Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Rocky Mountain High, Colorado: Yankees Series Preview

The New York Yankees and Colorado Rockies don't have much history between them. The deal that brought Chris Nelson to the Yankees last week was just the 7th trade between the two teams.  The first player move between the two franchises indirectly resulted in the Yankees future manager.

On November 20, 1995, the Yankees sent pitcher Mike DeJean to the Rockies for catcher Joe Girardi. It was a move that was extremely unpopular with Yankees fans since it meant the departure of fan favorite Mike Stanley. Girardi even got booed at the Yankees pre-season fan fest. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Yankees hold a 7-5 advantage in games played between the two franchises, but their last visit to the Mile High city resulted in a three game sweep by the Rockies. The Yankees came to Colorado in 2007 having won 12 of  their last 13 games, but couldn't hit in the hitter friendly ball park.

The Yankees lost the opener 3-1 when Josh Fogg outpitched Mike Mussina. Game 2 saw Andy Pettitte cruise into the 6th inning with a 1-0 lead, but got hammered for six runs over the next two frames. Jeff Francis limited the Yankees to that lone run over seven innings and struck out nine.

Roger Clemens couldn't make it out of the 5th inning in the finale and left with a 4-2 deficit. The Rockies hung on for a 4-3 win (Rodrigo Lopez earned the 'W') to complete the sweep.

Pitching didn't play much of a factor when the Yankees took two of three from the Rockies in a wild series in 2002. The Yankees scored 41 runs in the three games, including 20 in the middle game of the three game set.

Derek Jeter, Shane Spencer, and Robin Ventura each homered to back Mussina in a 10-5 win on June 18. Despite the fact that he allowed five runs in six innings, Mussina improved to 10-3 on the season. The next day the Yankees banged out 18 hits including another home run by Ventura, as well as home runs by Alfonso Soriano and Jason Giambi.

Ventura and John Vander Wal drove in four runs each and Ramiro Mendoza picked up the win after Pettitte allowed eight earned runs in three plus innings. (He'll be more than happy not to pitch in this week's series, especially after the outcome of his last two starts.) The Yankees actually trailed at one point 8-4. The Yankees bullpen did a horrid job in the finale as the Rockies rallied from an 8-2 deficit and won in 10 innings, 14-11.

The Yankees scored two in the 9th inning to tie the game at 11 apiece, but future Yankee Todd Zeile hit a walk-off 3-run home run off of Steve Karsay in the 10th inning. Clemens had to leave after four innings when he was struck by a line drive. It was Clemens' follow up start to the Yankees-Mets game in which Shawn Estes attempted to him, but threw behind him and missed. It was the first time Clemens got a chance to bat against the Mets since he had beaned Mike Piazza during the 2000 season and threw a shattered bat at him in that year's World Series.

Fast forward to today. A new three game series starts in Colorado this evening with Hiroki Kuroda facing Jorge De La Rosa. Kuroda faced the Rockies 10 times as a member of the LA Dodgers, but was just 1-5, 5.52.  As a hitter, the Japanese native has a career .105 average with 3 RBI in 245 plate appearances. He's hitless in two at-bats as a Yankee.

De La Rosa is 2-1, 1.46 in three appearances (two starts) against NY, but the last win came as a member of the KC Royals in 2007.

Game 2 matches David Phelps against Juan Nicasio in a contest that will also feature Phelps' first Major League at-bat (barring an early exit). The finale has CC Sabathia, who loves to swing the bat, against Jeff Francis. Sabathia carries a career .238 average with 3 HR and 14 RBI. He's just 2-17 (.118) as a member of the Yankees.

Francis was with Colorado from 2004-2010 (missed 2009 with injury), played with KC in 2011 and returned to Colorado last season.

A couple of final historical notes - the sixth other deals between NY and COL were pretty meaningless, except for the Yankees acquisition of Shawn Chacon in 2005. After he lost seven of eight with the Rockies, Chacon went 7-3, 2.85 to help the Yankees to the AL East division title.

In the 1992 expansion draft, the Rockies took Charlie Hayes from the Yankees with their third pick. They also selected Carl Everett and Brad Ausmus from the Bronx Bombers. The Yankees got Hayes back from the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1996 and the third baseman recorded the final putout in the Yankees World Series victory that year.

At the time, the Yankees were upset about losing Everett, but in retrospect the Rockies did them a tremendous favor. Everett had good numbers in a 14 year career, but it was filled with arguments, ejections, attitude, and complications. He played in the Major Leagues for eight different organizations in those 14 years.

Ausmus went on to have an 18 year career with the Padres, Tigers, Astros, and Dodgers. He was a three time Gold Glove winner and caught 1,938 games.

Girardi was also taken in the expansion draft from the Cubs with the Rockies' 19th pick.

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