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Home away from home for Herd against Yankees

IMG_0393Welcome to our weekend of bizarro baseball.

The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees took batting practice first. They're listed on the bottom of the scoreboard and the Bisons are on top of the lineup card (left, click for bigger view).

Things are going to be upside down at Coca-Cola Field the next four games as the Bisons play "road" games against Scranton. So among other things, as I wrote in this morning's story, the Herd could be walkoff losers in their own park because of Scranton's stadium reconstruction that's forcing them to play the entire season on the road.

Be sure to see Friday's paper for a more in-depth look at the Scranton situation, including some comments I got from manager Dave Miley prior to batting practice today.

As for tonight's game, Mets mega prospect Matt Harvey is on the mound for Buffalo trying to improve upon his 4-1 record. Harvey is 2-0, 3.68 in four May starts, striking out 25 and walking 10 in 22 innings. Here are tonight's lineups (remember, Bisons batting first):

Buffalo
Corey Wimberly, cf
Fred Lewis, lf
Josh Satin, 1b
Valentino Pascucci, dh
Matt Tuiasosopo, 3b
Jordany Valdespin, 2b
Lucas May, c
Dustin Martin, rf
Omar Quintanilla,  ss
---
Matt Harvey, p

Scranton/WB 
Kevin Russo, cf
Matt Antonelli,  2b
Steve Pearce, 1b
Jack Cust,  dh
Ronnier Mustelier, lf
Brandon Laird,  3b
Francisco Cervelli, c
Cole Garner, rf
Ramiro Pena,  ss
---
Adam Warren, p

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Mariano might call it a career after this year

The big news out of the first day of Yankees spring training today in Tampa: Closer Mariano Rivera might be entering his last season. Rivera played coy with reporters at the Yankees' complex even though he has a contract for 2013 as well.

"I know now," Rivera said of his retirement date. "I just don't want to tell you. I know now. I will let you guys know when I think I should tell you."

Rivera is very close with his family in his native Panama and it has become harder and harder for the 42-year-old to be away and go through the grind of a long season, even if last year's 1.91 ERA and 44 saves belie that point. 

Read more on the Rivera story from MLB.com,  which points out that Jorge Posada said at his retirement ceremony that he thinks 2012 will be it for Rivera.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Yankees sign Ibanez for DH, pass over Damon

The Yankees made it official this morning, signing veteran Raul Ibanez to a one-year,  $1.1 million deal to largely serve as their left-handed DH. Ibanez hit .245 for the Phillies last season with 20 homers and 84 RBIs but was at .256-16-60 against right-handed pitchers with a .440 slugging percentage and .747 slugging percentage that was 162 points higher than it was against lefties.

The Yankees waited to free up some money by trading A.J. Burnett to Pittsburgh and then moved on their DH slot, which will often be filled against lefties by Alex Rodriguez and even Derek Jeter. They kicked the tires on Hideki Matsui and Damon openly campaigned for the job, telling CBSSports.com that he's surprised neither the Yankees nor the Rays (his team last year) have brought him in. The Yankees apparently think Ibanez can do a little more defensively, according to ESPN.com.

Ibanez had a great year for the Phillies in 2009, when they lost the World Series to the Yankees, as he hit .272 with 34 homers and 93 RBIs. He had been a 100-RBI man the previous three years in Seattle and has 252 home runs in his career. But he turns 40 on June 2 so we'll see how much is left in his tank after his numbers took a dip last year.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Around the horn: La Russa, CC and Manto

I'm covering the Sabres-Flyers game tonight in a one-day respite from my annual post-World Series vacation (which also means continued withdrawal from my daily fix of St. Louis toasted ravioli). So while I'm back on the job today, I figured I'd chime in on some of the big news of recent days.

Headline: Tony La Russa retires

Reaction: They sure suckered us all. The feeling at the Series was that La Russa was coming back. Cardinals GM John Mozeliak did a group interview prior to Game Five in Texas and was asked about La Russa's potential return. Here was the answer:

"You know, as far as handicapping that, I think I'm not going to go down that path, but obviously having a manager in place and that staff in place, that would be probably something that we need to do right away, because obviously it's a very difficult task if we were to have to replace Tony. So at this point, hopeful that we can wrap that up rather quickly. And right now as far as what's going to happen, every time he and I start to sit down and talk about it, we always realize and we sort of pinch ourselves that here we are in the World Series or having success in the postseason. So we just really haven't stopped to focus on it at this time."

