I hate it when the Yankees are shut out. I hate it when they don’t get on base. I hate it when they look anemic with every swing. I hate it when Jeter says, “Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to the pitcher,” because sometimes the pitcher is a nobody who’s simply had the good fortune to catch the Yanks on a bad day. But tonight? I’m tipping my cap to Felix Hernandez.
He made everybody look spazzy. I mean, two hits? Really? And he was so efficient about it. The guy had eleven strikeouts and three walks over nine innings. Cliff Lee pitched a completo last night, but the Yankees offense had chances. Not in this game. Not after the first inning. Of course, it’s hard to mount a comeback against anybody, let alone a pitcher of King Felix’s caliber, when your starter gives up two homers, your lefty specialist gives up one and your long reliever gives up another. Franklin Gutierrez left the game with an upset stomach, and our pitching gave me one too.
But here’s the thing. We’re in first place – by a thread, but still – and it’s a whole lot better than being in the cellar like the Mariners.
Fresh off the sweep of the Mets, the Yankees face another injury-riddled team.
I’m such an ancient mariner that I still remember when they were called the Pilots, talk about a lame logo.
Without Beltre at third, Chavez in left and Betancourt at short, their whole left side is hurting.
Even so, they could be dangerous. We should take nothing for granted and absolutely not come out looking like flu victims.
OK. Here we go. They’ll be changing their lineup around, but these are the main characters.
1) Ichiro Suzuki.
Obviously, he’s a great outfielder as well as a hitting machine. I think he’s got an 11-game streak right now. And his current average is a sick .372. But that routine he does at the plate – the sleeve tugging, the bat pointing, the whole drama – is really annoying. Tip to Yankees: The pitchers should step off the rubber and stall in order to screw up his timing.
2) Russell Branyan.
He’s played for the Indians, the Reds, the Brewers, the Padres, the (Devil) Rays, the Phillies, and the Cardinals – almost as many teams as LaTroy Hawkins. Now, he’s the Mariners’ first baseman and he’s batting .303 with 19 homers. He’s also struck out 73 times. Tip to Yankees: Throw him nothing but high cheddar.
3) Jose Lopez.
A happy-looking Venezuelan who covers second or third base, he tied a Major League record last year with three sac flies in one game. Tip to Yankees: Try to get him to hit the ball on the ground.
4) Ronny Cedeno.
Another Venezuela native and former Cub, he’s taken over the shortstop role in Betancourt’s absence. Although he had his first career grand slam in ’08, he’s batting .133. Tip to Yankees: Don’t walk him.
5) Kenji Johjima.
The Mariners’ catcher, Kenji (I love saying his name out loud for some reason) has a museum in his honor in his hometown of Sasebo, Japan, despite only having a .269 career batting average. Tip to Yankees: Show him respect by spinning him off the plate now and then.
6) Franklin Gutierrez.
Yet another Venezuelan, he played for the Indians before becoming the Mariners’ center fielder. In 2008, he swung at the first pitch only 11.8% of the time, the fifth lowest in the AL. Tip to Yankees: Throw him first pitch strikes.
7) Wladimir Balentien.
No, I didn’t misspell this outfielder’s first name. It starts with a “W” but is pronounced “Vladimir.” He’s from the island of Curacao and played for the Netherlands in the WBC, and now he’s filling in for the ailing Endy Chavez and hitting .230. Tip to Yankees: He’s no Vladie, as in Guerrero.
8) Chris Woodward.
He was originally signed by the Blue Jays and did time with the Mets, and is one of those guys who’s played every position except catcher. A few years ago, he was the first Toronto shortstop to hit three homers in a game. Tip to Yankees: Keep the ball down and away.
9) Ken Griffey Jr.
First of all, am I the only one who didn’t know his real first name is George? And I still don’t get why he has a thing against the Yanks; that story about his father isn’t the stuff of post traumatic stress syndrome. He’s hitting a paltry .218 as the DH, and yet he’s “Junior” and he’s HOF bound. Tip to Yankees: Let him crank one out in a game if we’re leading by a lot.
I’d make a prediction for this series, but I’m too superstitious.
P.S. Programming note: The segment I taped for the YES Network’s “Yankees Magazine” about my book will start airing this Wednesday, July 1. I think the show is broadcast twice a day for a week – at 11:30 a.m. and 11 p.m. ET – so my friends in New York need to tell me if they see it. I don’t get YES out here in California except for the actual Yankees games, so I asked the producer to send me a copy of the show. Maybe I can upload it and post it at some point.