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Happy 10th to ARod-Varitek brawl at Fenway

The iconic moment: Jason Varitek gives it to Alex Rodriguez. July 24, 2004, Fenway Park, 3rd inning. (Getty Images)

By Mike Harrington

Ten years ago today, I was in Fenway Park covering a Yankees-Red Sox game. Former executive sports editor Howard Smith had an out-of-left-field idea to cover the series and do another-will-the-Red-Sox-ever-win story. Neither he nor I ever imagined what I would see.

Here's the first paragraph to my story on the game played on Saturday, July 24, 2004: "It was a game that almost never happened. Now it will be hard to ever forget."

The numbers will show the Red Sox wiped out a 9-4 deficit and won, 11-10, on Bill Mueller's two-run walkoff homer off Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the ninth. Stunning as that was, it was a mere footnote.

This was the A-Rod/Varitek game.

Top of the third inning. Bronson Arroyo plunked Alex Rodriguez. Jason Varitek intervened as A-Rod barked at Arroyo and it was on. I was in the top row of the Fenway press box that day and was looking down at my scorecard making a couple notes when A-Rod got plunked. I quickly looked up when I heard the crowd noise, saw everything unravel -- and saw a reporter from the New York Daily News jump knees-first on the desk next to me to get a better view of things. 

Here's my sidebar on the fight from The News of July 25, 2004.

The funny thing was the game really did almost never happen. It had rained in Boston overnight and the field was not in good shape. Around 2 p.m., an hour before the scheduled first pitch, unofficial word filtered to the press box the game was off. I was in a group of reporters that went downstairs and lined up to go into the Yankees clubhouse to do some interviews. When the door briefly swung inside, we clearly saw some players in street clothes. They had been told the game was off.

Media types in the line were joking about getting an early start on dinner. But after a few minutes, they didn't let us in and we were told to go back upstairs. As legend has it, the Red Sox players were irate -- and so was FOX -- and the Boston grounds crew was told to go to work on the field for another hour. They did and history happened.

The postgame chatter was surreal. At the time, the Red Sox had a tiny interview room adjacent to their clubhouse and Terry Francona was downright giddy talking about things. Arroyo and Varitek were matter of fact. A-Rod took forever to emerge in the Yankees' clubhouse but he was pretty glib too. This was, remember, just a few months after the Sox thought he was coming to them. Interesting backdrop for sure.

Ask any Red Sox fan and they'll tell you this was the moment their team made the statement that enough was enough from the Yankees. It's easy to forget Boston didn't win the AL East that year but it's impossible to forget the Sox coming back from 0-3 down to win the ALCS. The actual World Series sweep of St. Louis is an odd final chapter not discussed a whole lot, given that it was Boston's first title in 86 years).

Relive the frivolity of the full fracas here:

On the air: Harrington talks Yankees-Blue Jays in Syracuse

The Blue Jays and Yankees open a key series tonight in the Bronx and News Sports Reporter Mike Harrington looked at the series late this afternoon with St. Bonaventure grad Mike Lindsley on The Score 1260 in Syracuse. The interview was taped shortly before the Jays announced they have optioned 2013 All-Star reliever Steve Delabar back to the Bisons.

The interview also included Harrington's remembrances of Tony Gwynn and a brief discussion of the Sabres' announcement today that they will be buying out Ville Leino. Click the audio file below to listen to the interview.


Mike Harrington on AM1260 in Syracuse

Tanaka vs. Stroman in Yanks-Jays opener in the Bronx; Delabar sent to Bisons

By Mike Harrington

The Blue Jays open a key series tonight in Yankee Stadium in a rare spot for them in recent years: First place in the American League East, and by 4 1/2 games, no less.

The pitching matchup sees Masahiro Tanaka facing Toronto for the second time this year against Blue Jays rookie Marcus Stroman, a Long Island native pitching in the Bronx for the first time in his career. It will be very interesting to see how Tanaka does against a team that has seen him before.

I got a good look at Tanaka on Opening Night in Toronto and he was impressive, just like he's been all season.

Stroman talked to Toronto reporters about the trip home to New York over the weekend in Baltimore:

---You can read about Stroman's return home in John Lott's story in the National Post here.

---You can read Brendan Kennedy's story in the Toronto Star here. 

Incredibly, the Blue Jays have lost 13 straight at Yankee Stadium -- going 0-10 in the Bronx last season -- and 22 of 24 going back to 2011. Here's a look at the pitching matchups for the series.

They've called up Munenori Kawasaki from the Bisons and sent reliever Steve Delabar -- who was in the All-Star Game last year -- back to Buffalo in a bit of a surprise move. Delabar is 3-0, 4.68 with 21 strikeouts and 16 walks in 25 innings. Kawasaki has been huge for the Herd lately, batting .387 (12-31) over his last 13 games, and should join a second-base platoon for the Jays with Steve Tolleson.

