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July 17, 2005

Al's well that ends well
by SG

16 years ago, the Yankees traded their top prospect, a young lefty who threw in the mid to high 90s and had struck out more than a batter an inning in his 18 starts as a Yankee. They got Jesse Barfield in the deal, who was past his prime and would last about 3 more seasons in New York before finally shutting it down. I was a prospect nut at the time, and it broke my heart to see Al Leiter go.

Leiter's gone on to have a great career, winning two World Series titles and 155 games. Make that 156. Defying almost all reasonable expectations, based on his stats this year and the opponent he was facing, Leiter pitched a masterpiece tonight at Fenway. I didn't think it was possible, with the way NL batters have cuffed him around this year and knowing how patient and potent the Red Sox are, especially at Fenway.

Throwing around 88-90 mph for most of the game with good command of the corners of the plate, Leiter allowed only 3 hits and 3 BB in 6.1 innings, fanning 8. He very possibly should have not allowed any runs, as Hideki Matsui pulled up on a ball near the wall that he likely should have caught that accounted for the only run the Red Sox would score off him.

I don't know how likely Leiter is to continue to pitch well going forward. The numbers don't lie, and they are ugly. However, the Yankees are absolutely desparate for bodies in the starting rotation right now, and Leiter did the job masterfully.

The game got a little too exciting in the ninth. After a leadoff HR from Manny Ramirez. Joe Torre should have pulled Tom Gordon at this point. After all, he is recovering from shoulder tendinitis and had thrown a lot of pitches yesterday. Instead, he kept him in to walk Kevin 'Scabby' Millar.

Enter Mariano Rivera, who had saved the two previous Yankee wins in this series, and dominated doing so, basically debunking the theory that Boston owns him. However, when Robinson Cano botched a tailor-made double play ball from Trot Nixon, I started to sense a Boston rally coming. Instead of two outs and a three run lead, there were now runners on the corners and no outs. Jason Varitek singled in Millar, and it was now a 5-3 game with the go-ahead run coming up, in the person of Bill Mueller, who beat Rivera in a game last year with a walkoff HR. Mueller hit a weak bloop that fell in front of Gary Sheffield, which loaded the bases and brought up Alex Cora. Cora hit a hot shot to third that Alex Rodriguez grabbed cleanly. Rodriguez made a perfect throw home to get one out, Jorge Posada made another perfect throw to first, and Tino Martinez made a great grab on the throw. The play was very close, and it looked to me like Cora may have beaten out, but #### happens. Johnny Damon came up hacking on the first pitch and hit a weak grounder to Cano, who made the play this time, and the game was over.

Tonight's game was the capper of a hugely successful 4 games series against the hated Red Sox. The Yankees did what they needed to do by winning 3 of the 4 games. Alex Rodriguez came up huge in this series, with 3 HRs, hopefully ending the talk that he can't hit against Boston. They are now tied with the Red Sox in the loss column, 1/2 game out of first place in the AL East, and also tied for the Wild Card.

It doesn't get any easier from here. Kevin Brown makes his return tomorrow in Texas, and will be on an 80 pitch count limit. I would guess that neither Gordon or Rivera will be available, so a blowout win would be nice. Brown is due to have some better luck on balls in play, which will be important if the Yankees want to continue playing well over this current stretch against teams over .500.

Tomorrow will be a big day, as Tiger Wang will be examined by Dr. James Andrews and Brown makes his return. It looks more and more likely that Wang will miss the rest of the season, so Brown will need to pitch well and stay healthy. I have a feeling he will pitch well, but I don't know how healthy he can stay.

The Yankees are also supposedly close on getting Shawn Chacon from Colorado, who may be decent outside of Coors Field, but has a shaky injury history and is far from a sure thing. At this point, they may run through replacement level starters for a while and hope they can get a few decent games out of some of them.