The Yankees are on a plane back to Houston because on the biggest stage, pitching in the biggest game of the season, The Big Maple came up with the biggest performance of his career.
James Paxton, went pitch for pitch with the Astros Justin Verlander, a strong candidate to win his second Cy Young, and did exactly what the Yankees were hoping for when they acquired the him from the Mariners in November of 2018.
“He’s got to go out and pitch well and set the tone for us,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone told reporters. “Because we want to get on that plane to Houston now, and that starts with Pax.”
You can just hear the flight attendant say, “Please bring your seat backs forward and place your service trays in the upright and locked position,” after Paxton held the Astros to just one run over six innings. He struck out nine, walked four and threw 112 pitches.
Verlander also was good. He struck out nine, didn’t walk a batter and threw 105 pitches. But two of those pitches the Yankees cracked for home runs.
After DJ LeMahieu tied the score at 1-1 in the bottom of the first, Aaron Hicks gave the Yankees the big hit they’ve been missing in this ALCS, which the Astros now lead 3-2
Hicks crushed a three-run homer that ricocheted off the right field foul pole in the bottom of the first. Yankee Stadium exploded. Neither team could produce another run, as the Yanks won, 4-1.
Paxton had a very solid season. He didn’t lose a game in August and September and finished the regular season with a 15-6 record and a 3.82 ERA. But his first two postseason starts were underwhelming and the Yankees, facing an elimination game with Verlander looking to slam the door, got Paxton’s performance of the season.
“When you think of the Yankees, you think of the postseason,” Paxton told reporters. “They pride themselves on winning and that’s what we do here. I knew that I’d probably get an opportunity of pitching the postseason, and that’s what I wanted to do.
“That’s what I wanted to do when I came here, and that’s what we’re doing now. It’s been a great experience and I want to keep on going.”
The Yankees keep their season going because The Big Maple came up big.
The worst nightmare became a
reality Tuesday night for the Yankees. The kind of nightmare that when you
awaken, it feels real. Because it was
The Yankees, for the second
straight game, faced a dominating Houston starter and they were shut down like
the ‘L’ Train on weekends. Gerritt Cole held the Bombers scoreless for seven
innings, allowing just four hits in a 4-1 win in Game 3 of the ALCS in Yankee
The Astros lead the series
2-1 which doesn’t seem daunting until you consider this:
The team that wins Game 3 in
a series tied 1-1, has a 77.1-percent chance of closing it out, according to
The Yankees seem to have no
clue – not many teams do – of knowing how to solve Justin Verlander and Cole. Cole,
29, is unbeaten in 25 starts dating back to his last loss on May 22. He’s 3-0 this postseason with an 0.40 ERA.
Whereas the Yankees hope to
get 4-6 innings of solid starting pitching and then turn to the bullpen, one of
the deepest in baseball, the Astros count on their starters to go 6-7 innings.
Verlander went six and
two-thirds in Sunday night’s Game 2 victory, allowing two earned runs while
striking out seven. Yankees starter James Paxton lasted just two and one-third
Luis Severino, the Yankees
starter Tuesday night, gave up a 420-foot home run to Jose Altuve, the second
batter of the game. He lasted four and one-third innings allowing two home runs
and yielding three walks.
“I don’t need to go out there and strike out
300 guys or win 20 games,’’ Severino told reporters earlier in the week. “I
just need to go out there and match his stuff.”
He didn’t do that, which isn’t an indictment of
the man considering he missed most of the season with shoulder and lat
The Yankees (and Astros) haven’t announced
their starters for Wednesday night’s Game 4. Heavy rains are expected hours
before, during and after Wednesday night’s 8:08 p.m. first pitch.
If the Nationals close out
their NLCS against the Cardinals, we might see a paradigm shift in pitching
philosophy. Teams have become bullpen-heavy.