Shi Davidi of Sportsnet has notes on the transactions from GM Alex Anthopoulos' pregame meeting with reporters.

Halfway through Subway Series, Mets are toast of New York and Yankees are full of questions

Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy trots out his three-run homer Tuesday in front of Derek Jeter. (AP Photo)

By Mike Harrington

Masahiro Tanaka is 5-0 with a 2.57 ERA and the Yankees need him to pitch well tonight more than any of his other starts this season. Tanaka is the starter against the Mets in Citi Field, and the Yankees have looked dreadful in getting swept in the Bronx in the first half of the Subway Series.

In last night's affair that stretched nearly four hours, the Yankees endured a 12-7 drubbing that left both New York teams at 19-19. But they feel quite a bit different.

The Mets are battling, have won three straight and getting reinforcements coming from the minor leagues with Rafael Montero making his MLB debut tonight on the mound. The Yankees have dropped four straight -- even though they've scored 23 runs in those four games -- and the injuries are piling up, notably to CC Sabathia and Carlos Beltran.

In the Daily News, Andy Martino said it's the austerity Mets that feel good about themselves while the big-money and breaking-down Yankees are trying to figure out how they can get healthy.

The Mets have won six straight in the Subway Series and Kevin Kernan write in the Post that even a visit from Babe Ruth's Hall of Fame plaque couldn't save the Yankees.

It wasn't all good for the Mets. Zach Wheeler had an 11-4 lead and couldn't get the five innings in to get the win.

Starting pitching woes contribute mightily to AL East's struggles

By Mike Harrington

So why is everyone in the AL East pretty much mediocre and only Toronto (at plus-4) owning a positive run differential? It's mostly because of starting pitching.

Check out the numbers below for the starters on the five teams: 

Team W-L , ERA (AL rank)
BOS 11-12, 3.83 (5)
TOR 12-9, 4.19 (7)
NYY 13-11, 4.36 (10)
BAL 10-12, 4.46 (11)
TB 9-11, 4.48 (12)

Check out the standings heading into tonight's games:

BAL 16-14
NYY 17-15
TOR 16-17
BOS 16-17
TBR 15-18

Not what anyone expected. The Rays and Orioles meet again tonight at Tampa Bay, while the Blue Jays and Phillies switch sites and move to Rogers Center, and the Yankees wrap up a three-gamer in Anaheim before opening a toughie Friday night in Milwaukee.


Late-night craziness: Girardi's huge tirade, lots of extra innings, lots of rain in DC

By Mike Harrington

If you wanted to catch all the doings in baseball Monday night, it meant you had to hang to nearly 2 a.m. Tuesday to see them. So here's a rundown of most of what went on while most of you were asleep:

---The Yankees lost in Anaheim, 4-1, as the Angels scored three runs in eighth on bases-loaded walks by Shawn Kelley. The Yankees had failed to score in the top of the eighth as they loaded the bases with no outs before Brett Gardner fanned and Derek Jeter -- who had two hits to snap an 0-for-14 slump -- The strike zone of plate umpire Laz Diaz was the big story, however, as manager Joe Girardi got tossed for arguing a pitch during the Gardner at-bat that was pretty much on the ground. Yikes.

You can click here to see the ejection of Girardi and his hat-throwing rage against Diaz. It's great stuff and well worth the chuckle (sorry, no embed code from

Here's Girardi's post-game presser, where he demonstrates how Diaz "gave me the Mutumbo", a finger-wag made popular by the former NBA star when blocking a shot.


---The Giants needed 5 hours, 29 minutes to pull out an 11-10 win in Pittsburgh in 13 innings. They've won six straight, nine out of 10 and have the third-best record in baseball at 21-11. And remember, the Giants are proving to be an even-year team. They won the World Series in 2010 and 2012 -- and did not make the playoffs in 2011 and 2013, finishing just 76-86 last year.

The Giants became the first MLB team since 1969 to sweep a series without a single hit with runners in scoring position when they posted wins over the weekend in Atlanta by scores of 2-1, 3-1 and 4-1. So what happens last night? The Giants went 8 for their first 12 in RISP at-bats.

---The Nationals and Dodgers sat through a 3-hour, 17-minute rain delay in the fourth inning (absurd in my view), restarted their game at 11:40 p.m. and the Nats finished off their 2-0 win. When it ended at 1:21 a.m, the Nats took over first place in the NL East from the skidding Braves.

--The White Sox needed 12 innings to take the opener of their four-game, two-ballpark set with the Cubs, 3-1. 

--It was just past 2 a.m. Eastern when the Padres wrapped up their 6-5, 12-inning win over the Royals. Jedd Gyorko tied it in the ninth with a home run off Royals closer Derek Holland, KC took the lead in the top of the 12th but Will Venable's two-run single in the bottom of the 12th won the 3-hour, 57-minute affair.