Lies, lies, lies. La Russa revealed during his farewell press conference and again on his fascinating interview with Bob Costas Tuesday night on MLB Network that he and the Cardinals had decided he was done during the summer. They did a fabulous game of possum with all of us. Props to them.

Headline: Yankees re-sign CC and Cashman

Reaction: Brian Cashman reeled in the big fish first and then quickly got his own deal done. There's no way the Yankees would be contending next year without CC Sabathia, who wasn't going anywhere unless his hometown A's or Giants somehow found an extra $100 million in a Dixie cup. A one-year, $25 million extension kept CC from exercising his opt-out clause. Now the Yankees need him to opt out of a few more meals starting in 2012. As for Cashman, he's now signed through 2015. He started as GM in 1998. Remember when George Steinbrenner seemingly had a GM a year? Pretty amazing.

White Sox sign Manto as hitting coach

Reaction: About time somebody gave another shot to Manto, the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Famer and Bisons legend who turned a journeyman like Freddy Sanchez into a batting champion when he was with the Pirates. Manto has been the Sox minor-league coordinator for four years and probably should have had this job a year or two earlier as Greg Walker continued to accomplish nothing in Chicago (see Rios, Alex and Dunn, Adam). Batting practice during those White Sox-Blue Jays games should be hysterical with Manto and Torey Lovullo (Toronto's first base coach) yammering back and forth.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Yanks in trouble, Phils hit surprising bump

Quick hits on the division series:

---Remember when I said that Game One suspension hurt the Tigers? Never mind. The Tigers survived the Bronx downpours for a huge 5-3 win in Game Two. And ponder this one: If Justin Verlander beats CC Sabathia tonight at 8:30 -- which I think he will do -- the Yankees' season will rest of the shabby, erratic arm of A.J. Burnett. Yeesh. Advantage, Tigers.

---Seemed like we should have just been able to cue up that Phillies-Brewers NLCS. The Diamondbacks and Cardinals have been outclassed. At least that's what I was thinking when the Phillies had a 4-0 lead last night and were heading to a 2-0 series lead of their own. And then Cliff Lee blew the lead and the Cardinals came back to win, 5-4. I still think the Phillies win the series but it's a lot dicier now with the next two in St. Loo.

---No clue about the Rays and Rangers. Texas' 8-6 win Saturday broke the six-game losing streak home teams had in the division series between these clubs the last two years in the ALDS. Let's see what happens in today's key swing game with the series at 1-1.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Around the horn: Yankees in charge, Bisons' MLB connections

Mother Nature has really spun the American League division series in the Bronx in favor of the Yankees. The rain poured down Friday suspending the game and now Justin Verlander will only pitch Game Three. A whole different scenario than having him pitch Games One and Five.

I hate the suspended games rule in this situation for the postseason. It should only apply to games that are already official, which was the case in Game Five of the 2008 World Series in Philadelphia. In the case of Game One, they should have just started over. 

As it was, they finished Saturday night and as the Daily News puts it, "Here's to you, Mr. Robinson". And the Yankees certainly have rookie Ivan Nova to thank. What a job by a guy who hasn't lost since June.

The Bisons, it should be noted, dealt poorly with the two rookie mound studs of the postseason thus far during their season.

Nova went 7 2/3 innings and fanned 10 in a 6-2 win over Buffalo July 7 in Scranton. Nova gave up a two-run homer to Fernando Martinez in the first inning and wasn't touched after that. Tampa Bay's Matt Moore, the Game One winner Friday at Texas, threw six shutout innings of two-hit ball and also fanned 10 for Durham Aug. 12 at Coca-Cola Field. He left with a 2-0 lead but got a no-decision as the Bisons rallied to win,3 -2.