Washington and Houston boast
robust rotations and that has proven to be the more successful approach this
postseason. The Yankees might have more time to think about that than they had
By winning Game 3 the Astros
have guaranteed themselves of returning to Houston for Games 6 and 7 if
necessary. Verlander and Cole could each make another start.
the Yankees swept the Twins in such dominating fashion in their ALDS, the first
thought before the first Champagne cork went flying was, “How the hell did this
team win 101 games and crush 307 home runs?”
Twins couldn’t have slain Bambi no less the dragon known as the Yankees
“We were outplayed for three games, and it’s
OK to acknowledge that,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli told reporters. “They
pitched better than us, they swung the bats better than us, and they defended
better than us.”
Yep. And yep.
The three Yankees starters – James Paxton, Masahiro
Tanaka and Luis Severino – combined for a dazzling 2.63 ERA. The deepest
bullpen in baseball did its job. Didi Gregorius broke out of his slump –
bigtime. Giancarlo Stanton, injured virtually the entire season, worked out
four walks in three games. Every button manager Aaron Boone pushed – Brett Gardner,
Cameron Maybin – was a winner.
Now the Yankees
wait to see if Houston can finish off Tampa Bay Tuesday night or if the Bombers
get more rest while the Astros and Rays play a Game 5 in Texas.
More rest? Who needs stinking rest? The Yankees seem to be
in such a good place after dusting off the Twins, 23-7 the aggregate score in
three games, you’d think rest was the last thing they want.
But the Yankees should take this good fortune and sleep
The next round can’t be as easy as the last round.
The Astros, who eliminated the Yankees in the 2017 ALCS,
have thought of themselves as the best team in baseball the last three seasons
and it’s hard to argue with their 311-175 record.
The Rays have
gone head-to-head with the Yankees in the AL East. They don’t see Game of
Thrones dragons in the Yankees dugout but mere mortals that can be held in
check by their elite starting pitching.
doesn’t really matter to me who we play to be honest,’’ Gardner told reporters.
“If we play our game and play well, we’ll win. And if we don’t, we won’t. It’s
as simple as that. Rays or Astros, it doesn’t matter. If we play the way we’re
capable of playing, we don’t have anything to worry about.”
Yes, they do.
Both the Astros and Rays have much better pitching than
the Twins. And the Astros have a relentless lineup. They were 4-3 against the
Yankees this season and would have a
Game 7 in Houston. The Yankees bested the Rays, 12-7.
Whereas the Twins had no postseason history of success against the Bombers, the
Astros have that win in 2017, a fact Aaron Judge has mentioned at times.
“I mention it
as something to fuel us, but it doesn’t matter who we face going forward,”
Judge said. “If we continue to play our game, if we continue to do that, we’ll
be where we want to be.”
Perhaps. But it
won’t be as easy as those polite folks from Minnesota made it.
Yankees are an acquired taste – kind of like rooting for the lions in ancient
Rome, or the bulls in Pamplona or the top one-percent to make more money.
not throttle the opponent with dominating pitching. They don’t play small ball
(although they did pull off a double steal Friday night).
Yankees feel you out for a few rounds, uh innings, and just when the legs get a
little wobbly, they unleash a barrage of fury that turns the Stadium into the
only insane asylum one needs a ticket to enter.
the case in Game 1 of the ALDS. The Yankees, who hit 306 home runs this season,
faced the Twins, who hit 307 homers. Two plodding heavyweights trying to set up
the big inning.
Yankees did it twice, putting up a three spot in the third and another in the seventh
as they all but KO’d the Twins in a 10-4 win that went the distant, distance,
four hours and 15 minutes.
a lot of opportunities to score with a lot of guys on base,” D.J. LeMahieu told
reporters. “We did a really good job against their pitchers. I feel like every
one of their pitchers that came in pretty much had tough innings against us,
words, the Yankees pummeled the Twins physically, and more important,
emotionally. The Twins entered this series under pinstripe spell.
Yankees have ended the Twins’ World Series dreams in 2003, 04, 09, ’10 and ’17.
If ever Minnesota needed a win in the opening game of a series, it was Friday
night against the Yankees.
first one is always the biggest game,” Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge told
The Yankees have a way of making every game big, bad and bruising. Friday night’s
affair lasted a brutal four hours and 15 minutes. Commentator John Smoltz said
in the bottom of the 5th that it felt like the 8th or 9th
This is not
how baseball has to be played today. The Astros, behind the remarkable Justin Verlander,
needed a mere three hours and 25 minutes to snuff the Rays, 6-2.
Nationals put in less time, beating the playoff-cursed Clayton Kershaw, 4-2, in
three hours and 17 minutes. And the Braves barely broke a sweat in being the
Cardinals, 3-0, in two hours and 46 minutes.
is how the Yankees play. They believe in their bullpen and they force the opponent
to believe in theirs. The Yankees and Twins combined to use 11 relievers.
Twins figure to need a lot of relief in Game 2. Randy Dobnak, 24, the former
Uber driver who got married last Saturday, faces Masahiro Tanaka. Twins manager
Rocco Baldelli tabbed Dobnak because he has a 52.9 percent ground ball rate
which would be impressive if he had pitched more than 28.1 innings.
been the most amazing week of my life for sure,” Dobnak told reporters. “Getting
married, now the postseason start. It doesn’t get any better than this.”
see about that. Dobnak may not be entering the Coliseum chased by bulls but he
might feel that way after about four hours and 25 minutes.
Let this be the last October for a long time that we don’t
find ourselves in this New York baseball Groundhog Dog.
Like the movie, we’ve lived this scenario over and over
again. But whereas Bill Murray finally gets it right and wins Andie MacDowell’s
heart, the Mets and Yankees almost never get it right at the same time.
So here we are, the Yankees about to begin their pursuit of a
28th World Series. The Mets about to hire their sixth manager in the
last 16 seasons after firing Mickey Callaway on Thursday.
This is the most important decision of Brodie Van Wagenen’s young
GM career. He traded the future for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz. Then he
doubled down and acquired Marcus Stroman at the trade deadline.
The Mets weren’t an afterthought in September for the first
time since 2016. They should be a legitimate postseason contender in 2020 but
that window isn’t likely to remain open for long with the depleted farm system.
Van Wagenen needs a manager that has a win-now mentality and
a New York-tough resiliency.
In his last comments before getting fired, Callaway had an
interesting spin on managing, especially in this town.
“I make unpopular decisions every
day, whether it’s unpopular to you guys or the players.’’ Callaway told
reporters. “And every decision I make is going to be unpopular to somebody. But
I make decisions based on trying to win games and trying to keep these guys
motivated to win as many games as they possibly can.”
What separates the great managers from
the good ones is that they can sell those unpopular decisions. They have a
track record that affords them the benefit of the doubt. They have a confidence
that is not cocky but fierce.
The Mets need that kind of manager to lead
Which brings us to the Yankees. When
Brian Cashman chose Aaron Boone, it was a bold decision that could have
backfired. Boone is the poster boy for a young manager. He can relate to
players while balancing analytics and feel.
One can’t overstate the job Cashman and
Boone did this season. The injuries came like a plague and still the Yankees
won 103 games and the AL East. Cashman never uttered the words, “Come and Get
Us.” Or maybe he did by buying a formidable bullpen and stockpiling depth.
It seems unfair to base the success of
this season on whether or not the Yankees win it all. There are other teams in
the AL with just as much power and better starting pitching. That’s the
contract one signs when donning pinstripes – titles or bust.
Maybe the Yankees will overcome that
suspect starting pitching and you should know your way to Canyon of Heroes. And
maybe Van Wagenen will get it right and the Mets will be playing in October
next season. Maybe, just maybe, a subway series is in our future.
RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Really, the only thing one needs to know about the state of
Daniel Jones as the Giants quarterback is this:
matter if his two victories have come against the bipolar Tampa Bay Buccaneers
and the utterly dysfunctional Washington Redskins.
it matter that he threw the first two interceptions of his NFL career in Sunday’s
24-3 win over those repugnantly-named Redskins. And we’re loathe to point out
that he’s the first Giants rookie QB to win his first two starts since Phil
Simms in 1979, because that became one rocky ride before Bill Parcells regained
2-0 and the Giants are 2-2, a better record than the Steelers (0-3) and the
same as the Philadelphia Eagles.
say that he’s won the games he was supposed to win because, truthfully, when
the Giants were 0-2, the only “winnable” game on the schedule, possibly, was the
Dec. 15th home game against the Miami Dolphins, who are the first
NFL team in history to tank in September.
interceptions on back-to-back first-quarter possessions and seemed as nonplussed
as a medical examiner dictating gory descriptions the mortal wounds into a
asked if it was easy to put those two potentially catastrophic mistakes behind
him, The Rookie said, “Yeah,
I think you have to be able to do it.
“If you can’t,
you’re going to struggle at times because football is going to go up and down.
You’re going to have good plays and bad plays. Certainly try to do it, and I
think you have to be able to.”
matter that Jones, statistically, had a pedestrian day. He was 23-of-31 for 225
yards with one touchdown, two interceptions and a quarterback rating of 78,
much better than some guy named Brady (45.9) on Sunday.
need to overthink this by even hinting at comparisons to Simms, Brady or, um,
quarterback has to do two things, and two things only:
Get his team in the end zone, which, of course, has a direct
correlation to No.1.
Jones led the Giants to touchdowns on
their first two possessions. They had a 14-0 foot on the Redskins’ throat before
Jay Gruden, keeper of Dan Snyder photos, started thinking of replacing Case
Keenan with rookie Dwayne Haskins.
That cushion allowed Jones to get away
with his first two picks and his 78 quarterback rating. The Redskins offense is
about to be reported by a whistleblower so no threat there.
Jones, hailed by the Giants fans like MAGA
maniacs at a Trump rally, improved to 2-0.
only is he a quick learner but he’s a fast thinker,’’ Giants coach Pat Shurmur
said of Jones.
dare think the Giants can go to 3-0 next week against a higher quality opponent
in the Vikings? No. We stay in the moment. Jones is 2-0. He’s rallied his team
from 18 down one week and shook off the first two picks of his career the next.
“Getting back to 2-2, you feel good about it,’’ Jones said. “But at the
same time, if we’re going to keep winning, we have to address a number of
things. We have to improve a number of things as a team if we want to keep it
going. I think it’s important that we understand that and like I said, keep
Kyrie Irving has played a lot of roles in his
Clutch shooter: It was his 25-foot 3 with 53
seconds left that brought Cleveland its first-ever NBA title.
Ridiculous scorer: There are a lot of scorers
in the NBA but no guard provides more breathtaking finishes around the basket
And now Irving has added a new role: The
Irving made it blatantly clear Friday that he
will protect Kevin Durant from coming back too soon from his torn Achilles
“A lot of people have responsibilities for why
that happen on a national stage,’’ Irving said yesterday’s at the team’s
Brooklyn practice facility. “We all know KD was not ready to play in that
environment. We all know that, whether people want to admit or not.
“He was out 31 days … We put him out there to
sell a product that came before the person, Kevin. And now I am here to protect
that. I am going to be the protector and not let anyone infiltrate that circle.
‘Hey K, do you, get right. We’ll be fine.’”
Safe to say Irving won’t be getting any Christmas
cards from the Warriors. He doesn’t care about that. He cares about KD and what
a magical season the Nets can have in 2020-21 when Durant returns from his
But first, there is the matter of this season.
The Nets were one of the league’s feel-good stories last season. After a woeful
start they gelled under the guidance of Kenny Atkinson, as down to earth a
coach as you’ll find in any sport, and the patient planning of GM Sean Marks.
The Nets slipped into the playoffs, losing a
first-round series to the Philadelphia 76ers. And then the late-night fun
Free agents Irving, Durant and veteran center
DeAndre Jordan stunned the , and floored the Knicks, by signing with the Nets.
