Posada defined

    Wednesday, January 25, 2012, 11:34 AM [General]

    The moment, the image, defines Jorge Posada for so many who have followed his career. Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium. Yankees versus Red Sox, door to the World Series wide open for both teams. Victorious team steps through, loser hears it shut with sudden slam.

    Win or go home.

    The Yankees are in a deep ditch early, down four runs with Pedro Martinez pitching flawlessly on the mound for the Sox, and the Yanks’ Roger Clemens out of the game by the fourth inning. Clemens followed by an all-hands, ad hoc relief corps of starters and relievers -- Mike Mussina leading the way -- that would shut the Red Sox down for several innings.

    Bottom of the eighth, the Yanks had scored a couple of runs on a pair of Jason Giambi solo homers, but the Sox have also scored again, giving them a 5-2 lead. On the New York radio broadcast, a dour fatalism has crept into John Sterling’s repetitions of Yogi Berra’s “getting late early” phrase.

    Then those hits by Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams bring the Yankees within two, Red Sox manager Grady Little and Martinez have the chat that will eventually send Little packing as he leaves Boston. Martinez stays put instead of getting pulled for a lefty reliever, and a double by Hideki Matsui brings Williams home, leaving the Yanks down a single run.

    Jorge Posada, the switch-hitting catcher, steps to the plate with Matsui on second there in scoring position.

    Eight odd years later, Posada would recall that moment in a packed Yankee Stadium conference room on the day of his retirement from baseball. A room as full as it’s ever been, his wife and children at his sides, the trophies representing his five World Championships with the Yanks to his right. He would sit recalling that moment, special even among the many special ones in his 17-year Major League career, to the press and his closest friends, former coaches and team-mates—two of them, Jeter and Mariano Rivera, men he calls his brothers.

    There is an interesting characteristic about athletes that can seem contradictory. While in the game, the great ones don’t think of past moments, don’t think of their failures or successes, don’t think of the gravity of the situation. They zone narrowly on the now and let experience and muscle memory take over. Whatever conscious thought they have at such times is to assess the challenge in front of them, channel their will and ability toward conquering it. It is all done quickly, very quickly—in the game, they often have seconds or less to apply themselves to positive action.

    Here is what’s contradictory, or apparently so: Hours and days later, years and decades even, the same athletes can often describe those moments—everything about them, about the process leading up to their feats, with striking detail and clarity. Their brains have recorded it all; relaxed, they can mentally exhale.

    About that moment in 2003, that defining moment, Posada would recall thinking Martinez was about to get the hook, be replaced by a lefty out of the Red Sox bullpen before his at-bat. And then realizing that the pitcher had stayed put, talked his manager into leaving him in the game, and …

    “I knew how he was pitching me the whole day—he was pitching me inside, pitching me inside, pitching me inside,” Posada would say. “So when Grady Little left, I felt like he was going to throw me a pitch inside. I was looking for something in, and I swung at a pitch that was probably a ball, but it was too close to take. And I got jammed, and the ball found a lot of grass . . . .”

    A lot of grass, a bloop double to shallow center, that no-man’s land behind the infielders and in front of the outfielders, sending Matsui around third and across home plate, tying a game the Yanks would, of course, go on to win 6-5 in extras, their exhilaration on the field matched in counterpoint by the Sox’s stunned, numb walk toward the visiting clubhouse.

    Remembering being there in the crowded room, Posada hesitates for the merest beat before he shares what he felt reaching second base to leave that unforgettable image, one that transfixes us to this day:

    He is roaring, fists clenched at his sides. Roaring there on the base pad like a lion.

    In his description, Jorge Posada’s voice would not be as emotional as when he thanked his parents for the support they had given him, thanked his wife and his children for theirs. Nor as when he thanked Jeter for his friendship, and Rivera for his brotherhood. Posada is a proud but humble man. Earlier in the press conference, asked about the highest and lowest moments of his career, he spoke of team accomplishments while discussing the former, and of a game in which he allowed three passed balls as the worst of it for him.

    Three passed balls. The worst moment in his mind. One of personal accountability, for a poor performance in a game few, if any, others in that overcapacity room could even remember.

