Waking up a monster?
No, that's not what happened when Ryan Dempster drilled Alex Rodriguez on Sunday Night Baseball. The Yankees were wide awake by then, thanks to a player that ownership forced on general manager Brian Cashman.
Cashman said he would not have sent the Cubs right-hander Corey Black to get Alfonso Soriano. But he reported the offer to President Randy Levine and owner Hal Steinbrenner, and they said to go for it.
One of baseball's most prolific streak hitters, Soriano delivered a white-hot streak of epic proportions when the Yankees needed it the most, making them relevant in the American League wild-card race, if not yet the Eastern Division, as Derek Jeter once again moves into position for a dramatic punching bag.
The Yankees looked like punching bags when they were swept at U.S. Cellular Field in the early-August series that marked Rodriguez's return to the field while appealing his 211-game suspension resulting from the Biogenesis scandal. Most of the national headlines since then have remained focused on Rodriguez's ongoing battle with Cashman, the Yankees and Major League Baseball but the team entered the weekend having won 10 of 12 to create the possibility of a September as intriguing on the field as off it.
Trying to reach the playoffs for the 18th time in 19 seasons, the Yankees had cut their deficit in the wild-card race from seven games on Aug. 11 to 31/2 entering the weekend series at Tampa Bay. They play 20 of their last 35 games against the teams they have to beat to complete the comeback, including home-and-home series against the Rays, Red Sox and Orioles.
They have a chance, and for that they can thank Soriano, Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano and even Rodriguez.
Cano, the Yankees' best player all season, quietly is having a torrid August (.382/.460/.539) and Granderson's return from the disabled list Aug. 2 helped a patchwork lineup that has seen 20 hitters get at least 50 at-bats (four more than in 2009, the team's last World Series season). Rodriguez (.281/.379/.421) has been a tough out, as he showed with that long home run off Dempster two at-bats after the beaning that left him looking like he wanted to cry.
But Soriano's home run off Justin Verlander really got the ball rolling. He entered the weekend having hit seven homers and driven in 21 runs in his last 12 games, including back-to-back two-homer games against the Angels.
Soriano projects to his second straight 30-plus homer, 100-plus RBI season — a nifty feat for a 37-year-old in the seventh year of an eight-year contract.
David Ortiz believes Dempster's beaning of Rodriguez could turn into a lasting rallying point for the Yankees.
"You saw how the game ended up,'' the Red Sox slugger told USA Today. "CC Sabathia was throwing 91 (mph) and started throwing 96. Alex later hit one way out there. You're talking about a good team that you can't wake up. But we learn from our mistakes."
Dempster, signed to a two-year, $26.5-million contract last winter, at least to some degree was venting his own frustration. He's 6-9 with a 4.77 ERA and in danger of losing his starting slot if Clay Buchholz ever gets healthy. He almost certainly will work out of the bullpen in the postseason.
And Black? He won two of his first three starts for Class A Daytona, has struck out 108 in 96 innings overall this season and figures to work alongside fellow prospects Pierce Johnson, C.J. Edwards and Ben Wells in the Florida State League playoffs.
New voice: The Bill Walsh philosophy on sports management espouses it's tough for anyone to stay effective in a job for longer than 10 years. Charlie Manuel was in his ninth year with the Phillies, and some things about the 4-3 start under interim manager Ryne Sandberg prompted Roy Halladay to agree that a change was in order.
While Halladay later back-tracked some when it was clear that he had hurt Manuel's feelings, the guy with the 201-104 career record pointed to some immediate improvements under Sandberg.
"As much as I miss Charlie, Ryne's going to bring back a little more of the Phillie baseball style than we've had the last couple of years,'' Halladay said. "You know, we really haven't had that whole team effort and the whole team hustle that we've had in prior years."
Halladay points to Sandberg being more of a detail guy than Manuel.
"Guys being in places on time,'' he said. "Being on the field on time. Taking ground balls, taking extra BP, and all those little things that nobody thinks makes a difference. So I think (Sandberg) has been very good so far.''
Sandberg will manage in Wrigley Field next weekend against Dale Sveum, who Epstein hired without strongly considering Sandberg. Sandberg had left the Cubs' organization a year earlier when Jim Hendry promoted interim manager Mike Quade to the big-league job over him.