A Sunday with John and Suzyn

Last June with the Brewers at the Stadium for a three-game series, which the Yankees would sweep, I decided to listen to John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman while I wrote down my thoughts from their broadcast. I have wanted to do it again since, but wasn’t sure when the time would be right. With the debut of this site and the Yankees wrapping up an 11-day, nine-game road trip, and figuring John and Suzyn would be at their “best,” Sunday seemed like the perfect time to do it again.

Here’s what transpired on Sunday afternoon at Comerica Park…

If there’s ever a “You can’t predict baseball” matchup for John and Suzyn, this is it. Justin Verlander, the reigning AL MVP and Cy Young winner against Phil Hughes, the reigning The Only Reason We Still Believe He Is A Starter Is Because We Picked Him In The First Round Eight Years Ago winner. I have already sarcastically tweeted that I’m excited for this Phil Hughes start in my attempt at flipping this around Leon Black style from Curb Your Enthusiasm.

The last time I did this there wasn’t a single “You can’t predict baseball” reference. That would be like Phil Hughes making a start without giving up a home run. It just doesn’t happen. And if it happens again today it would be monumental. There’s no way you can pick two random games to listen to an entire broadcast from John and Suzyn and get a “You can’t predict baseball” no-no in back-to-back games nearly a year apart. It’s impossible.

I said it already, but I think it’s important to say again that is the last game of an 11-day, nine-game road trip for the Yankees and it’s a day game and a getaway day game following a devastating walk-off loss from about 14 hours ago. In other words, this has all of the makings of a recipe for disaster. Did I mention that it’s Phil Hughes against Justin Verlander?

Suzyn: “And as the Captain, Derek Jeter, steps up to the plate, stepping up to the microphone is the voice of the New York Yankees … here is John Sterling.”

John: “Well, Suzyn, I thank you.”

And before John can even give Verlander’s numbers…

John: “Swung on and hit in the air to right field and deep … back goes Boesch on the track at the wall … SHE’S GONE!  Oh, what a beginning! The captain homers the opposite way to right field on Verlander’s first pitch! The first-ball fastball he hit over the right field stands. El Capitan! He homers and the Yankees take a 1-0 lead! And Suzyn does that ever underscore about how you can’t predict baseball?”

Suzyn: “You cannot predict baseball!”

Well, that takes care of me worrying about not hearing “You can’t predict baseball.”

Justin Verlander might be the best pitcher on the planet, but he doesn’t really scare me as much as rookie lefties do against the Yankees or any pitcher making his Major League debut. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s true, and I bet I’m not the only one that thinks this way. The Yankees have now scored in the first inning in each of their last five games against Verlander and six of the last seven if you include the ALDS. If they can find a way to win today they will be 2-0 against Verlander this year. Give me Verlander over the 21-year-old lefty that looks like he’s 15 making his Major League debut on Sunday Night Baseball in Yankee Stadium any day of the week.

Curtis Granderson walks on four pitches and after the count goes to 1-2 on A-Rod and John gets into some more about predicting baseball…

“It’s funny … you can talk baseball … you can have the experts … you can have predictions … analyze it … I’d like to know the person who felt that Jeter would homer on the first pitch off Verlander.”

A-Rod walks, and the Yankees have first and second and no one out.

“Here’s Cano and the pitch is … in the dirt … it gets away from Santos! Well, runners at second and third and now if the Yankees make the right kind of outs they can actually take a 3-0 lead. I know he’s a tough pitcher … he’s the toughest!”

John gives a recap of what’s happened and then Suzyn corrects his previous call.

Suzyn: “And he just gave him a passed ball on that because that ball did not hit the dirt. That ball was bounced off of Santos’ glove … he’s not a great catcher.

John: “No…”

Wild pitch? Passed ball? In the dirt? Off a glove? Ah, who cares?

