Anytime the Yankees and Red Sox get together it's a must-see event, and that was the case again Friday when the teams clashed at Fenway Park. New York took the opener of the series, a tense 1-0 victory, and there were plenty of stories off the field as well (the Xavier Nady/Damaso Marte trade, Manny Ramirez's apparent discontent, etc). With a nod to the best rivalry in sports (sorry Duke-UNC), grab your T-Pass and let's open this morning's Closing Time with a handful of nuggets from The Hub.
• Ramirez took himself out of the lineup again on Friday, even though MRIs on both knees earlier in the day came back clean. Can we take Ramirez's self-imposed scratch at face value, or is there something else at play here? Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe feels Manny may have finally exhausted his goodwill with the club, perhaps forcing the team into some sort of action, and Sean McAdam of the Providence Journal can picture the Red Sox suspending Ramirez if the outfielder doesn't feel like playing this afternoon. Stay tuned.
• Say all you want about Francisco Rodriguez, but Mariano Rivera sure looks like the AL's best reliever to me. Rivera got the final five outs for the Yanks in Friday's nail-biter, three of them by strikeout (a cushy call against Mike Lowell didn't hurt). Take a long look at these ridiculous numbers: four wins, 26 saves in 26 chances, 1.17 ERA, 0.67 WHIP. Pretty amazing to see a career year at age 38.
• Joba Chamberlain is turning into a dominant starter right before our eyes, with the latest sample coming Friday (7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 9 K). Derek Jeter said it was Joba's best outing of the season "by far" and Chamberlain agreed with that assessment.
• The acquisition of Nady sends a clear message about how the Yankees feel towards the rest of their aging outfield. Hideki Matsui? New York isn't counting on him for 2008. Bobby Abreu? The Yanks are now positioned to let him walk away as a free agent this winter, unless they really like the price.
• Tyler Yates and John Grabow are the two names of interest in Pittsburgh as the Bucs search for a new closer (I'll assume for the moment that everyone passes their physical and the New York-Pittsburgh deal becomes official shortly). Both candidates got to make their case in Friday's loss to the Padres; Yates allowed three hits and a run over two innings, while Grabow worked one scoreless frame. Recent usage and better numbers point to Grabow being the first man to audition, but keep in mind he was dealing with a tired arm earlier in the month. There has also been some trade interest in the veteran lefty, but bottom line, if you've got one shot to fire here, he's the guy you go for. As for Pittsburgh's outfield vacancy, Steve Pearce is headed to the majors to man right field, while Andrew McCutchen will remain in Triple-A.
• Denard Span rapped out three hits and has reached base 10 times in five leadoff starts this year. This looks like a story with legs. As for teammate Carlos Gomez, he suffered a back injury making a spectacular catch Friday and it's not clear when he'll play again. X-rays at a local hospital came back negative. "I was scared," said Gomez, hobbling around the locker room after the game. "I didn't know if I had broken my back or what. I never felt pain like that before." Gomez was reportedly battling vision problems even after he returned to the club.
• Give Eric Wedge credit for his work Friday; he was a proactive manager and it produced a victory for his ballclub. The Indians held a 5-2 lead through eight innings (another gem from Cliff Lee, six baserunners, 10 Ks), and Wedge summoned closer Masa Kobayashi for the last three outs. A logical move, except that the righty didn't have it tonight - Kobayashi quickly allowed a single to Joe Mauer, a moon-shot homer to Justin Morneau (I'm not sure it's landed yet), and a ringing double to Delmon Young.
A lot of managers would stubbornly stand by their man in this spot but Wedge realized his stopper had nothing and quickly got Rafael Perez into the game. The lefty bailed out the Tribe, getting a line out and two grounders, and with that Lee owners walked in off the ledge. Fantasy upshot? The leash with Kobayashi gets a little shorter, and this bullpen gets put under the microscope going forward. Perez has to deal with the left-handed bias against closers, but he's got the stuff for the ninth inning (120 Ks in 118.1 career innings), to go along with a tidy 2.59 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. He's also, at 26, eight years younger than Kobayashi.
• Josh Johnson's third start of the year wasn't that much different than the first two, producing a good-but-not-great line (5.1 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 8 K, 2 HR). He got a break in the sixth when Joe Nelson relieved him and stranded two baserunners. His next turn figures to come Wednesday at home against the Mets (part of it depends on when the Marlins decide to bring Anibal Sanchez back into the rotation).
• I was worried about Jair Jurrjens holding up once the NL got a good look at him, but that hasn't really been an issue. Anytime you can march into Philly and throw eight scoreless innings at the hosts (3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K), you deserve a hearty tip of the cap. He'll get St. Louis at home next week.