    Proud yet humble, ending his pause, Posada would use now similarly restrained tones to explain how he felt landing on second base after that ALCS Game 7 double 

    “Looking at the stands, and looking at the dugout, [I was] just excited, super excited during that time. Just knowing that you have one game to play. You win or go home. It’s just a pretty exciting time.”

    Just exciting enough to make Yankee Stadium roar and shake as wildly as it ever would that night, exciting enough to reveal the competitive fire in his heart, a fire that fueled him to overcome obstacles large and small on the way to becoming a catcher for the New York Yankees, a five-time World Champion, a leader whose enormous heart would become the passionate heart of the team.

    Roaring, like a lion, on the field.

    And then, almost a decade later, on a Tuesday, leaving it behind with gentle, grateful words for his wife, children and all those he loves and cares about.

    That is Jorge Posada. Man, baseball player, Yankee great.

    Others will follow in his path, but there will never be another like him.

    Thanks to Bruce Beck for his insights into the great ones.

    Follow Jerome Preisler on Twitter: @Jerome_Preisler

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    Detroit Tense

    Monday, October 3, 2011, 3:45 PM [General]

    I view my job at Yankee Stadium as having several major, interrelated components. First and most importantly, I try to see what I can see when I'm there and gather material for a possible column.

    Next in my priorities is using social media to rapidly pass along information to fans and offer any snap impressions or opinions I might have. I often share glimpses of my personal experiences covering a baseball game to peel away the curtain separating fan and reporter.

    I also like to take the pulse of fans on the Web as a game develops, find out what they’re feeling and wondering about, and provide a useful service by researching and answering people’s most common questions. In the press box I have colleagues with knowledge of different facets of the game whose brains I can pick on the spot.

    There’s often a schism between the stream of raw emotion from social media and the activities I observe in the clubhouse and interview room before and after games. Even in the cauldron of postseason competition, team preparations are calm and organized. Media sessions are scheduled and posted on video screens. Each session is much less freeform than during the regular season; a manager or player enters the interview room, answers a handful of questions, vacates the podium for the next arrival.

    In the hours before a game, fans await lineup postings, and announcements on things like injuries, player availability and pitching rotation decisions. At the ballpark, for the teams, it’s all about preparation.

    Roaming the line between fans, players and coaches is sometimes an odd experience. When I get to the ballpark I will set up for a day’s work, and, early on, check my Twitter stream to pick up on the mood and concerns of fans. It helps me decide on areas of focus. I also mostly enjoy the interaction, but as someone wrote a long time ago, none loves the messenger who brings bad news, and that part isn’t always fun.

    Occasionally it gets pretty rough; the wave of intensity from Yankees fans can be buffeting and that only increases in the postseason. There are innumerable voices saying a lot of things but really saying the same thing. They all want their team to win, and are nervous and restless because the pressure, the stakes, are heightened.

    Players and coaches have similar feelings, though they might use different words for them. You hear the terms “amped up” and “butterflies” a lot. Ballplayers especially don’t like to talk about nerves or nervousness. It’s understandable. You don’t want the opposition to see you sweat, doesn’t matter that everyone’s sweating a little.

    In his pregame media session, Detroit manager Jim Leyland said he hadn’t seen much in the way of nerves from his ace Justin Verlander, his Game 3 starter, in his truncated rain-suspended Game 1 outing, but conceded he might have been somewhat antsy to explain some struggles with control that gave the Yanks an early lead. That’s another of those words—antsy

    Leyland’s demeanor is matter-of-fact. He doesn’t dance around the truth and he says what he thinks, unless it’s something he believes will compromise his strategy or a player’s expectation of keeping certain pieces of business in the clubhouse. He isn’t going to talk about a player’s nerves, but he won’t lie, either. “Antsy” is as good substitution for nervous as any. It’s a small thing. Ant-small.

    In his pregame press conference, Justin Verlander, a runaway favorite for this year’s Cy Young award and an American League MVP candidate, was relatively candid. Verlander is affable and comfortable with the press. There to answer questions before a key Game 3 start in Detroit, he talked briefly about how his single inning of work in Game 1 might have affected him.