The Jeter announcement: Quick thoughts on his retirement

Derek Jeter will call it a career after this season. (Getty Images)

By Mike Harrington

So I was in a meeting this afternoon when the news came out about Derek Jeter's Facebook post heard 'round the baseball world. This is going to be it for the Yankees captain. The 2014 season will be his final season in pinstripes. Here's what's going through my mind right now:

The Decision: It seems like it's time. Jeter will make $12.5 million this year in the final year of his deal and it seems like the Yankees would be loathe to pay him big money again, as he will turn 41 by the 2015 season. Who knows how he'll be this year in the wake of last season's injuries. Early reports from his Florida workouts have been encouraging. But this is still mid-February.

The memories: I've been pretty fortunate to be in the house for a lot of great Jeter moments. Way back in April, 1996 at then-Jacobs Field in Cleveland, I covered his first Opening Day and his first big-league home run. From a crazy night during the 2001 World Series, I can report old Yankee Stadium shook when his "Mr. November" home run won Game Three against Arizona.

Bud Speaks: MLB Commissioner Bud Selig has just issued a statement on Jeter's announcement that reads: "In the 21-plus years in which I have served as Commissioner, Major League Baseball has had no finer ambassador than Derek Jeter. Since his championship rookie season of 1996, Derek has represented all the best of the National Pastime on and off the field. He is one of the most accomplished and memorable players of his -- or any -- era. 

“Derek is the kind of person that generations have emulated proudly, and he remains an exemplary face of our sport. Major League Baseball looks forward to celebrating his remarkable career throughout the 2014 season.”

The Farewell Tour: I was wondering if the reserved Jeter did not want a public retirement so he wouldn't have a Rivera-style farewell tour. Here's hoping he liked what he saw last season because that's what's going to happen at every stop. And Selig's statement certainly means some sort of ceremony at the All-Star Game in Minneapolis and likely the World Series as well. Just as was done for Mariano last year.

The Core Four & A-Rod: Jeter is the last one standing after last year's retirements of Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte. Strangely enough, this decision ensures he will never play with Alex Rodriguez again either. A-Rod, of course, is suspended for this season and Jeter would be retired when he comes back in 2015.

The videos: What will we see replayed the most this season? The Jeter Flip in 2001 against Oakland? The "Mr. November" home run? The dive into the stands behind third base to catch that foul ball against the Red Sox?

The schedule: The Yankees open the season April 1 in Houston. After that, they come to Toronto for three games to open the Blue Jays' home schedule April 4-5-6. Jeter's final home opener in the Bronx will be April 7 against the Orioles. His last home game will also be against the Orioles, on Sept. 25. And his last regular season game will come, in all places, at Fenway Park on Sept. 28.

Up-close looks for WNY fans: In addition to the April series listed above, the Yankees are also in Toronto June 23-24-25, and Aug. 29-30-31. This is a very rare season where they don't play in Rogers Centre in September. They have a four-game set in Cleveland July 7-8-9-10.

Destination Cooperstown: Jeter will become eligible for the Hall of Fame class of 2020. With Mariano Rivera lined up for 2019, those are going to be back-to-back wild weekends in Cooperstown.

Jeter re-signs for a raise -- but Yankees have a good reason

By Mike Harrington

Now that we're in the post-World Series period, the action should be coming fast and furious with teams making decisions on their free agents, their manager and their rosters in general. Teams have a five-day window to chat with their own, and players can then shop their services starting Tuesday.

(Remember, Bud Selig & Co. frown on any of this news taking away attention from the Fall Classic, so teams are told to stuff a sock in it until the Series is decided).

An unusual story came out of New York today with the announcement the Yankees have signed Derek Jeter to a one-year, $12 million contract -- even though he had a player option for next year for just $9.5 million. So what gives? Simple. If Jeter exercised his option, the Yankees would be charged roughly $15.5 million toward their payroll ceiling that figures luxury tax payments.

They want to avoid the tax and get under a $189 million payroll and paying Jeter $12 million actually saves them $3.5 million (and perhaps many millions more in taxes) while giving their longtime shortstop an extra $2.5 million inn his pocket.

No one knows if this will be Jeter's farewell tour, ala Mariano Rivera. But he played just 17 games this season, totaling 73 plate appearances in the wake of his broken ankle suffered in the 2012 ALCS against the Tigers. It was far and away the most frustrating season of what had been a brilliant career.

Jeter turns 40 on June 26. (Yes, Derek Jeter turns 40. We're all getting old.) Can he really be considered an everyday shortstop anymore? The Yankees need him for PR value for sure and they're probably curious if he'll be able to put together a huge bounceback season. That said, the deal makes sense for them. It's not just let's give a 40-year-old a raise even though he basically didn't play last season.

Meanwhile, the most interesting managerial candidate to watch is Red Sox bench coach and Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Torey Lovullo, who should now be talking to the Cubs, Tigers and Mariners with the season complete.