Locker room fave Lance Thomas signed with the Nets on Friday. He will take the
roster spot many assumed Durant pal Carmelo Anthony would get.
Add those four players to the existing nucleus
of Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie and 3-point champ Joe Harris
and as Atkinson said, “We know there are expectations.”
Expectations?! Wait til next year, when Durant
There has been talk about KD returning this
season. Not on Irving’s watch.
We’ve already seen the terrible results of
rushing a player back. Durant missed a month of the 2019 playoffs with what was
listed as a calf injury. He returned for Game 5 of the Finals against Toronto. Two
minutes into the second quarter he fell to the court clutching his right calf.
“I’ll be over-patient with Kevin because I
don’t want that to happen to anyone ever again especially on that type of stage
where he was answering questions about whether he would be back or not. I want
him to be 101 percent healthy,” Irving said.
Durant said he would be at games while he
continues to rehab. Word of caution to any reporter or Nets fan that wants to
know if he’ll back this season: They’ll have to go through Irving.
The Mets playoff dream
ended on Hump Day, which is perfectly fitting.
Before they took the
field Wednesday night at Citi Field needing to beat the Marlins and hope the
Brewers lost to the Reds, the scoreboard showed Milwaukee leading, 6-0.
The nail was being driven into the coffin.
It didn’t matter that
Jacob deGrom turned in his latest marvelous pitching performance in a 10-3 win.
He deserves to win the Cy Young for a second straight year but he would rather
be pitching in October.
Which brings us to next
If the Mets aren’t in the 2020 MLB playoffs
the season will be a failure. For the first time since 2015, when the Mets lost
the World Series to the Royals, has a season ended with so much expectation for
“There are so many
positives that came from this year,” slugger Pete Alonso told reporters.
“We learned a lot about ourselves, and I think what we learned is that
we’re gritty, we’re tough, we can compete. We have some awesome pieces, and the
mentality we have, I think there’s something extremely special to come.
“When we finally
put it together for 162, it’s going to be scary.”
There’s no reason the
Mets can’t put it together next season but it starts with this offseason. GM
Brodie Van Wagenen needs to address the bullpen which had fans feeling more
trepidation than if it was Grenade Giveaway Day at Citi Field.
The Mets could use more
quality depth. They need to unravel the enigma that Edwin Diaz became on the
flight from Seattle.
And a decision has to be
made on manager Mickey Calloway, who deserves credit for leading the Mets to
that post All-Star streak that made a playoff berth a possibility, not a pipe
“You know, obviously I have the utmost
confidence in myself,” Callaway told reporters.
Good to know. But Callaway is 159-160 in his
two seasons with the Mets and made his share of head-scratching moves. Jury is
The Mets have the nucleus of a serious if not
scary team next season. They can’t let Zack Wheeler walk in free agency. They
must find a way to coexist with Noah Syndegaard, or at worst, trade him for
some elite bullpen talent.
A rotation of deGrom, Syndegaard, Wheeler,
Steven Matz and Marcus Stroman will be as good as it gets. A lineup centered
around Alonso, Michael Conforto, Jeff McNeil, Amed Rosario and Wilson Ramous
proved it can produce.
It’s time for this franchise to get over the
“We’re definitely not satisfied with where
we’re at,” Conforto told reporters. “We want to play in October, that’s
the goal. I think we have the guys in here to do it. We have to put six months
of baseball together, and we didn’t do that this year.”
That’s exactly what the Mets’ mindset has to
be. deGrom should win that Cy Young. Fernando Tatis was terrific but his season
ended in mid-August. If Alonso tied or breaks Aaron Judge’s rookie home run
record he gets my vote for Rookie of the Year.
There have been some really nice feel good
moments in Queens. That Amazin streak of
15 wins in 16 games brought back memories of the 69 Miracle Mets. That
team won it all. This team didn’t make the playoffs.
“Did we get to our
ultimate goal and get in the playoffs?’’ asked Calloway. “No, and that stinks.”
If the Mets don’t
go deep into postseason next season, the stench will be even worse.