    “It might be beneficial,” Verlander told a reporter, and then went on to talk about getting into a rhythm on the mound. A few sentences later, he added. “I got a feeling of what it’s like, and there was some adrenaline. Anybody who says there’s not is full of it. It’s being able to channel it and use it the right way. I felt pretty calm and collected early on, especially to [Derek] Jeter … for the most part, I felt pretty good.”

    Adrenaline is another of those words that says it without saying it.

    Shortly afterward, during the Tigers’ on-field workouts, I spent some time observing Leyland as he watched his players conduct drills and occasionally conversed with members of the press. I found him interesting to watch, even when he was just standing and talking to someone, but although I’ve wrestled with articulating why, I’m still not sure I can do it.

    Maybe part of it is just Leyland’s old-school appearance, the silver hair and mustache, the slightly craggy face, the whippet lean physique. And the socks. The Tigers’ have a classic uniform befitting its status as one of Major League Baseball’s eight oldest franchises, and Leyland in uniform has a classic high socks look. Not David Robertson high, but middle high over his calves. He wears his trousers sort of baggy, too. Not that he’s swimming in them, but Leyland isn’t the type to go skintight.

    When Leyland talks to a reporter he looks him or her in the eye and gives straight, thoughtful, unembellished answers to questions. He has a dry sense of humor that sometimes escapes people. I have compared Leyland being funny and Leyland being straight to a pitcher who delivers his fastball and changeup from the same arm angle. You have to be on your toes to see the ball coming.

    If Leyland had nerves before ALDS Game 2, he didn’t show it. He knew its importance, of course. For the Tigers, winning was a must. They lost Game 1 and had to take the second from the Yankees and split the series, neutralize the Yanks’ home field advantage.

    Leyland looked and sounded as if it was business as usual. He could have been getting ready for a game in April or June. But hours later after a 5-3 Detroit victory, when he explained why he’d gone to eighth-inning setup man Joaquin Benoit an inning earlier than usual to preserve a four-run lead, Leyland said, “It’s playoff time. You do some things at playoff time that you don’t do over a 162-game schedule.”

    Leyland talked about how a team can’t afford to go down 0-2 and face three straight elimination games in a five-game divisional series, that to win it you do what you have to do. “Sometimes you don’t like to do it,” he said. “But I felt that … really, basically, what you do as a manager, you try to do anything that gives your team the best chance to win.”

    Leyland’s got about a quarter century of managerial experience, has been in the postseason a bunch, led a Florida Marlins team to a World Championship in 1997, and almost got the Tigers a trophy in 2006. That’s a whole lot of baseball under his belt, where there doesn’t seem to be much anxiety tucked away under his jersey.

    At the bottom of the ninth inning Sunday night, with the Yankees having gotten to within two runs of tying the game, Robinson Cano came up to the plate with two men on base, two outs, and Alex Rodriguez in the on-deck circle. Cano had daggered the Tigers with a grand slam in the previous night’s Yankees win and is someone Leyland calls one of the five best players in the game. Coming off an injury-plagued season, Rodriguez has been hitless and looked out of sync in the series’ first two games.

    Asked if he considered walking Cano to pitch to A-Rod, Leyland allowed a bare trace of a smile before giving a very detailed account of his thought process. “I figured it’s wet, it’s slippery, one gets away, one run is in, something like that would happen, a ground ball … “

    A ball slips, Leyland had thought, a ball is hit in the infield, you get Rodriguez over there with his bat, and somebody throws it away, and the game is tied. The thought of walking Cano crossed his mind, but he just couldn’t do it. And he took his chances with the Yankees’ second baseman.

    It was a revealing answer. I don’t know how Leyland deals with nerves internally, but you can tell he’s always quietly thinking, and maybe that’s what keeps them quiet too.

    Detroit first baseman Miguel Cabrera is the power charge at the heart of his team’s batting order. In the Game 2 win he went 3-for-4 with three RBIs, putting the Tigers on the board in the first with a two-run homer off Freddy Garcia. Before he followed Leyland’s and pitcher Max Scherzer’s postgame interviews, media members were told that Cabrera, who admits to having struggled with and overcome a drinking problem, would not answer questions about off-the-field issues.