I chatted with Lovullo last week in St. Louis and you if you missed my Inside Baseball column on him in Sunday's editions, click here to double-back on his story.  Lovullo managed in Pawtucket while working under current Cubs GM Theo Epstein and broke into the big leagues with the Tigers, who are definitely interested as well. Taking over a playoff team with a legendary manager like Jim Leyland figures to be a tough task. As a first-time manager, Lovullo might be better suited with a rebuild like the Cubs.

Cleveland Rocks: Postseason memories covering the Tribe

By Mike Harrington

CLEVELAND -- I'm at Progressive Field for tonight's American League Wild Card Game between the Indians and Rays (8:07 first pitch on TBS). First postseason game here since the Tribe failed to close out the Terry Francona-led Red Sox in Game 5 of the 2007 ALCS. In the odd circle of life, Francona is now a first-year skipper here -- trying to will his team to a win that would send it to Fenway Park and a series against the Red Sox that opens Friday.

This is the 35th postseason game the Indians have played here since the park opened in 1994. I've been amazingly fortunate to be at every one.  Here's an off-the-top of my head list of the most memorable ones. The links are to my stories 

1995 World Series Game 3 (Indians 7, Braves 6 in 11) -- I was sitting in the right field auxiliary press box and I swear that when the Indians stormed on to the field it was like watching the same scene from the playoff game on "Major League." The movie was only six years earlier and was based on the absurd concept of the Indians winning. This was life imitating reality for the first World Series game in C-Town since 1954. Reality of the job soon set in as the game went extra innings past midnight and a guy who didn't talk to the media (Eddie Murray) got the game-winning hit. Read my story here.

1995 ALDS Game 1 (Indians 6, Red Sox 5 in 13) -- There were two rain delays, Albert Belle flexing his biceps at the Boston dugout after a game-tying home run in the 11th and, finally, a walk-off shot by Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Tony Pena on a 3-0 pitch at 2:08 a.m. Read my story here.

1997 ALDS Game 4-5 (a horse racing-style entry of wins over the Yankees) --
Game Four was the famous Sandy Alomar tying home run off Mariano Rivera in the eighth inning and the pinball single by Omar Vizquel in the ninth to win it. Game Five was a taut thriller that ended on a fly ball to Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Brian Giles in left. You could hear the car horns honking downtown for hours.

Read the Game 4 story here.     Read the Game 5 story here. 

1998 ALCS Game 4: The Indians had the 114-win Yankees in trouble with a 2-1 lead before El Duque shut them down. Orlando Hernandez, just a few months removed from escaping Cuba, pitched a 4-0 victory that evened the series and sent the Yankees on their way to a six-game winning streak that included a World Series sweep of the Padres. Read my story here. 

1999 ALCS Game 2: The Indians blasted the Red Sox, 11-1,  in a sun-splashed late-afternoon affair to take a 2-0 lead and looked headed back to the ALCS. I can vividly recall walking down the stairs to the clubhouse with screaming fans and Springsteen's "Glory Days" pounding over the loudspeakers. It was a glory run that seemed like it would never end. But it really did when I found myself in the park four days later to see Pedro Martinez throw six no-hit innings of relief in a 12-8 Boston victory that cemented a stunning three-game comeback. 

Read my Game 2 story here.  Read my Game 5 story here. 

2007 ALDS Game 2: The midges struck from Lake Erie just as Joba Chamberlain came on to preserve a one-run lead for the Yankees in the eighth. He spit the bit on the lead and the Tribe won the game in the 11th. But all anyone remembers is the bugs. And they were everywhere. Read my buggy story here. 

Super Saturday afternoon slate in wild card races

By Mike Harrington

Today is game 161, the second-last day of the season. Here's our playoff update:

AL divisions/homefield: The Red Sox have a magic number of one to wrap up the top seed after Friday's 12-3 win over the Orioles and would thus meet the wild card winner in the division series. The Tigers would play the A's in the other series, with Oakland having home-field advantage.

AL wild card: Everyone is in action early this afternoon, with Texas hosting Los Angeles at noon, Cleveland at Minnesota at 1 and Tampa Bay at Toronto at 1. The Rays' 6-3 loss in Toronto Friday night dropped them into a tie with the Indians at 90-70, while the Rangers' win over the Angels pushed them to 89-71. Cleveland has won eight in a row, Texas has won five straight and Tampa Bay's loss Friday snapped a seven-game winning streak. All finishing very strong.

NL divisions/wild card: The Cardinals clinched the Central with Friday's win over the Cubs and are tied with the Braves at 95-65. The Dodgers (92-68) will be the No. 3 seed. The Pirates have a two-game lead on the Reds with two to play after Friday's 4-1 win in Cinci and need just one more win to clinch homefield against the Reds in the wild-card game. 

Pettitte's farewell: Nothing involving any of the races going on tonight, with the most significant game being the Yankees' 7:05 contest at Houston on YES. It will be the final start in the career of left-hander and suburban Houston resident Andy Pettitte, as John Harper sets the stage in today's New York Daily News and Ken Davidoff offers a similiar-scene setter in the Post. 