• Billy Beane generally knows when to hold em' and knows when to fold em' with pitchers, but the Diamondbacks don't have any regrets on the Dan Haren trade. The tall righty threw pellets at the Giants for eight innings (9 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 9 K), and he's the only NL starter with a WHIP below 1.
• The Tigers suffered a stomach-punch loss when Jermaine Dye took Todd Jones over the bridge with two outs in the ninth, but Jones wasn't the only Detroit reliever who struggled on the night (Joel Zumaya threw 21 pitches, just nine of them strikes, during a rocky seventh inning). For all of the distrust fantasy owners have in Jones (and justly so, with that 4.99 ERA and "hit me" fastball), he's only blown three saves on the year.
• The way the Mariners lost Friday's game at Toronto - with Ichiro Suzuki failing to secure a
routine fly catchable line-drive in the tenth inning - fits with the theme of their entire year. J.J. Putz pounded the strike zone in his one inning but got hit around; Brandon Morrow had trouble finding the plate but escaped without any damage (he would have gotten the win if not for Ichiro's gaffe an inning later). And while we're discussing the conclusion of the game, how could the official scorer rule a hit on the play? You get the idea the "keep two people happy" rule is alive and well when it comes to these calls; when "H" goes up on the board, the batter and fielder both get what they want.
• Speed Round: Jeff Mathis has shown some pop in the last few days, but his line for the season (.224/.303/.383) keeps me far, far away . . . Joel Hanrahan got to shake out the cobwebs Friday, working a perfect eighth inning at LA with two strikeouts. We'll see how many save chances his teammates can provide for him; the Nats lost their fourth straight game at Chavez Ravine and have the worst record in the majors . . . Has Conor Jackson taken a bad swing this month? If so, I missed it (.342/.402/.570, four homers) . . . If there's any kind of market for Edgar Renteria in your league, make a deal. Today. His bat has looked sluggish most of the year, and especially in July (.193 average, .228 slugging). I have no faith in him ever being a significant fantasy player again . . . Brad Ziegler worked another 1.1 scoreless innings, while two relievers were ripped behind him (Alan Embree, Andrew Brown). The submariner continues to make up ground in the Oakland bullpen . . . Livan Hernandez did his normal thing Friday (8 IP, 12 H, 5 R, 3 BB, 6 K), raising his ERA to 5.31. Hmm, can you think of anyone better the Twins might want to run out there instead? . . . Wandy Rodriguez was notorious for his problems on the road entering 2008, but he's starting to get over that hurdle. He was sharp in Friday's win at Milwaukee (6 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 7 K) . . . Mike Pelfrey (7 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 5 K) shouldn't be on anyone's waiver wire this morning; he's been rock-solid for two months now. He keeps the ball in the park, he's striking out just enough to please the 5x5 players, and he hasn't lost a game since May 26. New York, you've got a keeper here.
• Ryan Theriot is having a snappy little year (.323 average, .398 OBP, 55 runs), but it could be better with more efficient work on the bases. Theriot has been successful on just 15-of-25 steal chances, after going 28-for-32 last season. I tried to snatch Theriot away from Dr. Behrens earlier in the week, unsuccessfully.
• Jeff Baker has solidified his spot in the Colorado lineup with a mad run since the break (15-for-31, .839 slugging, even two bags). He's also carrying three positions of eligibility, always a nice perk. Sorry it went down like this, Clint Barmes, but someone had to lose.
• Injury clean up: Chipper Jones (hamstring) probably won't play this weekend and a DL stop hasn't been ruled out yet . . . Phil Hughes (ribs) threw batting practice in Florida Friday, and he's set to make a start in the low minors on Monday . . . Dave Roberts has a sore knee but is expected to go Saturday . . . Orlando Hudson (shin) got back in the lineup Friday and went 1-for-4 . . . Joey Devine (elbow) begins a rehab assignment Monday . . . Tom Glavine (elbow) is doing throwing on the side and might be back in the majors by the middle of next month. As for Tim Hudson (elbow), the Braves are still feeling good about his chances of starting Tuesday.
• Handshakes: Trevor Hoffman (19), Bobby Jenks (20), Jonathan Broxton (3; don't be surprised if he's one of the league's best closers down the stretch), Kevin Gregg (21), Jose Valverde (26), Troy Percival (21, despite allowing a homer to the ghost of Ross Gload), and of course Francisco Rodriguez (43).
• A quick shout out to my peeps at the National Scrabble Championship in Orlando, which kicks off Saturday. Yes, Virginia, there's really $25,000 on top for the winner, and 663 people signed up for this thing. There's a whole subculture here that you probably never knew existed. Make me proud, Rhombus.