walkway that separated my seat from those), were selling (or in this case, not selling), for $2,650. Yes, that is for one seat.

I was invited to the game by a friend of mine, Yank Poleyeff, who works for a big corporation in the city and who also is a long-time writer for the magazine Indians Ink. Yank and I met over the winter through this blog and now can depend on each other to jointly weather the slings and arrows that come the way of a Tribe fan at Yankee Stadium, rather than going it alone. (There's a long story about how he got the nickname Yank, but trust me he's a Tribe fan.)

Yank's buddy, Mike Francesconi, drove from well upstate New York (five hours each way and he got there in time for Tribe BP) to join us.

Thanks to the two of them for a great day of talkin' Tribe. A special thanks to Yank for the tickets and to Mike for taking the photos that accompany this posting.

It's been some time since I've posted. For those who have been checking back regularly, I thank you. I've had some issues intervene over the past few months that have made posting very difficult. I'm hoping to be able to pick it up in the days ahead. Please pass the word that the Tribe Fan In Yankeeland is back.


Chris Swartout said...

Too bad you didn't have a ticket for Saturday! I have watched that inning a few times, and all my Yankee friends were notably silent after the game.

Here's hoping a home stand will right the ship, though being an Indian fan, I have my doubts.

Ron Vallo said...

It's really early but I remember saying that around this time last year too. Let's hope the reaction is a bit quicker this year before it "gets late early" to quote one of the few Yankees I really like.

Anonymous said...

welcome back - another fine game tonight against KC - so much for joe smith - any other suggestions
can anybody relief pitch - good thing we got 8 runs


Eyeballing Truth said...

I look forward to reading about a Tribe fan in Fenway next!

Anonymous said...

Good to have you back, Ron! Not a good start for the Tribe, but I'm glad to hear that a real fan got one of the gadawfully overpriced tickets at the new Stadium. I'm be reading you...