Quick thought: Doesn't Joe Girardi have to send Mariano Rivera out to pull Pettitte tonight?

Must-see video: Mariano says farewell to the Bronx

The radio/TV calls as Mariano Rivera is pulled from the game by Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter. (YES Network-WCBS Radio/Sun Sports TV-WDAE Radio)

The incredible front-back horizontal cover of today's New York Daily News.

By Mike Harrington

It's being called simply the coolest pitching change in the history of baseball. Hyperbole perhaps? Sure. But after what we saw in the ninth inning Thursday night in Yankee Stadium, no one is going to argue.

If you missed it, Mariano Rivera got four straight outs in the Yankees' 4-0 loss to Tampa Bay. With two outs in the top of the ninth, longtime teammates Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter -- and not manager Joe Girardi -- came out to the mound to remove him from the game, with a smiling Jeter clearly mouthing "Time to go". Rivera and Pettitte exchanged a long hug, with Rivera sobbing on his friend's shoulders, before he headed for the dugout and curtain calls. When the game ended, Rivera came back to the mound to collect some dirt for posterity.

Girardi masterminded the moment and got the blessing of the umpires. 

And during an emotional press conference, Rivera took time to thank the media because he told several of them he regretted doing so during his pregame speech to the crowd on Sundays. He said, "I love you guys" and the writers in the room correctly broke every rule about media decorum and applauded. Awesome.

My feeling is that is how Mariano should go out as a pitcher. No offense to the good folks of Houston, but I hope he doesn't throw in the Yankees' final series there this weekend. If he wants to play center field maybe let him do it. Otherwise, this should be the goodbye. Still, this New York Daily News story says he might do both.

Also in the Daily News, Mark Feinsand neatly writes, "Credit Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte with the save Thursday night."

And how about the incredible horizontal front-back cover the Daily News put out above -- on deadline with no warning this was going to happen!

In the New York Post, great friend of this blog Mike Vaccaro writes it was a sendoff befitting the best ever. Post teammate Kevin Kernan simply closed by saying "What a Mo-Ment it was."

A great tweet from Rays Manager Joe Maddon: "For me tonight was not unlike the Ripken moment. Hard to imagine anyone surpassing Mariano. It's like DiMaggio's streak: untouchable."

Pettitte announces retirement; final start in Bronx to be Sunday on Mariano tribute day

The classic Andy Pettitte windup. (Getty Images)

By Mike Harrington

This just in from Joel Sherman of the New York Post -- Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte is going to announce his retirement later this afternoon, leaving him two more starts in the big leagues.

12:30 p.m. update: Pettitte has issued a statement confirming the news and will speak to the media later this afternoon.

Pettitte is slated to be the starter Sunday in Yankee Stadium against the Giants, on the day the team is planning its official farewell to retiring closer Mariano Rivera, and would then make his final start next weekend in Houston. That's a pretty nice way to close, as Pettitte lives in the Houston area and the Astros are the only other team he's played with in his career. 

Pettitte's career resume is an interesting one, with with 255 career wins and 19 more in the posteason, Its those games that make him a borderline Hall of Fame candidate. The 19 wins are the most in history, and no one else has more than 15. Pettitte led all pitchers in wins in the 2000s (148) and is the only pitcher in history to win three postseason series-clinching games (2009). 

Of course, his admission to PED use following a 2002 elbow injury also lingers on his Hall candidacy as well. And Pettitte is expected to be deposed in the Brian McNamee-Roger Clemens mess next week. 

In the throes of the 2013 pennant race, the 2014 MLB schedule is out

By Mike Harrington

Baseball released its tentative 2014 master schedule Tuesday, beginning with the previously announced two-game series between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks March 22-23 in Sydney, Australia. The annual Sunday night opener will be played March 30 with the teams yet to be determined (my guess might be Red Sox at Orioles unless the Tigers win the World Series, which could make Royals-Tigers the ESPN target. Or it could be the Cubs at Pirates).

Here's a look at how things open up and other notes on the teams I hear the most about from WNY fans: 

Yankees: They begin next season just as this one will end -- with a series in Houston, a three-gamer that opens April 1. They play in Toronto April 4-5-6, June 23-24-25,  and Aug. 29-30-31, and in Cleveland on July 7-8-9-10. The season ends with a three-gamer in Fenway Park (Sept. 26-27-28)

Blue Jays: They open on the road March 31 at Tampa Bay, part of a four-game series. The home opener will be a big one on Friday, April 4 against the Yankees. The interleague visitors to Toronto next season will be the Phillies (May 7-8), the Cardinals (June 6-7-8), Brewers (June 1-2) and Cubs (Sept. 8-9-10). Bad for stretch-drive drama: Neither the Yankees nor the Red Sox come to Toronto in September. 

Red Sox: the Fenway opener is April 4 against the Brewers. In the spirit of 1975, the Reds come to town for an interleague visit May 6-7. 

