This was one of those games during which fans have to remind themselves: even the very best teams lose 60 times a year. At some point last night – I think it was right around when Matt Whiteside entered the game – you had to just resign yourself to the loss and start looking ahead to the next game. Players can’t do that, of course, but fans can. That’s one of the many advantages to not actually being a member of the team.
Anyway, here are a few notes on the game:
• I thought John Gibbons was slow to get the bullpen going twice last night. It was pretty obvious by the start of the third inning that Ted Lilly was unable to locate his pitches, yet the bullpen phone didn’t ring till the third batter of the frame. Pete Walker rushed to get ready and he wasn’t sharp when he entered the game, leaving his pitches up and allowing both of Ted Lilly’s runners to score. Then when Walker couldn’t find the strike zone, Whiteside also got a late call to warm up in a hurry. Walker at least was able to finish the inning, so the Jays were fortunate that a second reliever didn’t have to enter the game on short notice.
• The first few weeks of this season have been a pleasure to watch – but over the last four games, we’ve seen Blue Jay starters fail to escape the third inning three times. The bullpen did its job on the first two occasions, but couldn’t answer the bell the third time. It should go without saying, but the Jays’ margin of error is extremely thin, and with a mediocre batting lineup and a bullpen-in-progress, the rotation has to be steady. The Jays will only go as far this year as their starters will carry them.
• Frank Catalanotto had an inning from hell last night. After pool-cueing an inside-out shot down the third-base line in the bottom of the first, he galloped to second base for what he must have figured was a routine double – and found the throw from Hideki Matsui waiting for him. The new FieldTurf just killed that ball – it slowed almost to a stop before Matsui corralled it. If nothing else, it should alert the Jays to the fact that automatic doubles down the line aren’t so automatic anymore.
• Then, in the top of the second, Cat turned into Kenny Williams in left field. Of the three doubles the Yankees dropped into left field, two seemed catchable: Cat let one go over his head and on the other, he misread the ball off the bat and froze before backpedaling, too late, to try to catch it (the scoreboard might have been a factor too). Lilly didn’t have much going for him last night, but some better play from his left fielder in the second inning would have given him a chance. The Jays’ solid pitching has been complemented most nights with solid defence; last night, neither showed up, and again, this team has very little margin for error.
• I wonder if the Jays were at 100% for this game. Their schedule the last couple of weeks has been brutal: Florida, Tennessee (by bus), Florida again, Ontario, California, Texas, Massachussetts, and back to Ontario over the course of the end of spring training and the first 15 games of the regular season. And that big win in Boston on Tuesday was a high from which any team would have to come down. Certainly, they looked much less sharp than they’ve been recently. If nothing else, it gives one hope that the Jays will come out sharper and angrier tonight and make Mike Mussina pay the price.
• What was particularly frustrating for the Jays was that this game appeared very winnable. Carl Pavano didn’t impress me all that much – he gave up some very hard-hit balls that found their way into fielders’ gloves. If Lilly had had enough time to get a better grip on his breaking stuff and get his pitches out of the upper half of the strike zone, he might have hung around long enough to get into a groove. But, perhaps thanks in part to Cat’s misadventures in left field, his clock ran out early. And although this sounds strange, I don’t think the Yankees were actually all that fearsome at the plate. The Jays hung a lot of fat pitches in the zone and issued about 103 walks, and most teams will score a bunch of runs in those circumstances. But despite the big name and the big salaries, when I look at the Yankees right now, I do not see an overall team that’s that much better than the Jays. I’d like to think the Jays themselves see that, too.
• Alex Rios is getting closer. That flyball to right field just missed being a home run, and settling for a triple is a nice consolation. He’s hitting .280 and he’s getting more comfortable at the plate by the day. It would be good to see him improve on 2 walks in 52 ABs, of course. Basically, I want to see him play 150 games this year and learn everything he possibly can on the job while hitting the weight room every day. I don’t much care what he does this season, so long as he learns enough to be an above-average right fielder in 2006. It’s the same reason why I want to see Gabe Gross in left field for Toronto at the earliest reasonable opportunity. The better Catalanotto hits in these first two months, and the longer Hillenbrand maintains a hot bat, the sooner that day – via a trade – will come.
• Welcome back to the major leagues, Matt Whiteside! Walk, walk, home run, hit batter. Welcome back to the minor leagues, Matt Whiteside!
• If there’s one good thing to come out of this game, Ruben Sierra’s bizarre run of success against the Jays might convince Joe Torre to play the Village Idiot more regularly at DH. In the long run, that’s good news for the AL East.
• Is it just me, or do the Yankee hitters stand way too close to home plate? Jeter leans over almost on top of the plate, while Sheffield crowds the zone with his silly bat-waggling thing and A-Rod is far too comfortable in there. I’d really like to see a Jays pitcher dust one of those three guys, start reclaiming the inner half of the plate. Just don’t do it on Tony Womack, because the Yanks will certainly think the Jays are using him for target practice.
• I didn’t much care for Gregg Zaun getting pulled in the 6th inning. That’s at least one inning too early, as far as I’m concerned, to be officially giving up on the game and trotting the benchwarmers out there.
• NFH’s Photo of the Day worked again! This time, Jason Frasor pitched a terrific 8th inning. Unfortunately, Aaron’s picture cropped out the rest of the 25-man roster….
• You know what’s funny? When a team is going well, fans discuss the team using the pronoun “we” – “if we can take two out of three from the Yankees, we’ll be in great shape.” But when the team is losing, suddenly the team is “they” – “I can’t believe how badly they’re playing tonight! They need to start hitting.”
• Gustavo Chacin’s start tonight is going to be very interesting, because it’s the first time that the young lefty will have faced a team for a second time. We’ll start to get an idea after that performance of the degree (if any) to which unfamiliarity with Chacin’s stutter-step is a factor in his success.
• I was pleasantly surprised to see a pretty substantial crowd tonight (22,000-plus) that wasn’t at least partly composed of Yankee fans. Normally, when Boston or New York is in town, their fans usually flock north to catch their team on the road. The crowd was pretty vocal, too – granted, they were negatively vocal, but at least they’re showing up and yelling. Not having been at Rogers Center yet, I’m inclined to think that the new atmosphere really is more fan-friendly and helps the crowd get into the game more.
• That said, I caught a mention during the TV broadcast that tickets for a particular future game will be $2 each. I thought the Jays had killed this ridiculous promotion, and were no longer giving away their seats at bargain prices. Not only does it devalue your product, it attracts exactly the wrong kind of person to the ballpark. I was at one of the $2 Wednesdays two seasons ago, and it was a zoo – “fans” running onto the field repeatedly and stopping the game, and getting cheered lustily by the other morons in the stands. It was a bad idea then and it’s a bad idea now.
• Overall – it was only one game. And as JP told Mike Wilner afterwards, it’s the first game this season in which the Blue Jays weren’t really in it (maybe he thought they looked flat, too). I think they can take New York tonight, and then they’ll be ready to meet the Orioles, who should be just about ready to be taken down a notch.
Spencer Fordin's game report -- I like this opening: "Pitch count wasn't a problem."
The Jays may have lost to the Yanks, but they can take consolation that New York owes about $31M in payroll taxes -- or about the entire payroll of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. It sure is good to see the payroll tax bring fiscal equity to baseball.
Break up the Dodgers? L.A. improved on the best record in baseball with their eighth straight win last night -- and they've done it all without Eric Gagne in the bullpen.
Intriguing situation in San Diego, where the Padres have hired Sandy Alderson away from the Commissioner's Office to be the team's new CEO. Alderson was once considered one of the game's top young executives before crossing over to the dark side, and it'll be interesting to see how this former Selig henchman runs a ballclub in 2005. Kevin Towers has a contract through '07, but his owner is clearly crabby, so this could be interesting.
Is it really All-Star balloting time already? Yes, it is.