Courtesy of Bisons PR director Brad Bisbing, here's the list of former Herd men in the MLB postseason:

Yankees: Freddy Garcia, CC Sabathia (rehab only)
Tigers: Jhonny Peralta, Victor Martinez, Omir Santos
Rays: Kelly Shoppach
Rangers: Mike Adams
Phillies: Cliff Lee, Ben Francisco, Wilson Valdez
Cardinals: Jake Westbrook
Brewers: None
Diamondbacks: John McDonald 

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees to play six "home" games in Buffalo in 2012

If you're a fan of Yankees prospects in Western New York, there is going to be no shortage of opportunities for you see the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre club in 2012. The Baby Yankees are barnstorming next season while a $40 million renovation of PNC Field is completed, and announced a six-city schedule of "home sites" for the 72 home games on their schedule Friday afternoon.

The biggest news in the arrangement is that six Scranton home games against the Bisons will be played in Coca-Cola Field, with the Bisons batting first as the visiting team and the Yankees batting as the home team. Those games will be played May 24-27 and Aug. 20-21.

Buffalo's other two road games against Scranton (July 7-8) will be played at Alliance Bank Stadium in Syracuse, with the Herd again batting as the visitors.

The big news announced Friday was that Scranton will play 37 home games at Frontier Field in Rochester and seven at tiny Dwyer Stadium in Batavia (April 20-23 against Norfolk, May 5-6 against Pawtucket and June 12 against Louisville).

In addition to the six games in Buffalo, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre will also play 10 "home" games in Syracuse, eight in Lehigh Valley, and four in Pawtucket.

The schedule adjustments mean the Bisons will actually play 78 games downtown next season, a year that will also see them host the Triple-A All-Star Game on July 11. The additional Scranton games mean Buffalo will be home for  16 straight games (May 15-31) and for 17 games in a 19-game stretch from Aug. 10-28.

Scranton had been hoping to play its entire home schedule at one site and had settled on Newark, N.J., but the New York Mets blocked that move last week, citing territorial rights. 

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

The postseason begins: Make your picks

While the Red Sox are going through the process of not renewing Terry Francona's contract today (e.g. he's getting fired), the real focus of the baseball world is the start of the postseason. The American League division series opens on two fronts with the Rays and Rangers meeting in Texas and the Yankees and Tigers meeting in the Bronx. That's Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia and that's must-see TV.

Right from the top, I'll put this out there: I got the Tigers and the Phillies in the World Series and I'm taking the Phillies in six. Sorry, Yankees fans. If Sabathia doesn't win tonight, I think it's possible the Tigers sweep the Bombers in three. And wouldn't that make for an interesting offseason. Remember, all division series games are on TBS.

So here's some quick analysis off the cuff. Hey, I gotta do Sunday's Inside Baseball column on the collapse of the Sox and Braves and I'm still working hockey previews too. Some multi-tasking. I give you some polls at the bottom too. Be sure and vote!

Tigers vs. Yankees -- I know all about the Bombers' offense but you have to like the Tigers' combination of Verlander, Doug Fister and Max Scherzer. You have to love closer Jose Valverde. Miguel Cabrera should get plenty of MVP looks. As for the Yankees, can you really count on Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia in this spot? Seriously? And does A-Rod show up in this series or bat eighth like he did in when he was humiliated in Game Four in Detroit in 2006. Tigers in four. 

Rays vs. Rangers -- I'm tempted, very/very tempted, to pick the Rays to go to the World Series. Maybe I should. Now that they're actually in the postseason, they have the best starting pitching in the AL. I think they get through this series and avenge last year's division series loss but you wonder how much energy they have left after that crazy September. Rays in five.

Cardinals vs. Phillies -- I don't think a lot of analysis is needed. The Phillies' losing streak near the end of the season was rooted in injuries and boredom after clinching the division title. They're ready. Halladay-Lee-Hamels-Oswalt with Worley in the bullpen. Do they need a bullpen? This is one of Tony LaRussa's better managing jobs but this is a case of thanks for playing and please drive home safely. Phillies in three.