Mets: They open at home March 31 against the Nationals. The games against the Yankees are May 12-13 in the Bronx and May 14-15 in Citi Field. 

Indians: They open March 31 in Oakland, which is an easy trip from their spring base in Arizona and cuts off one long jaunt to the West. The home opener is Friday, April 4 against the Twins. The Red Sox visit June 2-3-4 while the Yankees have the aforementioned July 7-10 series. Interleague visitors are the Rockies, Reds and Diamondbacks.

Pirates: Will they be raising a banner of some sort for that home opener? We'll see. The Blue Jays come in May 2-3-4, while the Mets are in June 26-27-28-29, and the Tigers visit Aug. 11-12.  The biggest interleague series is (a potential World Series rematch?) with the Red Sox at PNC Park on Sept. 16-17-18.

Who wants to win the second AL wild-card? Yankees and Rays sure don't seem like they do

Joe Girardi (28) does his thing Saturday -- yanking another pitcher. This time, it's starter David Huff. (Getty Images)

By Mike Harrington

Does anyone want to win the wild-card in the American League? 

Right now the Yankees and Rays sure don't seem to. The Indians and Orioles sure do. It's setting up for a bizarre final three weeks.

Here's a look at the AL wild-card standings. I think the loser of the A's-Rangers showdown for the AL West title takes one wild-card. The battle is for No. 2.

The Rays, who have lost eight of 10, have a one-game lead over both the Orioles and Indians. But Baltimore has won three straight while Cleveland has won four in a row and has an incredibly easy schedule the rest of the way that includes six games against the White Sox, four against the Twins and four against the Astros. 

Remember how the Yankees spent the first four months of the season living off their pitching, especially their bullpen, and couldn't hit a lick? It's completely turned around now. They're scoring plenty of runs and can't get anybody out. Saturday's 13-9 loss to the Red Sox marked the third straight game they've scored at least eight runs and LOST -- something they've never done in their history. Wow.

In today's Daily News, veteran columnist Bill Madden says exactly what most Yankee fans think right now -- this team is an illusion and not worthy of the postseason.  And as we head into the final few games of Mariano Rivera's career, Post columnist Joel Sherman points out that the greatest closer ever is slipping from superhuman to just very good.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, are running away in the AL East with an 8 1/2-game lead. They have 54 runs on 64 hits -- including 17 homers -- in the last four games. Jeez. No wonder Jonny Gomes cracked, "We're doing it in bulk right now."

I still like the Tigers to go to the World Series out of the American League. But they need a healthy Miguel Cabrera. The Red Sox have a shaky corps of middle relievers but the Sons of John Farrell and Torey Lovullo are becoming the best story in baseball this side of the Pirates. Good stuff.

Bisons, er, Blue Jays take two of three from Yankees as Gose-to-Goins nails A-Rod

By Mike Harrington

TORONTO -- It's just about over for the Bisons, whose tragic number fell to 2 in the International League wild-card race with Wednesday's 5-2 loss to Rochester in Coca-Cola Field. One reason the Herd has slogged to the finish is because the guts of its lineup is in the Rogers Centre.

Bad news in Buffalo but good news organization-wide as the ex-Bisons made big contributions the last three days as the Blue Jays took two of three games from the Yankees.

Second baseman Ryan Goins continued his red-hot work at the plate with two more hits, but the key play in Wednesday's 7-2 romp past the Yankees was his relay throw to the plate in the fourth to nail Alex Rodriguez at home.

Watch the video of the play here.

Mark Reynolds' laser to right barely missed clearing the wall for a three-run homer that would have cut what was a 7-0 deficit to 7-4, and the ball ricocheted past Moises Sierra in right. Anthony Gose alertly backed it up and fired a strike to Goins (hitting cutoff men has been a rarity in these parts this season). Goins, in short right field, fired home to catcher J.P. Arencibia to nail a chugging A-Rod.

Why the Yankees sent him in that spot is anybody's guess. Joe Girardi said he had no problem with it  but that was just covering for A-Rod and the over-aggressiveness of third-base coach Rob Thomson.

Continue reading "Bisons, er, Blue Jays take two of three from Yankees as Gose-to-Goins nails A-Rod" »

Deleted scenes: More from Mariano Rivera

Mariano Rivera laughs it up with Blue Jays employees (John Lott/National Post)

By Mike Harrington

Mariano Rivera's Q &A with Blue Jays employees Tuesday afternoon was so riveting that there was no way to get everything that was discussed into my column in Wednesday's editions of The News. 

There are only two "Mo-Ments of Thanks" sessions left, the final one of four at Yankee Stadium and one at Houston on the season's last weekend. Rivera' s official day of honor in the Bronx on the field will be Sunday, Sept. 22 against the Giants. 