    The announcement led me to figure he would be tight-lipped with reporters. But given the restrictions on questioning, Cabrera proved easygoing and good-humored. He was also refreshingly honest when asked about nerves.

    “I get nervous,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong. I think everybody gets nervous when you warm up before the game.” Then without pause, he added, “When you step on the field, they throw the first strike, the nerves go away.”

    The truth is that however they want to put it, everybody involved with the game’s nervous this time of year. Coaches, players fans. The ones in the field and dugout seem to handle it by concentrating on what they have to do to win. The ones in the grandstands, and watching on television, sometimes don’t handle it as well. It’s understandable. Baseball grips the heart and soul, takes hold of their emotions, and they’re powerless to impact the games in which they are so wholly invested.

    Game 3, is a road game for the Yankees. CC Sabathia, the Yanks’ reliable ace, goes up against Verlander in the series’ swing game. As the men in Comerica Park do their work, and the social media erupts, you can be sure it’s going to get tense. As a fan I’ll have my own set of anxieties. As a reporter, I can try to be objective and calmly look ahead working a Game 5 of this series Thursday night at Yankee Stadium.

    I think that’s where we’re headed, and I intend to be there walking the line.

    Follow Jerome Preisler on Twitter: @YankeesInk

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    Rivera, gentleman

    Tuesday, September 20, 2011, 1:39 PM [General]

    It was an afternoon in late July, and Mariano Rivera had stopped near the batting cage to speak with a reporter from a Latin sports outlet. The Yankee batters were beginning their practice and Rivera was headed toward the outfield with some of the other pitchers to catch fly balls. For Rivera, that has always been a pleasure; he has said that he would like someday to play center field, if only for an inning.

    The reporter is a proper looking man of some years, thin, grey haired, with a neatly trimmed mustache.  Even in the midsummer heat, his attire is semiformal -- collared dress shirts and suspenders, when the younger members of the sports media will often wear golf shirts and khakis. He carries a leather shoulder bag that always looks slightly overstuffed.

    I do not know his name. I’ve seen him often over the years in passing, and we always exchange nods of hello without accompanying conversation. I believe him to be a broadcast journalist, because I have never seen him in the section of the press box reserved for the writing press.

    That July day, his conversation with Rivera seemed personal, or at least off the record. They stood close together between the cage and warning track area outside the home dugout, talking in quiet voices. The reporter was not holding a recorder or a notepad.

    They spoke very briefly -- four or five minutes at most. Then Rivera started toward the outfield, paused in front of me, turned back toward the reporter, and they exchanged a few added words in Spanish. My impression was that they were making plans for a longer conversation, though I could have been mistaken.

    The reporter watched Rivera as he trotted off across the grass, noticed me watching the two of them, glanced in my direction. 

    Es un caballero,” he said in Spanish, nodding slowly toward Rivera. And then, in English, smiling, “A gentleman.”

    I returned his smile. There are textures to the phrase that go beyond the quick translation. Literally, caballero means horseman, and its origins are with the mounted knights of ancient Spain. It connotes someone of chivalry and gentility, of decorous and noble bearing.

    Un caballero.

    It so perfectly defines Mariano Rivera.

    Moments after the  602nd  regular season save of his career -- he has in truth, had 644, counting those in the postseason -- Rivera stood on the pitcher’s mound at the heart of Yankee Stadium, the reluctant but visibly proud center of attention. The crowd was sparse; it was a makeup game with the Minnesota Twins on a Monday afternoon in September, a game postponed from early April, the chill in the air autumnal, summer vacations come and gone. Were it not for the promise of seeing Rivera break the all-time saves record held by Trevor Hoffman, it is likely there would have been fewer in attendance. Many of those who were there came out for Rivera, came to see him make history.

    602. The number was, in its way, merely the period at the end of a sentence. Rivera, whose greatness was indisputable long before he reached it, will himself downplay its significance. But it is important validation. It marks his place, as anniversaries and birthdays mark events. It is a concrete measure, forever preserving in records the enormity of his accomplishment.