Diamondbacks vs. Brewers -- Who had this matchup in March? Thought so.  In Kirk Gibson and Ron Roenicke, you have your two main candidates for NL manager of the year. Think the Yankees wish 20-game winner Ian Kennedy had found his game when he was with them until waiting to getting to Arizona?  The Dbacks are a great story but the Brewers have the motivation of Prince Fielder's last season. They have an MVP in Ryan Braun, a great rotation, a supreme closer in former Canisius College pitcher John Axford. I think Brewers-Phillies could be a fabulous NLCS. Can't wait. Brewers in four.

Now you vote.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Welcome to Wildcard Wednesday

It all comes down to this on the final day of the regular season: The Rays and choking Red Sox are both 90-71 in the AL, the Cardinals and choking Braves are both 89-72 in the NL. Will we decide the wildcards tonight or get one-game playoffs Thursday in Tampa Bay and St. Louis?

The schedule remains the same as the last two days -- Tampa hosting the Yankees and Boston at Baltimore, while the Braves host the Phillies and the Cardinals are in Houston. All night games. Have your remotes ready to be clicking between YES, ESPN and the MLB Network.

The Red Sox are 7-19 in September with a team ERA of 5.90. Once-impenetrable reliever Daniel Bard is 0-4, 11.90 and not trustworthy. Look at the starters' ERAs: Bedard and Wakefield, 5.25; Beckett 5.48, Lester 5.96, Lackey 9.13. The Rays have pulled even by going 16-10 despite a .237 team batting average in September. But that 3.50 team ERA sure helps.

The Braves, meanwhile, have gone 9-17 and hit just .235. Their team ERA of 4.25 isn't ghastly, especially when you consider Derek Lowe fell to 0-5, 8.75 in September when he was booed off the mound last night. The Cardinals are 17-8, batting .293 and have a 3.25 ERA.

See SABRhounds, I don't need a lot of made-up acronym stats to tell me why these races have changed this month. 

How is this going to end up? Take the polls.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

With Newark out, still no plan for Scranton/WB Yankees' home in 2012

We pause from the daily death watch for the Red Sox -- who look just about cooked after Josh Beckett couldn't beat the Orioles last night -- with this bizarre update on the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees.

The Bisons' IL North rival, you may recall, announced last month they were likely going to barnstorm or at least find one predominant home in 2012 because PNC Field in Moosic, Pa., is being bulldozed and getting a $40 million renovation. The schedules have already been announced but no word where the team would play.

You'd think this would have all been arranged, rather than let the Baby Yankees have the league waiting. An announcement was supposed to come at last week's league meeting in Albuquerque but one never did. How come?

Turns out Newark Star-Ledger columnist Jerry Izenberg, a venerable veteran of New York City sports, uncovered a plan to have Scranton move to Newark for 2012 as a sort of reprisal of the famous Newark Bears teams the Yankees fielded there from  1926-1949. But according to Izenberg, the Mets balked, fearing a Yankees Triple-A team in Jersey would hurt them in Queens.

Negotiations between the teams have broken down and it appears the Scranton franchise is back to square one. Maybe the Mets have valid reasons and maybe they don't but that's really irrelevant. I can't believe the Scranton franchise and the International League have let this fiasco go on this way. 

Somebody better make a decision here. It's almost October.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Wacky AL race: Yankees clinch East, Red Sox lose again but gain ground as Rays lose two

YanksThat was one wacky Wednesday in the AL East.

The division race is over as the Yankees got the combination they needed to clinch -- a sweep of the Rays in a day-night doubleheader coupled with yet another Red Sox loss to the Orioles. The Yankees took care of business in the Bronx with a pair of 4-2 wins, using seven relievers to piece together the first game and getting a two-run pinch single in the eighth from beleaguered veteran Jorge Posada to win the nightcap.

Good friend of the blog Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post surveyed the champagney scene in the postgame clubhouse. This has been quite a ride for the Yankees and Alex Rodriguez says Joe Girardi should be manager of the year.  Pretty good point, although I would imagine Jim Leyland and Joe Maddon are going to get a ton of votes too.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, fell to a stunning 5-16 in September with yet another loss to the Orioles, a 6-4 defeat in their home finale at Fenway. But they somehow went from a two-game lead in the wild card race to 2 1/2 games. The Rays dropped a half with their double loss while the Angels pulled into position at 2 1/2 back with their second straight win in Toronto. Not even a Josh Beckett start or a 4-1 lead could save the Sox, who are in desperation mode to save their season from going down the drain.

“I’ve been here nine years. We’ve never collapsed that bad," said David Ortiz. “Trust me, we’ve been through some tough times. But this is bad. No matter what we do, things are going to be bad. Right now it’s depressing."

The Yankees' magic number to clinch homefield throughout the playoffs is two. The Rays and Yankees meet again tonight, and so do the Angels and Blue Jays. That will leave the wild-card contenders with six games left starting Friday, all played in a pair of three-game series. The remaining sets look like this:

Red Sox: At Yankees, at Orioles
Rays: vs. Blue Jays, vs. Yankees
Angels: vs. Athletics, vs. Rangers

 

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington)

AP Photo: Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera celebrate another division title.

Facts on Mo's climb to the top of the saves charts

I saw Mariano Rivera get to the edge of a history-making save Saturday in Toronto and he went over the top today in the Bronx. The Yankees' closer pitched a perfect ninth inning in the Bombers' 6-4 win over Minnesota to earn his MLB-record 602nd save.

When it was over and Rivera had finished taking the congratulations of his teammates, they pushed him out to the mound and left him alone to take in the accolades from the roaring crowd. It was quite a scene. Reminded me of the Baltimore Orioles pushing Cal Ripken out of the dugout for his victory lap on that memorable night in 1995 when he broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive games record.

The Yankees issued a 15-page pamphlet about Rivera for reporters covering their games in recent weeks. Some pretty funny notes:

---Rivera has 602 saves, and the next Yankee is Dave Righetti at 224. Rivera had 230 saves at old Yankee Stadium and today was his 60th at the new one. Next on his list is Camden Yards at 38.

---He has 312 on the road and 290 at home. His ERA in those 602 appearances is a stunning 0.66 and opponents are batting .161 against him.

---He has saves at 30 ballparks, including six that no longer exist.

---Today was his 446th save of exactly one inning. Only 11 have gone two innings. Two have been one pitch.

---At the time of his first save on May 17, 1996 vs. the then-California Angels,  gas cost $1.30 a gallon and a stamp was 32 cents, only 13 of the current 30 MLB stadiums were in use and only 29 of the current big leaguers were active. Derek Jeter had 48 career hits and Alex Rodriguez had 12 home runs.

No question he's going to be No. 1 for a long time. Francisco Cordero is second to Rivera on the active saves list and he has a mere 323.

"It's a testament to Mo's consistency," Mark Teixeira told a group of us scribes over the weekend in Toronto. "His ERA in the postseason (0.71), oh-my goodness. He deserves to be on the top of this list.

"I can't think of, in sports, a better guy to play one position. There's usually arguments. Like basketball. Jordan or LeBron. People say Gretzky but Sidney Crosby in 10 or 15 years might have an argument.  At this position with Mo, there is none."

Sure isn't.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

 

Yankees resting regulars but won't hold out Mo

TORONTO -- The Yankees and Blue Jays play their series finale today in the sunshine of the open-roofed Rogers Centre (it's on at 1 on YES if you want to channel surf from the action at One Bills Drive). And with no more off the days the rest of the season, and a makeup game in the Bronx against Minnesota tomorrow at 1,  Joe Girardi is giving lots of people some rest.

Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira are not starting today. Robinson Cano is the DH. The infield has Eric Chavez at first, Eduardo Nunez at second, Ramiro Pena at short and A-Rod at third. What is this, Tampa in March?

The biggest question centers around Mariano Rivera. Would Girardi keep him out today to ensure he gets his record-breaking 602nd save at home since there are eight games in Yankee Stadium over the next seven days? It appears the answer is no.

If there's a save today, Girardi said before the game it's going to be Rivera's to get, just like it was yesterday when he tied Trevor Hoffman's MLB mark with No. 601. The Yankees are in charge in the AL East but the lead over Boston is only 4 1/2 games with 12 to play. That's no time to be messing around in a close game.

Freddy Garcia (11-7) pitches for the Yankees against Toronto's Brandon Morrow (9-1). So the Yankees lineup today looks like this:

Gardner, cf
Nunez, 2b
Cano, dh
A-Rod, 3b
Swisher, rf
Chavez, 1b
Martin,  c
Dickerson, lf
Pena, ss

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Mariano on 601: 'It's a great number'

MoTORONTO -- The celebration was relatively muted today in the Rogers Centre after Mariano Rivera pitched a perfect ninth inning in the Yankees' 7-6 win over the Blue Jays to tie Trevor Hoffman's all-time record with 601 career saves.

There was a big celebration Tuesday in Seattle for No. 600 and there will be a big one for No. 602 when Rivera breaks it,  be it here Sunday or if it happens when the Yankees return home.

"Don't get me wrong, [601] is a great number but you have to hit 601 to get 602," Rivera said. "It's a great number but the most important thing is we won the game. We were down 6-1 and came back, pitched good after that."

"By being a Yankees as a player, manager and coach, you get to see a lot of great accomplishments," said manager Joe Girardi. "This is another one. You feel fortunate. ... What can you say about Mo? 602 is the big one because it just puts the final stamp on it that he's the greatest closer of all time.

"I don't think in this room we have any question. I don't want to take anything away from Trevor Hoffman but when you've been around Mo as long as I have, you've seen a lot of special things."

Click below to hear the audio of Rivera's meeting with reporters:


Mariano Rivera

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington)

AP Photo: Catcher Russell Martin congratulates Rivera on No. 601.

Bulletin: Mariano gets No. 601 in Yankees win

TORONTO -- Legendary New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera has tied the all-time record with his 601st career save today, pitching a perfect ninth inning to wrap up a 7-6 win over the Toronto Blue Jays in Rogers Centre.

Rivera got Colby Rasmus to take a called third strike and got Brett Lawrie on a broken-bat grounder to first. With the Yankees fans in the crowd of 39,288 urging him on, Rivera got Eric Thames on a lazy fly ball for his 42nd save of the season and 13th in a row.

The Yankees trailed through five innings, 6-1, and were largely a trainwreck in the first half of the game. Bartolo Colon had very little in his four innings and light-hitting Toronto leadoff man Mike McCoy had three RBIs.

The New York offense failed to get a man in from third base five times -- five times! -- and Robinson Cano ran into a double play to end the fourth when he passed Mark Teixeira at third base. Cano, running head down from second, either thought Nick Swisher's liner to Corey Rasmus in center was either the third out or was dropping in. When Rasmus made the backhand catch, Teixeira retreated to third to tag up but Cano blew right by him.

The Yankees finally got it together in the sixth with four runs -- three on a first-pitch laser over the left-field wall by Alex Rodriguez, his first home run since Sept. 4.

They took the lead in the seventh on Curtis Granderson's 40th homer of the season, a two-run shot to dead-center off Carlos Villanueva. That was the at-bat of the game, as Granderson fouled off seven straight 2-2 pitches before finally connecting.

The New York bullpen set a remarkable red carpet for Rivera. Scott Proctor, Aaron Laffey, Hector Noesi and Rafael Soriano threw four hitless innings. In fact, they retired the final 11 in that stretch. Proctor gave up a leadoff walk to Jose Bautista in the fifth, but he was quickly erased on Adam Lind's double-play grounder and the Blue Jays never had another baserunner.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

A-Rod still out but looking good for Saturday

TORONTO -- We're on the scene in Rogers Centre for the opener of the Yankees-Blue Jays series. Tonight's key items on the field will be CC Sabathia's quest for his 20th win, would would give him 20 back-to-back as a Yankee (a first since Tommy John in 1979-80), and Mariano Rivera's bid for his 601st career save (one behind Trevor Hoffman's all-time record). Rivera's family is here to see him go for the mark.

Most of the pregame chatter, however,  centers around the absence of Alex Rodriguez from the Yankees' lineup for the sixth straight game with a sprained left thumb. A-Rod hasn’t played since Sept. 9 and has been bothered by the injury since late August.

Manager Joe Girardi said A-Rod was going to play tonight when the Yankees were in Seattle but backtracked today. Still, Rodriguez took batting practice for the first time in a week and proclaimed himself ready to go Saturday.

"We decided he wasn't going to play both of these games (tonight and Saturday at 1)," Girardi said. "So why don't we see how he feels after taking these swings and a round of BP out there?"

Rodriguez was swinging with a knob of tape a couple inches from the end of his bat between his two hands and said that alleviated the pressure on his thumb, his bottom hand. He hit a few balls over the fence during BP.

"It's definitely goinng to be a little adjustment but anything that can alleviate pain is a good move," A-Rod said. "I'm excited about it. I haven't been this excited in at least a month. ... Today is a really good day. I'm really encouraged."

In other news: The roof was open during BP but it's been closed because the temperature is only 59 degrees. Dustin McGowan is pitching for Toronto as Brett Cecil was scratched because he cut his finger on a blender Wednesday in the clubhouse in Boston. ... Yankees beat writers, as well as Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner, were floored during BP when they looked up and saw red-suited people hanging out of the CN Tower that soars over the right-field corner. Those folks were taking part in the new tower attractioon, Edgewalk

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

A-Rod likely out until Yankees hit Toronto

Things are getting quite a bit more interesting in the American League East. Yankees manager Joe Girardi said tonight prior to his team's game in Seattle that Alex Rodriguez likely won't play until Friday night's series opener in Toronto because his lingering thumb issues.

A major subplot for the Yankees this week will be the work of closer Mariano Rivera, who has 599 career saves. He's going to become the second man to 600 and is on the edge of breaking Trevor Hoffman's all-time record of 601. That would be something for Yankees fans to see this weekend in the Rogers Centre.

The Red Sox, meanwhile are taking the night off after a 1-6 road trip included getting swept at Tampa Bay. The Sox are suddenly just 3 1/2 games up on the Rays in the wild card race (pending Tampa's game Monday at Baltimore) -- and have four more this week with Tampa, starting Thursday in Fenway Park. No less an authority than David Ortiz said it is, in fact, time to panic. Given the way Tampa's pitching looks and the way Boston's looks, he's right.

First up for the Sox, however, are two games against Toronto. Tuesday's contest will mark beleaguered knuckleballer Tim Wakefield's eighth chance at his 200th win. We all properly crabbed at the start of September about having no races to watch and we were right at the time. Looks like we might get a doozy after all.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington)

 

 

Ten years later, Herd's 19-inning loss resonates as 9/11 anniversary nears

Ten years ago tonight -- Sept. 9, 2001 -- the  Buffalo Bisons played their last game before the world changed forever. And what a doozy it was.

The Eric Wedge-led Bisons lost, 6-2, to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons in 19 innings in the decisive Game Five of the Governors Cup semifinals at then-Dunn Tire Park. It still stands as the longest game in both innings and time (5:13) in the ballpark's history.

A two-run triple in the top of the 19th by No. 9 hitter Jason Knupfer, who was 0 for 16 in the series to that point, snapped a 2-2 tie. Scranton went on to add two insurance runs to wrap up the best-of-five series, three games to two. The Buffalo offense struggled because cleanup man Chris Coste, who had a series-high eight hits, didn't play the last 15 innings after getting ejected arguing a call at first base in the fourth.

Scranton advanced to meet Louisville in the IL finals and lost Game One, 2-1, the next night at Slugger Field. That was September 10. The next morning was September 11.

Game Two was canceled due to the terrorist attacks and the entire series was called off the next day, with Louisville declared the winner. I've often pondered the 19-inning game because I would have been in Louisville on 9/11 had the Bisons won. All air traffic was grounded, of course, and I would have driven home from Kentucky. (I know some New York reporters who drove all the way home from Denver after the Giants' Monday Night Football game on Sept. 10).

"I talked to a lot of fans the day after we lost and you thought losing a 19-inning baseball game was devastating," Bisons GM Mike Buczkowski told me the day the IL canceled the series. "Then you get jolted to reality. Baseball games aren't significant given what's going on right now."

The Bisons made the finals the next year and hosted an emotional pregame ceremony prior to Game Two against Durham on Sept. 11, 2002, the one-year anniversary. Coste recalled starting the drive home to North Dakota the day after the 19-inning loss and stopping for the night in Toledo, Ohio, then watching events of 9/11 from his hotel room.

""We woke up in the morning and all that happened,'' Coste said. ""I thought about a million things and baseball was obviously way in the background but you wondered if they were going to finish the season. As the days went on, you started thinking, "I wonder what it would have been like if we had been stuck in Louisville.'''

When the calendar flipped to October, I was fortunate enough to cover the Yankees' emotional ALCS win over Seattle and the incredible '01 World Series against Arizona. And I got a first-hand look, even several weeks later, at the shocking aftermath at Ground Zero. 

Be sure to read about my reflections on baseball in New York and elsewhere in the wake of 9/11 in Sunday's Inside Baseball column.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

CC gets another chance against Red Sox as Yankees open crucial series in Fenway

This is one of the most baffling stats of the entire baseball season: Yankees ace CC Sabathia is 0-4 with a 7.20 ERA against the Red Sox this year -- but is 17-3, 2.40 against everyone else! That's going to have to change starting tonight when the Yanks and Sox meet in the opener of a three-game set in Fenway. (It starts at 7 and is a local New York City My9 game, which means you'll have to poke around on your service to find it. It's on radio on WECK-AM 1230.)

Both teams enter on two-game winning streaks and Boston has a 1 1/2-game lead in the AL East. The Red Sox, however, are 10-2 head-to-head with New York this year and the Yankees have a 5.98 ERA in the series. The teams have only one other series remaining, a three-gamer in the Bronx Sept. 23-24-25.

With a win tonight, Sabathia would become just the fifth Yankees pitcher to win at least 18 games in at least three straight seasons, and the first since Vic Raschi had four straight seasons of at least 18 wins from 1948-51. Sabathia will be opposed by John Lackey, who is 12-9 but has a ghastly 5.98 ERA.

Phil Hughes meets Josh Beckett on Wednesday while A.J. Burnett gives thanks that August is over to face Jon Lester on Thursday. Burnett had an 11.91 ERA and looked completely lost during his five August starts but still managed to go 1-2.

On the injury front, Alex Rodriguez (thumb) looks like he could miss the series while Derek Jeter (knee) could be out tonight. Kevin Youkilis (back) is starting rehab tonight for Pawtucket in Rochester.

For Jerry Sullivan's take on Sabathia, see this entry at the Sully on Sports blog.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington)

 

Scranton/WB Yankees may barnstorm in 2012

SwbHere's a bit of a bombshell that's been pointed out to me: It appears the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees won't be playing in Scranton in 2012. At least that's what this report in Baseball America says.

PNC Field, the team's decrepit stadium that only dates to 1989 but has been poorly maintained, is getting a $40 million facelift and the work will apparently be much cheaper if it can be done through one whole season rather than being split over two years.

The Scranton Times-Tribune, surprisingly, didn't have a lot more insight to add to the Baseball America report with its story on the situation, other than some comments from team president Kristen Rose and some local politicos. 

So it looks like the Yankees will play next year somewhere else or in a variety of somewhere elses. Lehigh Valley, Syracuse and the Yankees' Class A stadium in Staten Island appear to be good options. Baseball America also suggest a return to Ottawa for a season is possible.

The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle speculates that Frontier Field could be a seasonlong option.

What about Buffalo? The Bisons run too many other events in Coca-Cola Field and would not be interested in hosting a large number of additional games. But there's a lot of Yankees interest here and I wonder if each IL North team will be asked by the league to host a Scranton series or two.

If I'm the IL, I pick Staten Island or Ottawa. As IL venues, we already see the Scranton/WB Yankees eight times a year in the North Division. No great shakes if we see more. It would be more special in a non-IL place.

Stay tuned. The final word on this should come in a couple of weeks.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

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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 | mharrington@buffnews.com


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 | amoritz@buffnews.com

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