So here' are some more notes/pearls of wisdom from the game's greatest closer:

His post-retirement plans: "I'm gonna be with my family. I've been away from my family for 23 years. They've been supportive of my whole careeer. I want to be able to enjoy them. My kids, my wife. To attend their games, travel with them. baseball is a beautiful game but it demands a lot, a lot of sacrifice. ... It's taken a lot of time away from my family."

On naming former Seattle DH Edgar Martinez his toughest out: Thank God he retired. They're all special. They're all tough because they are professionals. Everybody in the big leagues they are all good. Some of them are special players. Edgar Martinez was one. For me, it was just a pain to get him out. I couldn't get him out."

Feeling in the bullpen: "I get kind of anxious in the seventh inning to be part of the game. Once I come into the game, everything disappears. Everything is just me and the catcher. I've been blessed that I can block all those things out and just focus. That's the main reason I was able to be in baseball so long."

His favorite saves: "To me, they all are special. It doesn't depend on me. I depend on my teammates. If my teammates don't score any runs, I don't think I'll be saving games. I will never start speaking about myself, about how "Oh, I have done this or have done that." It's all "we as a team accomplished this, we as a team have accomplished that." To me, they all are special, from No. 1 to No. 6oo-whatever."

Yankees he wanted to meet he got the chance to: Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio.

Celebrities he's glad he met: President George W. Bush, Billy Crystal

Autographs: Rivera took a picture with each employee and handed them an autographed baseball. The guy who plays Ace, the Blue Jays mascot, drew big laughs from Rivera after their picture as he pulled out a sharpie, signed a picture of him in costume and handed The Sandman his own autograph.

If you want to see Rivera pitch, tonight would be a good night to head up the QEW to the Rogers Centre. Rivera hasn't pitched since saving Sunday's win in Tampa and the Yankees have Thursday off. Even if it's not a save situation, Joe Girardi is almost certain to give him at least an inning against the Bisonesque Blue Jays lineup so he doesn't sit idle for five days. 

Yankees win on field -- and in X-ray room as Cano is OK

Robinson Cano grimaces as trainer Steve Donahue checks out his wrist while Joe Girardi, Alex Rodriguez and Alfonso Soriano look on (Getty Images).

By Mike Harrington

TORONTO -- The Yankees were happy with Tuesday's 7-1 victory over the Blue Jays/Bisons. They were more than happy with Robinson Cano's negative X-ray.

Cano was drilled in the first inning by a J.A. Happ pitch. If the hand was broken and he was out for the season, that probably would have been it for their wild-card hopes. So it was a rare reprieve in a season that' s featured two broken hand bones for Curtis Granderson (one from Happ in spring training) and one last week from Jayson Nix thanks to R.A. Dickey.

"Obviously your thought is, whenever a guy gets hit in the hand, you're concerned," said manager Joe Girardi. "He could be out for a while. You're never really sure. Every hand that has been X-rayed has come back poorly. We had to go to another country to get a good one."

"I was hurt. I was real concerned," Cano said. "It was a lot of pain. The doctor checked me [in the Blue Jays' clubhouse). We wanted to make sure and went to the hospital."

Cano said he will sit out Wednesday's series finale and should play Friday. Backup Eduardo Nunez tweaked his knee on the turf and is iffy for Wednesday as well, leaving Mark Reynolds potentially at second base.

Prior to the game, I attended Mariano Rivera's session with Blue Jays' employees. Be sure to read my column in Wednesday's editions of The News.

More  on the Yankees' win:

Continue reading "Yankees win on field -- and in X-ray room as Cano is OK" »

Yankee Doodles from Rogers Centre: Departing Mariano meets Jays' employees, Gibbons will return as manager in 2014

My view of Mariano Rivera and the Blue Jays employees today. Yankees PR head Jason Zillo is moderating to Rivera's left.(click for bigger view) 

By Mike Harrington

TORONTO -- The Yankees and Blue Jays meet in the middle game of their three-game series tonight and a lot has gone here this afternoon in Rogers Centre before a pitch has been thrown.

Be sure to read my column in Wednesday's Buffalo News about Mariano Rivera's meet-and-greet Q&A with Blue Jays employees. Twenty members of the staff, most of them not related to the actual playing of the game, met with Rivera and Yankees PR head Jason Zillo in a third-floor conference room for about 45 minutes talking about baseball, life, his retirement plans and his thoughts on his career.

Rivera is doing this in every city on his farewell tour over his final season as a way to say thank you to all the people who make baseball games possible.

"It is been a privilege for me to be in baseball," Rivera said. "I want to make sure I say thank you to all of those involved. I want to make sure I thank you guys for what you do in baseball, to help us prepare for every day."

I've been at plenty of great games in my career, including some of Rivera's greatest triumphs and greatest failures. This was as riveting as any of them. It was an unvarnished chance to listen to a man who is one of the game's greatest ambassadors.

Mo lottAnd he talked about everything: The evolution of the cutter, his toughest hitter to face (Edgar Martinez), his post-retirement plans (fishing and hanging out with his family, perhaps even in his pajamas), and even his favorite mascot (he liked the Mariner Moose). 