    On September 19th 2011, the greatest baseball reliever ever earned his 602nd regular season save, more than any other reliever in the game’s history. And the less-than-full Stadium roared as if it was crammed to capacity.

    In the grandstands, the noise started before Rivera made his jog from the bullpen, spectators cheering wildly on their feet when Nick Swisher, one of their own team’s players, hit into a double play to end the eighth inning. The score was 5-3, Yankees. A hit by a Yankee batter, and the team might have lead by four runs or more, and then Rivera would not have entered the game. The double play preserved the save situation and a date with history, and the crowd erupted when their own man hit into it. Rivera had a two-run lead to protect, and on that day everyone there knew it would be enough.

    When it was done—three batters up, three down—and his teammates poured from the dugout and bullpen to give their congratulations, Rivera, who had been headed down into the Yankee clubhouse, was pushed back onto the mound there at the heart of it all, Jorge Posada and Alex Rodriguez, urging him to appreciate the accolades, the long, loud outpouring of affection from the crowd. Rivera looked uncharacteristically awkward at first, doffing his cap. And then fighting back emotion, he began to acknowledge those who had come for him. And in his eyes, in the straightness of his posture as he gathered himself, one could see the silent but unmistakable pride.

    “For the first time in my career, I’m on the mound alone,” he said later, his children at his side. “There’s nobody behind me, nobody in front of me … and then surrounded by so many people. I can’t describe that feeling … it was priceless … it was a moment … I didn’t know it could be like that. And all I have to say is, I was thanking God in that moment.”

    Others will speak of Rivera’s discipline, preparedness, and mental strength. In his humble and dignified way, Rivera credits his longevity, and the famous cutter he says is a gift, to God’s mercy. 

    Es un caballero.

    I thought of those words while lending my applause to Rivera’s ovation. I think of them now as I write my own appreciation.

    Of all that will be said about Mariano Rivera today, tomorrow, and in the future, perhaps none honor him more than those.

    Follow Jerome Preisler on Twitter: @YankeesInk

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    9/11: A recollection

    Sunday, September 11, 2011, 10:38 AM [General]

    "Before setting out on their current road trip, the Yankees honored the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks with a special pregame ceremony in the Bronx. In remembrance today, I thought I’d run a piece to commemorate the attacks that I’d written a couple of years ago in my earlier column for YESNetwork.com, DEEP IN THE RED. It’s been revised and expanded from the original.

     -- JP

    On September 10, 2001 my wife Suzanne and I were at Yankee Stadium to see the Yankees play the Red Sox and, we hoped, see a 39-year-old Roger Clemens attain the 20th win of his career against his former team. But it was a gray, wet day and the rain kept pouring down and down through a lengthy game delay.

    We had very good seats behind the Yankees dugout. I remember, after a while, watching Brian Cashman, Joe Torre, and then Red Sox manager Joe Kerrigan confer on the warning track in the rain. Soon they went walking around the field together, skirting the infield tarp to prod the soggy grass at its edges with their shoes, then heading toward the outfield and doing the same to  test it. You could see the water squish up under their feet from the saturated turf.

    It wasn’t surprising that the game was postponed, with a makeup date to be determined if necessary. The field wasn’t playable, and the Yankees had a big division lead over the Red Sox. I’m fairly certain that game never had to be made up.

    Although my wife and I were disappointed it was called, we took some consolation knowing that we had tickets for the next night’s game. The team coming in to begin a series on September 11 was the Chicago White Sox. Our seats weren’t nearly as good but we were still hoping we’d get to see Clemens achieve his milestone. We wondered whether he’d make his scheduled start in the pitching rotation or skip his turn.

    The elevator in our apartment building was under repair that day. It had been out of service since the day before, September 9. That day had been muggy and, because we lived several stories up, we’d complained about having to use the stairs. Climbing up, we’d run into two young women who asked us to come over  to their apartment and have ice cream with them. They’d taken off from work for their spur-of-the-moment ice cream party. Or a broken-elevator party, as they’d called it. They were roommates in their late twenties or early thirties and hadn’t lived in the building long. We appreciated the offer but declined.

    When I woke up on September 11, two days later,  Suzanne already had the local news on — the channel was NY1 with its round-the-clock coverage. She had tuned in for the weather forecast and perhaps an update on whether Clemens was pitching that night. The weather really wasn’t much of a question; all you had to do was look out the window to know it was a picture perfect day, the sky a cloudless sheet of blue.

    Not long after I started watching TV the regular morning news cycle was interrupted. It was about a quarter to nine and there was a report of smoke coming from the World Trade Center. I wondered at first if a fire had broken out in one of the offices. But within minutes somebody — a motorist, I believe — phoned the station to say he thought a small plane had crashed into the tower.

    And then the events of that day began to unfold with a horror that was, at least then, incomprehensible to us.

    We had friends who wound up staying at our Manhattan apartment for most of the day. One had been at work and the other was out looking for work. Both lived outside the borough and couldn’t get home when the city went into virtual lockdown. They called and came over searching for a place to go, and I went out to the store and joined the lines of people getting bottled water and extra food provisions. We did not know the scope of the attack, or who was attacking us. We only knew New York city had been attacked and thought it might be wise to stock up.

    I remember looking south on Third Avenue and seeing the New York skyline erased. The sky was blue overhead but downtown was just a whitish smear in my vision. I remember that when Suzanne went out to walk our dog Kirby, she saw a fleet of  SUVs shooting south on Second Avenue. They were black and unmarked with darkly tinted windows. The police in the NYPD cruisers speeding along with them were barking out warnings  through their loudspeakers,  instructing pedestrians, some still on their way to work, to stay put on the sidewalk as the SUVs streaked by.

    As our friends sat with us in front of the television, I remember, now, all of us watching in stunned disbelief as the towers came down. And then watching all the rest. I cannot describe the sense of unreality and isolation we felt. It was as if we’d slipped into some dark alternate universe. Or if that impossible universe had overtaken  and engulfed our own. What was happening wasn’t really happening. Except of course we knew it was.

    About a week later my wife and I had to leave New York and did so with sunken hearts. Someone had put prayer candles in our  building’s entrance foyer and I stared at them for a long time as we headed out. Several tenants had been at the World Trade Center and died there in the flames and destruction.  We would learn that two of them were the women who’d asked us to come up to their apartment for ice cream a couple of days before the terrorists struck.

    As I got into our car, I knelt, closed my eyes, and put my fingertips to the pavement. I don’t recall what I was thinking. I just remember doing that.

    We were at Yankee Stadium the day baseball resumed. Then at the end of October, one of the friends who’d stayed with us on the day of the attacks had tickets for Game 3 of the World Series, the first of the series being played in New York. He said there was a chance he’d be able to get me a ticket from his uncle, and stopped over at the apartment and waited for a call. In the end, the seat went to someone else and I stayed home and watched that game on television with my wife.

    I’ve never really thought I had much of a shot at that World Series ticket. Or believed that my friend thought I did. We never spoke of it later, but I’ve always been convinced he came over just so we could spend some time together before he left for that game, a raucous, World Series game at Yankee Stadium in New York City, just six weeks or so after the homicidal, suicidal maniacs hijacked those planes.

    We’d shared the day of horror, the three of us. And that October evening before former  President George W. Bush threw his ceremonial first pitch from the mound, we were going to share just a little of the defiant unity that series would bring to New York City and the rest of America.

    It makes me sad that too much of that feeling has since faded. We should not need tragedy on a massive scale to bring out compassion, and consideration, for one another. It is vital and good that we remember the past and pay tribute to 9-11’s innocent victims. But  the greatest of  tributes must go beyond anniversary commemorations and extend to our daily lives. How much more meaningful would it be if this date inspired us to move forward treating others with greater respect and decency? How much more elevating the message if it made us kinder, better people?

    And so as I sit writing this all these years later, it all comes inextricably together for me. The impotent shock and horror of that day in September ‘01, the sorrow, the memory of baseball lifting many of us up when we so desperately needed it — and the simple thought that life is too tenuous, too fleeting, for its precious moments to be squandered or driven by hatred.

    With thanks to L.K.

    Follow Jerome Preisler on Twitter

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    What did we learn at Fenway?

    Friday, September 2, 2011, 1:03 PM [General]

    Coffee please, thanks. Late night ... y’know how these Yankees/Red Sox games go. Not that anyone here’s complaining. When the games are as tough, dramatic and generally crisp as the last three have been, you need to appreciate them, and then suck it up and get your morning jolt however you can.

    So on the second day of September 2011, with the fifth of six regular season series between the teams over, the Yanks took a pair of games at Fenway for their first series win over the Sox this year.

    The overall head-to-head record is now 11-4, Sox over the Yanks. Not how the Bombers would want it, but as Robert DeNiro told John Cazale in The Deer Hunter once upon a time, “This is this. This ain’t something else. This is this.” Which is more less the same as saying, “It is what it is,” but around these here parts you don’t get the cheap knockoffs.

    What have we learned about the teams and how they measure up against one another?

    We learned CC Sabathia can beat the 2011 Red Sox. Everyone knew he was capable, but he hadn’t done it, and now he has. It wasn’t too pretty but pretty doesn’t count in baseball.

    We learned that a Major League Baseball umpire once again didn’t seem to know the rules of the game he’s officiating. A week or so back, one of them blew a game-changing call because he didn’t know the ground rules of a particular ballpark. In this case, it appeared the ump was unaware that when a batter gets hit when he swings it isn’t a hit-by-pitch, but a strike.

    He may have said afterward that he thought the batter swung after he got hit, or something like that, but when you think about that explanation, it’s kind of hard to buy. A batter gets hit on his hand, makes a fuss, and then swings? Maybe on the Bizarro planet, that makes logical sense. On Earth, nope.

    We also learned Red Sox pitcher John Lackey is an equal opportunity glarer. He openly dislikes opposing batters clapping their hands at the plate—and stepping hard on it— after scoring home runs off him, same as he dislikes it when his fielders fail to make plays behind him. And his preferred way of expressing dislike is to glare. The difference is, he can’t plunk his own guys the way he plunked Francisco Cervelli for his celebration.

    As far Cervelli’s display of exuberance went, it’s a Latin thing, said Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, he hurriedly clarified, maybe sensing Big Papi looming over his shoulder. But he was just saying, you know. And maybe forgetting that his own closer, Jonathan Papelbon, isn’t Latin, and has his own patented way of celebrating excessively.

    And just so we’re straight for next time, the consensus among media types is that it’s apparently okay to clap when you reach base on an RBI hit but not when you cross home plate on a homer. 

    Very importantly these last few days, we learned that Phil Hughes continues to be inconsistent as a starting pitcher after three full years and change at each end in the big leagues. When Hughes has a fastball that’s up around 94, 95 mph, the ball moves and he can be effective. When he has a fastball that’s down around 91, 92 mph the ball doesn’t move so much and he tends to get hit, especially by patient batters like the Red Sox guys.

    The recurring problem for Hughes is that he can’t seem to hang onto the 94, 95 very long during a game, even when he has it to start with. It appears that when he feels the velocity drop off, he shies away from the plate like he did when he walked Sox outfielder Josh Reddick with one out in the sixth after being ahead of him 0-2 in the count. That was after his team had rallied from a 4-1 deficit at the top of the inning to take a 5-4 lead. That was also what let Reddick score on a fluky Varitek double and opened the door to an eventual Yankees loss Wednesday night.

    It’s good for the Yanks that they learned all this about Hughes. They now have six starters in their rotation and one has to go into the bullpen soon. It isn’t going to be Sabathia (18-7), Ivan Nova (14-4) Freddy Garcia (11-7) or Bartolo Colon, who’s one game under .500 could easily be several games over. Everyone realizes it’s going to be Hughes or A.J. Burnett.

    For a while there it looked like Hughes was the likely candidate because he’d pitched out of the bullpen before, and done it well. On the flipside, Burnett wouldn’t seem suited to the pen. His emotions can get the better of him under pressure, and relievers often enter games in pressurized situations. He’s a walking textbook of pitching issues, and you don’t want to give him any more of them. That would make him a total loss, and an expensive loss at that, one with a couple more years left on his big bucks contract. It wouldn’t seem an ideal option for the Yanks.

    So it looked as if their plan would be to get half a game or so out of Burnett, a few more innings out of Hughes, and then go to their established relief corps to finish off games. Sort of a Hughes/Burnett tandem.

    And then a couple of decent Hughes starts (against light-hitting teams), together with a few Burnett disasters on the mound, kind of blew all that apart. Burnett was really the killjoy. He started to put the Yankees in a hole before fans even took their seats. Soon it was looking like the Yanks would have to banish him to the pen a la Jose Contreras, Jeff Weaver, Javier Vazquez and a host of ill-remembered castouts before them.

    But yesterday Burnett hung in for five plus. He pitched well enough to hold the Sox to two runs scored on a Dustin Pedroia homer in the fourth. He said afterward that he’d utilized some tips he had worked on with his pitching coach, Larry Rothschild, in their throwing sessions between starts. Less hand movement, directing his energy toward the plate, pitcher-speaky stuff like that. And he’d stayed calm, he said.

    For the Yanks, it’s always a good thing when A.J .Burnett is calm.

    Thursday night the Yankees won with A.J. on the mound. Yankee fans had anticipated his start with fear and dread. Many claimed in the social media to have formed prayer circles or dosed themselves with hard liquor and sedatives. Some had reported painful gastronomic difficulties in the hours before the game.

    But in the end they learned Burnett could put in an effort that allowed his team to win. The Yanks’ management and coaching staff also learned that. For them, this was a very happy thing. It makes Plan A -- Hughes to bullpen, Burnett staying in rotation -- viable again. Almost a certainty, in fact. And that is the best resolution to the situation they could have hoped for.

    What else was learned?

    Red Sox batters can wear out the best Yankee pitchers, and Yankee batters can wear out the best Sox pitchers, no surprise. September call-up Jesus Montero has a crack at getting significant time at DH and making the postseason roster. He didn’t get any hits Thursday night but he also didn’t really look overmatched, meaning he seemed to know what he was doing at the plate. He also got his first hit-by-pitch in the Majors. It was a big hit-by-pitch, because he eventually wound up coming around for his first run scored in the Majors in an inning that gave his team the lead. None of it gave him a baseball to take home for his trophy case, but he said he was happy to contribute anyway.

    So the Yanks took two out of three from the Red Sox and learned some things in the process. And this morning’s papers are full of articles saying that one of these two teams will go to the World Series.

    That’s kind of premature. Both are almost locks for the playoffs, but there are a couple of other teams who might have something to say about the World Series part of the forecast. That five-game, first round Divisional Series is no picnic. It will probably involve the Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers and they are teams with very good pitching and offense. They would like to prevent the Yanks/Sox ALCS that television network executives and ad salesmen are probably salivating about. Either might yet have its way.

    First place in the AL East is now a virtual tie with the Red Sox and Yankees having an equal number of losses and the Sox having one more win. Over this series in Boston, we learned that the American League East pennant race will probably be fought to the bitter end -- perhaps even the final week, when the Yankees and Red Sox have their sixth and last matchup of the season in the Bronx. After that, each will have three games left on their schedules. The Yanks will play them in Tampa against the Rays. The Red Sox will play them in Baltimore against the Orioles. Maybe those teams will have a say in who wins the division and Wild Card.

    New York Yankees. Boston Red Sox. The former was supposed to have less than what it takes in the pitching department to make the postseason this year. The latter was supposed to have a historic rotation and offense that would for all intents and purposes let it storm its way into the World Series unchallenged. That was what we heard before the season started.

    But look what’s happened in the meantime, and there is a lesson in it.

    Of everything we learned these last three days, it was most of all that history has a way of defying expectations and stubbornly refusing to do what it’s told.

    Follow Jerome Preisler on Twitter: @YankeesInk

    4.1 (2 Ratings)

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