The inning ends with the Yankees leading 2-0. Hughes blew a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning in his last start, so I’m setting the over/under at 1.5 innings until the Tigers tie the game or take the lead, and once this happens, how badly will John and Suzyn cover for him? Then again, the Yankees lead 2-0 against Justin Verlander and I have already heard the word “predict” several times and we haven’t even played a full inning. Can it possibly get any better than this? Should I just turn the game off now?

Four Sundays ago I did a retro recap of Hughes’ start against the Royals for WFAN.com in an attempt to find out if Hughes belongs in the rotation and to find out just what Phil Hughes is since he’s now in his sixth season in the majors, and no one really knows if he should be part of the rotation or the bullpen. Hughes pitched his first quality start of the year in that game and then went on a little run for a few weeks before the Angels embarrassed him in front of his family and friends last week. I hope I can have the same impact on the game I did four Sundays ago.

John introduces Phil Hughes and his numbers by saying Hughes “has pitched much better of late.” What? Is this real life? This is Hughes’ 11th start of the year. He has three quality starts so far, and in his last outing against the Angels he gave away a 3-0 lead in the first inning and allowed 11 hits and seven earned runs in 5 1/3 innings. But hey, he’s been much better of late!

Hughes retires Quintin Berry and Danny Worth.

“There are two away … here is Mag … I was going to say Magglio Ordonez. Here is Miguel Cabrera!”

I guess it’s hard to get on John for trying to activate Magglio Ordonez and hit him third in the Tigers lineup since he is at the park today and since Miguel and Magglio both begin with the letter “M.”

Cabrera walks and a passed ball allows him to move to second with two outs.

John: “Now first base is open, so you can pitch carefully to Fielder.”

I’m not sure that’s the best advice, John. This is Phil Hughes pitching, not CC Sabathia. I don’t think we want to be giving free passes in the first inning with the dangerous Yankee killer Delmon Young on deck. But Hughes has been “much better of late,” so what do I know?

Hughes retires Fielder to end the inning.

Nick Swisher singles to lead off the second inning bringing up Eric Chavez.

John: “Verlander deals… swung on and popped in the air to left … going back is Kelly … on the track … leaps … and he’s made another catch! Last night he robbed Teixeira of a homer … this time I’d say he robbed Chavez of a double! That ball went a lot further than I ever thought!”

I’ll say it went a lot further than being “popped in the air to left.”

It does feel like I’m using a cheat sheet by watching the game muted on YES while listening to John and Suzyn just to see how good of a job they are doing. (I’m sure Michael Kay wasn’t exactly all over that Chavez out either.) On a side note: Don Kelly reminds me of David Murphy.

The replay shows the ball clearly would have bounced and hit the wall, but that doesn’t stop Suzyn from saying, “I think that would have been a home run” despite her seeing the replay.

Russell Martin walks as the fifth Yankee to reach in the first two innings and Suzyn adds, “I cannot picture a game when I have seen Justin Verlander like this.” Since I’m giving out doppelgangers (I feel like Michael Kay talking about Paul Byrd as Kelsey Grammer and Jeff Niemann as Jeff Daniels) well Justin Verlander has always reminded me of Jason Lee. Stillwater, anyone? “Fever Dog!”

Suzyn is giving her first scoreboard of the day, so I decided to go back to the last time I did this to see what I said about Suzyn and her scoreboards.

Suzyn is giving her first scoreboard update of the day. The best part of the scoreboard updates is that John clearly hates them. He hates that his broadcast gets hijacked momentarily and hates that he has to interrupt Suzyn to give the play-by-play. It breaks up his flow and his rhythm and I kind of agree. And maybe the scoreboards can be taken out of the broadcast? I know it would be like taking away someone’s lines in a play in that Suzyn’s airtime would be cut down significantly, but it’s 2011. I don’t think anyone is waiting for Suzyn’s scoreboard updates to find out scores from around the league.

Change “2011” to “2012” and I could have just reused that whole thing.

Phil Hughes has terrible body language when he throws a ball. It’s so noticeable and I can’t think of anyone acting that way after they miss their spot, and it looks ridiculous. A two-out hit against Hughes prevents us from seeing our first 1-2-3 inning of the game.

John: “Hey, there’s no question about Hughes’ arm. He began the season terribly and he has pitched much better in the last few weeks.”

Why does John feel the need to always build Hughes’ confidence and self-esteem? He can’t hear you, John! And there are a lot of questions about Hughes’ arm, mainly because of the way he has pitched this season. Was I the only one that watched Hughes pitch in Anaheim last Monday?

The Yankees take a 2-0 lead into the third and the first pitch to Granderson is a ball.

John: “He really can’t throw strike one … and this is Justin Verlander we’re talking about! It’s a funny game.”

The scoreboard screen has stopped working at Comerica Park and this can only mean chaos for John and Suzyn.

John: “We can’t give you a pitch count. That pitch count has stopped. We’ll find out later for you.”

Suzyn: “It said 39.”

John: “No, no … it started at 39.”

Suzyn: “Oh!”

John: “The pitch to A-Rod is low and the count is 2-0.”

Suzyn: “OK, 39 and it was 3 and 2 … and he struck him out…”

John: “Right, so that’s…”

Suzyn: “So that’s 45 … and two … 47…”

John: “The pitch is a strike. Also the scoreboard has stopped. I gotta find a different place for the count.”

Suzyn: “I guess you’re going to have to look at the monitor here.”

And then on the 3-1 pitch to A-Rod…

John: “And the pitch is swung on and lined to deep left … that ball is HIGH … it is FAR … IT IS GONE! Over the inner fence and over the original fence! Way up in the crowd … what a shot! An A-Bomb from A-Rod, and the Yankees take a 3-0 lead! And Suzyn you could hear the crack of the bat from up here … you can’t hit a ball a lot further except if you’re Miguel Cabrera.”

Suzyn: “No. That was the ninth homer of the year for Alex and … you knew for it … and Verlander knew as soon as he hit it also. You could see Don Kelly take a couple of steps to his left and Berry turn around, but that ball was gone from the second he it.”

Cano and Teixeira are retired, but the Yankees lead 3-0.

John: “Our fervent wishes that the board would come back. It makes it somewhat tough.”

With one out, Berry lays down a bunt and is thrown out by Chavez in what might be the most accurate Sterling call in 15 years. He honestly couldn’t have done a better job on the play.

“The pitch … Berry bunts toward third … fielded by Chavez … throws … IN TIME for the out.”

Worth walks with two outs preventing the first 1-2-3 inning of the game and it brings up Miguel Cabrera or “CabrerA” as Sterling likes to say. Hughes gets him to fly out to right and it’s still 3-0 Yankees after three.

John: “You know one thing Suzyn, you gave the stat before … when they don’t hit a home run, the Yankees are 0-12. Well, they’ve hit two homers today.”

Suzyn “Right.”

John: “Hahahaha. We’ll see if that holds up.”


John: “You know I think what bothers the Yankees and their followers … here is Verlander’s pitch … swung on and hit in the air to right … Boesch is back … in front of the track … and he makes the catch and there’s one away. I think what bothers, Suzyn, the Yankees and their followers and the broadcasters … look at this lineup against a righty when you have Ibanez, Swisher and Chavez … 6, 7 and 8 and the Yankees never hit or don’t hit much with the bases loaded or with men on base.”

Raul Ibanez flies out to lead off the inning.

John: “Hey, the scoreboard’s back.”

Suzyn: “Yes, it is.”

Swisher walks and Verlander is at 63 pitches with 33 balls and he has just 10 outs.

Chavez singles, but Russell Martin lines into a double play to Cabrera, and John reminds us, “That’s baseball though.”

Hughes’ first pitch to Prince Fielder is a curveball that finds Fielder’s perfect stroke and then goes about as far as any home run at Comerica Park has gone to right field, and Fielder knows it as he slams down his bat and watches his work.

Suzyn: “Boy was there no doubt about that.”

Young grounds out and here’s Suzyn with the scoreboard update just in case you wanted to know that Nationals-Braves score.

Hughes bounces back to retire the next three after Fielder’s leadoff home run and keep the Yankees’ lead at 3-1.

John: “One run, one hit … the Fielder home run, which went so far it should count for two … at the end of four … 4-1 Yanks on the New York Yankees radio network driven by Jeep.”

More first-pitch balls from Verlander in the fifth…

John: “Of all things Verlander can’t throw strike 1 and he is a strike throwing machine.”

Granderson doubles with one out before A-Rod strikes out swinging. Cano comes up with Granderson on second and two outs, and on 3-2 pitch…

John: “Now Verlander deals … swung on and a high fly to right-center … Boesch … and Berry … and … that ball is … IN THE GAP! It falls in the gap! Granderson scores … here is Cano going to third … and the throw is … not in time! It gets by … but backed up by … now the ball went into the dugout and Cano is allowed to go home! So first of all, the long fly to right-center split Berry and Boesch and landed … and went to the wall. It was an easy triple for Cano … it’s 430 feet out there. The throw got by, so we’ll find out who the error is on. Two runs score. Give Cano an RBI .. and the Yankees now take a 5-1 lead.”

Teixeira grounds out, but I’m still in awe over the call on the Cano triple. Granted, I had the chance to see it on TV as it was happening and it was a little weird that Berry didn’t get to it, but nevertheless, that was an epic piece of broadcasting.

I think it’s funny that Sterling says “error” the way you’re supposed you say “era.”

It’s time for the Daily News 5th and Roger Rubin joins the booth in place of Mark Feinsand.

Hughes walks Don Kelly to lead off the fifth inning. Kelly is currently in a 6-for-46 slump, so walking him to lead off an inning with a four-run lead is always a good idea.

John and Suzyn start asking Roger questions about the Yankees offense…

Roger: “You know it’s funny before the game a bunch of us were talking to Kevin Long about the team’s problems scoring with runners in scoring position and Derek [Jeter] was walking by and he was almost making fun of it. You know, ‘What’s wrong with us, Kevin? Tell us!'”

Suzyn: “Well, it would actually be nice if they figured out what’s wrong with them.”

Roger: “It would be. At one point Kevin say to Derek as he was walking back by a second time, ‘Derek, are we ever gonna score again?’ and Derek was like, ‘I don’t think so.’ Well, he took care of that one right there.”

John: “But, however, if people ask that question, they have a right to ask it because the percentages are so bad … men in scoring position and bases loaded.”

See this is what I love about John and Suzyn: they are Yankees fans and they don’t hide it. They want the Yankees to win the way the fans do and when the team plays poorly they want answers. The mood of the broadcast changes depending on the score of the game and the Yankees’ recent play, and if the Yankees are in the middle of a three-game losing streak you feel like you’re watching the game with your buddies complaining about the team. They don’t follow the game the way beat writers and reporters do, and they shouldn’t since they are the voices of the team on the radio and have to watch them for 162 games plus the playoffs. John and Suzyn should want and expect success from the team and they should be noticeably upset when they don’t get it. This is the Yankees radio network and not a national broadcast.

Santos hits into a double play that is turned by Jeter and Cano leading John to ask, “Have you ever see anyone cooler than Robbie Cano?”

Berry goes down looking and Hughes continues to look good (though I’m scared to type that since things can unravel quickly for the Phranchise).

John always reminds us that he owes a station break as if it’s a contest and he owes the listeners another chance to win. Now he might just be talking to the producer to let him know he’s aware that he stills need to do a 10-second station ID, but it always sounds like we let John borrow a station break and he has yet to return it.

Chavez singles on a soft fly ball to left, but that’s all the Yankees manage in the sixth.

Suzyn tries to get her scoreboard updates in, but Hughes strikes out Worth and Cabrera swinging and Fielder grounds out for a perfect inning from Hughes.

If the first time I did something like this for Hughes led him to go on a mini run, and this game ends up being one in which he outpitches Verlander, does that mean I will have to do this for every Hughes start for the rest of the season? If it produces wins, I don’t have a problem with it.

John: “The 1-1 is lined toward right-center, and there’s a base hit! Jeterian? Haha! You bet! Inside-out swing and he lines it to right-center field.”

John talks about the tight AL East, and as bad as the Yankees have been they can head to the Stadium on Tuesday for a three-game series with Tampa Bay and trail in the division by just one game if they hold on today.

But John reminds us that, “Willie Stargell used to say, ‘The pennant race begins September 1.’” So, I guess the first five months of the season didn’t count back then either?

A quiet frame from John and Suzyn as Hughes allows a two-out single to Jhonny Peralta before getting Kelly to pop out to end the inning. This has been Hughes’ best start of the season and with the chance to either finish at 6-3 on the road trip with a win, or 5-4 with a loss following Saturday night’ debacle, Hughes has done his job, which is rare.

Ibanez, Swisher and Chavez go down in order and I’m beginning to get the sense that John and Suzyn just want the last couple of innings of the last game of an 11-day road trip to go quickly. This road trip started back on the Yankees’ off day on May 24. That feels like forever ago.

John and Suzyn are talking about the players drafted ahead of Derek Jeter in 1992, which leads to a discussion about other great players passed over early in the draft, and the name of the player the Mets took first overall before Reggie Jackson in the 1966 draft has eluded them. John knows the player’s name was “Steve,” but can’t remember his last name. Keith Olbermann texts Suzyn to tell her it was Steve Chilcott.

Suzyn: “What a wonderful invention … texting.”

John: “Ha! I love E-ZPass and DVR myself.”

Suzyn: “Hahahaha! Well, the person that invented DVR and E-ZPass should be in some Hall of Fame.”

John: “Hahaha right! … Absolutely!”

Suzyn: “Somewhere…”

John then goes on to say that the Cross Bronx Expressway belongs in the Hall of Shame. I can’t disagree with him there.

After Martin’s leadoff double, Jeter, Granderson and A-Rod go down in order and John gets excited: “The Yankees are three outs away from a big win.”

Phil Hughes is three outs away from his first complete game ever, unless you really want to count the rain-shortened six-inning complete game he threw.

He strikes out Cabrera to start the ninth and gets Fielder to ground out before Young singles. With Young on first and Hughes facing his last batter in Boesch, a fan runs on the field.

John: “And now someone runs on the field … no one pursues him … and he’s running out toward right field … and Swisher gives him a little high five … and now he runs to center field … now people start coming out on the field to get him … and now he runs toward the infield … brilliant … and finally he is apprehended and taken down. You know at first you think it’s funny and people laugh, etcetera, well, how do you know the guy isn’t crazy? How do you know he doesn’t have a weapon or a knife or something? So, the gentleman is handcuffed and led off … two outs, a runner at first and now Girardi trots out to make sure Hughes is OK.”

“And once again it’ll be a 2-2 to Boesch … Hughes is set at the chest … and the pitch … struck him out swinging! Ballgame over! Yankees win! Theeeeeeee Yankees win!”

The game ends in two hours and 39 minutes. Phil Hughes beat Justin Verlander, threw his first nine-inning complete game in the process and kept Miguel Cabrera in the park. The Yankees scored five runs against Verlander and A-Rod hit his second home run in three games. John and Suzyn talked about not being able to predict baseball after the first pitch of the game, and I got to hear John do play-by-play of a fan running on the field while trying to evade security. And on top of it all, the Yankees won the game and the series and finished their 11-day, nine-game road trip at 6-3. Forget Johan Santana’s no-hitter. This was a perfect game.