The most emotional moments were saved for his thoughts on the late George Steinbrenner, particularly how The Boss came up to him after he lost Game Seven of the 2001 World Series in Arizona.

"The first one that came to my locker was the Boss," Rivera said. "He looked at me and I looked straight at his face and I said, 'Boss, I gave my best and my best wasn't good enough tonight.' And he said I know and he hugged me and I hugged him. To me that was George Steinbrenner.

"If there was something I could change, I wish he could be alive so I can say thank you for all he did for me."

In other news, Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos announced that manager John Gibbons is staying next season and that puts an end to lots of talk that really began over the weekend as the team was struggling in Houston. Fair enough. Gibbons has his faults (the team is pretty fundamentally lax) but he's a solid guy liked by the players and front office.

Moreover, I'd like to see how Gibbons does when the players aren't either a) underachieving or b) hurt. Anthopoulos said today there will be changes next year so this will be a last chance.

Moises Sierra, Ryan Goins and Kevin Pillar are all in the Blue Jays lineup again. Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez both in the lineup for the Yankees, with A-Rod moved up to fifth after last night's home run. 

(Rivera picture above left courtesy of John Lott/National Post)


Yankee Doodles from Rogers Centre: Jeter & A-Rod finally start together; Bisons Ochinko gets 50-game PED suspension

For the third time this season, Derek Jeter's wait to get off the DL ends tonight. (Getty Images)

By Mike Harrington


TORONTO -- It's Aug. 26 and the Yankees will finally look much like the Yankees tonight in Rogers Centre as Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez are in the lineup together for the first time all season. That's crazy. Jeter is batting second and playing shortstop while A-Rod is batting sixth and playing third base.

"Yeah, it's hard to believe," Jeter told reporters in the Yankees' clubhouse prior to the game. "I've missed more games this year than the last 20 years combined. In that sense, I've been very fortunate. It seems like everything has happened to me in a year. It's hard to believe but you move forward. You can't change everything that has happened."

For the first time, Jeter admitted his legs haven't been nearly up to snuff in his comeback from his broken ankle. His comeback has twice been stymied, by quad and calf troubles.

"I haven't been able to work out since October to let a bone heal," he said. "You think about it, it's probably not surprising something happened."

Jeter, Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira, who is out for the season, have combined for eight homers and 24 RBIs this season. So it's downright miraculous the Yankees are even within a sniff of the playoff race.

Continue reading "Yankee Doodles from Rogers Centre: Jeter & A-Rod finally start together; Bisons Ochinko gets 50-game PED suspension" »

The Biogenesis Bans: Leadoff thoughts

By Mike Harrington

Talking out loud about MLB's announcements today from the Biogenesis scandal ... 

A-Rod: He reportedly infuriated Bud Selig with his comments Friday night in Trenton that there was a "pink elephant" in the room and it was the fact that MLB and the Yankees were conspiring to keep him off the field, with the Yankees most interested in getting out of his contract. The Commish then shut town all talks of a settlement, with ARod contending he should be no more penalized than Ryan Braun. We'll see about that.

On the field, the Yankees can use A-Rod, even at less than 100 percent. He's still going to be far more productive than anyone they've had at third base all year. But if he stays on the field for any length of time, how will they deal with the daily fan and media circus on the road? And what will be the reaction when A-Rod steps on the field in the Bronx? 

Selig knew he couldn't go for a lifetime ban, and that the union would have to defend A-Rod on simple due process if he did. So he went for a suspension through the Joint Drug Policy, which allows for the appeal. That should be heard within the next three weeks or so. 

Read the full text of Selig's statement here. 

Read the Yankees' statement here.

A-Rod is trying to maximize the money he can make by staying on the field but I'm betting this carries into 2015 -- not 2014 -- before it's all done. He's never failed a test and this is more about obstruction of MLB's investigation. It seems more personal than ever between A-Rod and Selig, much like it was at the end between Bart Giamatti and Pete Rose in 1989.

The Commish: Selig wants his legacy to be about 1). Getting rid of PEDs from baseball; 2) adding the wild-card to get more cities interested deeper into the season; and 3) fixing the All-Star Game after the 2002 tie fiasco. He's looking at retirement in the next two years and it's interesting that the PED situation became such a focus, given the way baseball was complicit in it through the McGwire-Sosa home run chase of 1998. Better late than never, I suppose. 

Continue reading "The Biogenesis Bans: Leadoff thoughts" »

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About Inside Pitch

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has covered the Buffalo Bisons since 1992 and Major League Baseball since 1995. A member of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, Harrington has reported on more than 30 MLB postseason series — including every game of the World Series in this century — and all three of the Bisons' championship runs in their modern era. He is a connoisseur of the famous Stadium Mustard at Cleveland's Progressive Field.

@BNHarrington |

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has covered the Bisons for The Buffalo News since 2002. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz |