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“Say it ain’t Mo!” The Yankees Next Closer

As the hours blend into days, Mariano Rivera’s injury truly sinks in, and it’s time to stop being sad and move on.  Mo insists he will return to the team and can never be replaced anyway, but someone will have to step up in his role for now.  Who will it be?

I think this is an enormous opportunity for the Yankees to break with convention and stop using designated roles for their two best relievers.  Instead, when it gets to the 8th and 9th inning, Joe Girardi should look at who’s coming up in the 8th inning and line up the best pitcher to face the best hitters.  For example, if the 2, 3 and 4 hitters are due in the 8th inning, I think I’d like to see the best pitcher available face (David Robertson or Rafael Soriano) those hitters rather than saving that pitcher for the bottom of the order in the 9th.

If Phil Hughes continues to struggle and the Yankees have a serious need in their bullpen, he could slot in there nicely.  We know he’s had great success out there and I’ve never been a huge fan of his work as a starter, so it seems like a good match.  Not only that, but Hughes is well suited to be an old school, multy innings reliever in the style of Goose Gossage or Sam Malone.  Or even a young Mariano Rivera, who would dominate the 7th and 8th innings.

Who knows what will happen… and suddenly, the Yankees biggest strength (the bullpen) now has a serious question mark.  The Joba Chamberlain injuries loom even larger!

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In Praise of Curtis Granderson

Where would the Yankees be last night without the impeccable defense of Curtis Granderson? Or his bat? Hell, where would they have been all year?

You’ll note that this morning, a lot of folks are vindicating A.J. Burnett for his performance last night, and I’m not here to say he doesn’t deserve some acolades for how he pitched, but let’s be real – if Curtis Granderson doesn’t make that catch in the 1st inning, we’re looking at a very different game going forward form there. If that ball is dropped or worse, gets passed Granderson and rolls to the wall, we’re looking at a bases clearing double or triple AT BEST. Granderson’s catch saved an in the park grand slam at worst – can you imagine? Then he saved Rafael Soriano’s proverbial bacon with that full extension grab that sent him sliding across the outfield for several feet! Hitting the ground completely emptied the air out of Granderson’s lungs, but he still held onto the ball and somehow managed to raise his glove.

I was so happy when the Yankees acquired Granderson over the 2009-10 off season and although things didn’t go well from the get go, it’s fair to say that his 2011 performance has exceeded even my high expectations. Before yesterday’s game, I was encouraging people to pray for Burnett – maybe we should be praying to Granderson.

Winning and Injuries

The Yankees are 8-2 over their last ten games and 13 games over .500, a 2011 season high, and I’m excited about that – but this team needs help. Don’t get me wrong, the Yankees deserve kudos for the winnings they’ve been doing, but this team has some glaring holes – some I understand, like the bullpen, but then, when they only score 1 run in Chicago against one of the worst pitchers in the game and let him hang around for 8 innings… it’s hard to know what to think. This and other Yankees issues are probably due to age, injury, regression or all three issues.

So who’s hurt these days? Its so numerous that it’s getting tough to keep track of. Fortunately, it looks like we’re going to get Jeter, Colon and Hughes back – 2009 Jeter is probably never going to show up again, but, he’s probably the lesser of alternative evils. Colon is a must and Brian Cashman is practically married to Phil Hughes, so if you don’t like Hughes… you’re out of luck.

Derek Jeter
El Calfstrain is just short of his 3000th hit, and while it’s kinda crazy that we get to watch the active hit leader and in the future can say, "I saw that guy play," you have to admit that he’s kinda dragging the team down with his bat and lack of range at short. On the other hand, Eduardo Nunez’s fielding can only be described as frightening, but more on that later.

Bartolo Colon
If you pray, please pray for Colon every night. We need this guy back at 100% – hopefully, right after the All Star break. Without him… I don’t know how realistic our chances are of actually going anywhere in the playoffs. He’s that important!

Phil Hughes

If you haven’t seen the reports, it sounds like his first rehab start went well, the velocity is there and he’s feeling good, so maybe we’re getting the good Phil Hughes back, but this guy is as unpredictable as they get – I know he won a zillion games last year, but I have trouble trusting this guy – he’s either going good, going bad or hurt. Consistency isn’t his strong point.

All Left Handed Relievers Except He Who Shall Hence Be Known As "The Crappy One"

Let’s see… I read somewhere that both Pedro Feliciano and Damaso Marte are starting to throw off flat ground, but who knows what that means in terms of a return time table. If neither of them can get David Ortiz out, then it doesn’t really matter anyway.

Joba Chamberlain

See you next year, Joba. Anybody got a spare setup man lying around that they’re not using?

Rafael Soriano

Oh right, you were supposed to be the setup man. I forgot. Joba was going to the 7th inning guy… anyway, Soriano is still supposed to be resting and maybe will come back in the middle of July, but I’m not holding my breath.

So we definitely need more pitching, but that’s not a surprise – although I thought it was going to be starting pitching, not bullpen help. So let’s take a look at who stinks.

Eduardo Nunez (fielding)
So, now that you’ve seen Eduardo Nunez for a while at short, what do you think? Obviously, he can’t field worth a damn – every time he picks up the ball, I say a silent prayer and everybody sitting behind 1st base braces for impact. Nunez can hit, but I’m starting to wonder whether or not this guy belongs in the infield.

Boone Logan aka "The Crappy One"
If Boone Logan was a Sioux, his name would be "Only On Team Because He’s Left Handed," or something more clever than that. Since he can’t get anybody out, he decided to try a different strategy against the Reds – just hit the guy, it’s faster. He’s given up 16 hits in 16 innings while walking 8 and striking out 11. That is NOT getting it done.

The Bullpen
We’ve got David Robertson, Mariano Rivera and a collection of stiffs. Seriously… the Yankees are, as of this writing, carrying 12 pitchers on there roster – and I’m sure it would be 13 if they could find another lefty. It’s that bad. I know Hector Noesi has looked good and Corey Wade has looked good so far, but we need more help, and we can’t count on any of the DL relief corps to come back. It’s time to go to the scrap pile (again) or make a trade.

Francisco Cervelli

I don’t expect backup catchers to hit, but this guy has got to field better. In fact, he’s got to field great – because if a backup catcher can’t catch, then what’s the damn point? It’s not like he’s a regular position player who you expect to contribute with the bat – Cervelli is a catcher and the guy just isn’t getting it done behind the plate. Cervelli and Nunez need to do serious work this winter.

Other Stuff

I guess Nick Swisher is finding his swing, but splits are still frightening. Jorge Posada is also looking better at the plate, but… who knows. The Brett Gardner Crisis of April has been officially over as he’s gotten his average almost up to .300 now – too bad he completely forgot how to run or steal bases. Kudos are due to Ivan Nova, who has really done well in his last several starts, especially last night. A-Rod is apparently playing hurt, but it doesn’t seem to be effecting him much; but, if he is truly hurt, the Yankees would be wise to DL him now rather than waiting – Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira can supply the power in the interim.

Now what?
The bench needs help and the Yankees desperately need relief pitching, and they need the two hardest things to get: a lefty and a setup guy. Can these holes be filled? I’m sure we can find guys to fix the bench, but the bullpen is going to be tricky. I hate to tie my hopes to Rafael Soriano coming back to the team healthy and effective, but I’m betting there aren’t many other choices.

David Robertson is starting to look like Scott Proctor

I had such high hopes for Scott Proctor – maybe Joe Torre did, too; he certainly must have had a lot of confidence in him. Way back in 2006, Torre would run Proctor out there almost every other day. I kid you not; check this out:

G: 83
IP: 102.1
H: 89
BB: 33
SO: 89
ERA: 3.52

Pitching over 100 innings out of the bullpen is totally insane, but that’s how Joe Torre managed his bullpen. Hell, he made Mike Myers the long man for a while – his lefty specialist! I still believe that Torre’s bullpen management (or rather mismanagement) was a direct contributor to his departure from the Yankees.

In 2007, the Yankees traded Procter to the Dodgers, and he must have sighed with relief on some level. Sure, the Dodgers weren’t the greatest team in the world, but at least he was free from Torre’s abuse… until Torre took over as manager of the Dodgers. That had to have been one of the worst days of Procter’s life. Procter finally broke down and was left off the Dodgers’ 2008 playoff roster. (I speculate that the famed Joba Rules were put in place as a reaction to the Scott Proctor experience.)

So far this season, David Robertson has pitched in 19 games for 16.2 innings. Last year, he threw 61.1 innings in 64 games, and my feeling is that’s probably about the ceiling for a relief pitcher’s work load – or at least it should be if you care about not blowing the guy’s arm out.

While I’m not the biggest fan of Joe Girardi’s bullpen management, he does NOT ride his guys into the ground, which is good news for Fireman D-Rob. Still, I think D-Rob is an extraordinary talent of rare mental makeup, and he should be carefully applied to games so he’s healthy when we need him. So far, so good.

The Yankees finally put Rafael Soriano on the disabled list. What the hell took so long?

When it rains, it pours

The Yankees dodged the weekend raindrops and got all the games in. Too bad. Is there anything worse than a game on FOX, a game on ESPN, and losing both games to the Red Sox? May has been pretty ugly thus far. Let’s take a quick look:

4 game series with the Tigers
W 5-3
L 2-4
L 0-4
L 3-6

3 game series with the Rangers
W 4-1
L 5-7
W 12-5

3 game series with the Royals
W 3-1
L 3-4
L 5-11

3 game series with the Red Sox
L 4-5
L 0-6
L 5-7

One series win out of four. Lost a series to the Royals at home – I know they’re off to a good start, but come on – Melky Carerera and Wilson “can’t find a better backup infielder” are starting for them at the left corners. Swept by the Red Sox at home. I know it’s only mid May and the Yankees are still over .500, but these last two weeks have been brutal. The inability to hit with runners in scoring position is the most damning trend we’ve seen over this time, but the poor fielding is probably not a trend we’ll see all year. On the other hand, it’s pretty sad that no one on this team can bunt well and that Brett Gardner is not good at base running or stealing, which, given his age, seems unlikely to change. I do think the offense and the fielding will come around – this is just a slump, one that was bound to happen. I don’t buy into the argument that this team relies on the home run too much – rather, this team just hits a lot of home runs. It’s not like the 2003 Yankees that just waits for the home run, but I can see how it looks that way. Speaking of home runs, I’m starting to feel like Joba Chamberlain is giving up too many of those round trippers…

The Jorge Posada Deal
It is what it is – obviously, it would be a blow to the pride of any player who used to hit in the middle of the lineup to be suddenly delegated to the last spot. So he took himself out of the lineup because A) his back hurt; B) he was pissed he was hitting ninth; C) both. I don’t care what the deal is – the simple fact is if you can’t get your batting average to be higher than your weight after six weeks, you should count your lucky millions that you’re not riding the bench, never mind batting ninth. If you heard or read somewhere that the Yankees weren’t interested in having Jorge back on the team next year… well, obviously. They don’t trust him to play catcher anymore and having a permanent DH that has a $30 million dollar, surgically repaired A-Rod on it probably doesn’t need an every day DH – not to mention finding rest/DH days for Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter and so on.

Can we DL Rafael Soriano now?
Soriano is out again, riding the pine and the pain for a few more days. I know he makes a lot of money and his tests came back negative, but he’s just eating up a 25 man roster spot at this point, and after sitting for so long, he’s going to be cold anyway. Let’s just put him on the 15 day DL and let him make some rehab appearances at Scranton and come back ready to go.

Coming Up Next: Two games in Tampa, two games in Baltimore, then home for the Mets. Who knows what these games will bring? One thing is for sure, the Yankees need a win, desperately.

Can I Get An RBI?

A Quick Rant On LOB:
The Yankees left 15 runners on base last night – which doesn’t include the runners lost by the GIDPs from Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson. Granderson got some redemption in the 10th with his RBI single to keep the game alive, but jeez – not a good offensive performance by any stretch of the imagination.

A Quick Rant On Bunting and Coaching:
The Yankees have a problem that sounds like the setup for a work of fiction: a manager who loves to bunt has a roster full of players who can’t bunt worth a shiz! As far as I know, the Yankees don’t have anyone (well, maybe Martin can bunt) who is proficient in bunting, yet Joe Girardi loves to call for it. And why have Brett Gardner or Derek Jeter bunt? They’re both hot right now! And neither of them are what I would call good bunters… not to mention they were both facing a pitcher who was wild. I just don’t understand why Girardi calls for players to bunt who can’t do it (is he trying to embarrass them into practicing it more?) in situations where bunting doesn’t make a ton of sense. Sure, maybe that was a ‘by the book’ scenario where a bunt was called for, but use your eyes: the pitcher can’t Joakim Soria couldn’t find the plate and his velocity was way down – that means either take your walk or wait for the inevitable fastball down the middle!

New York Connection:
So the Kansas City Royals have Melky Cabrera in left field, Wilson Betemit at 3rd – both former Yankees – and Vin Mazzaro is from Rutherford, NJ. Who else they got over there that either played for the Yankees at some point or is from the greater New York City area?

Tonight:

Ivan Nova in the rubber match! It’d be a shame to lose a series at home to the Royals, regardless of how good their start has been this year. Also, Rafael Soriano’s arm is OK, so good news there! It sounds like we’ll see him this weekend against the Red Sox, if not tonight.

Yankees Win Tied Game Before Extras

I have to admit, I was about ready to throw in the towel on last night’s game once it was tied up at 3. It’s pretty hard to win one of those games on the road once you get to so late an inning, but the Yankees found a way to get it done.

The Pitching:

Justin Verlander might have started out slow, but he hung in there and gave his team 6 IP or 3 run ball, which is a decent outing – maybe not when you consider it took him over 120 pitches to do it, but impressive, nevertheless, especially considering his hardest thrown fastballs came in his last inning of work – those pitches he K’d Derek Jeter on were in the high 90s. I know a lot of people have been noting that Jeter’s bat has been a little slow this season, but few can catch up to the kind of heat Verlander was bringing. Too bad for him he was so wild last night – despite hitting 100 with his fastball.

While poking around the Yankee Blogosphere, I’ve seen some rumbling concerns that Bartolo Colon is throwing two many fastballs. While it is true that both his four seam and two seam fastballs make up about 85% of the pitches he’s thrown this year, the results clearly indicate that it’s not a problem. Sure, I’d love it if he mixed in a few extra change ups and sliders, but whatever – his four seam fastball has been topping out in the mid 90s (huh – that’s when pop music stopped being relevant, too, but probably just a coincidence) and his two seamer is devastating - it’s like Charlie Sheen’s four seam fastball from Major League – The Terminator or the Eliminator or something… well, except it’s the two seam version. And two seam it does! It can be difficult to explain to pitch movement to non baseball people, but when you say, “Watch this next pitch move,” and Colon uncorks one of his two seam fastballs, whipping across the strike zone and finishing in on a righty’s hand, even the most novice of observers will be heard to comment, “Holy Shiite! What the hell was that?” It’s that amazing.

The Tigers have a realized on their team named Alburquerque? “You just can’t predict baseball.”

Nice outings by Joba Chamberlain and the flawless Mariano Rivera. Mo is probably off tonight, so if the dice fall right, we’ll see Rafael Soriano get the ball for the save tonight. Should be fun!

The Bunt:
There wasn’t a ton of good things to say about the Yankees offensive performance last night (felt like there was a solid hour or longer where they didn’t get a hit), but they got some runs early and some more late, and that’s enough. Even a struggling Verlander is a tough match up, so no big deal. What is a big deal was that stupid bunt.

After the aforementioned Alburquerque walked Russell Martin, Brett Gardiner bunted on the first pitch. Given that Gardner went to bunt immediately, I can only assume that Joe Girardi called this from the bench. Why? Gardner is red hot and knows how to work a walk – why bunt when Alburquerque is wild? With Eduardo Nunez and Derek Jeter coming up? These guys look like they’re both poised to hit an RBI single to send Martin in from second? I think not. Let Gardner swing there. I don’t have any problem with small ball or bunting or whatever you want to call it, but that bunt was a pain in my ass!

Tonight:
Tonight, he that is called The Other Big One takes the mound. (He’s not called that, nor is Colon called The Big One, but I think we might want to start considering calling them The Twin Boulders or something.) As always, I like Sabathia’s chances to be effective and go late in the game, but with these crazy 6:05 start times (that’s local in Chicago, 7:05 here in greater NYC), who knows what will happen? Also, I’d like to see a pizza eating contest between Sabathia, Colon and Ramiro Pena. Pena is gritty!

Yanks and Chi Sox split 4 game set

When two teams get together and play a four game set, I would bet on a split every time – yet the Yankees should have took three out of four against the inferior Chicago White Sox. Let’s take a look at the series using my The Good, The Bad and the Fug-Ugly style. I heard that Mark Teixeira was sitting for game four just as a precaution to rest his sore shoulder, but I don’t know why The Captain sat for that game, too. Maybe just a scheduled night off for Derek Jeter? Or Joe Girardi is hoping a rest will jump start his bat? No idea. However, I think it is only a coincidence that the Yankees scored a million runs on the night Jeter wasn’t in the line up.

The Good:
The Starting Pitching – sure, you can argue that the Chicago White Sox aren’t the best offense in the league, but they’re far from the MLB leading worst run scoring San Diego Padres, who have only managed to score 70 runs on the young season. In case you’re wondering, the Yankees have 126 and the White Sox have 103 – the Cleveland Indians lead MLB with 129 and the St Louis Cardinals lead MLB with 136.
So yeah, the Yankees starting pitching blew my mind during this season, performing well above my expectations. We got two stellar eight inning performances from AJ Burnett and Bartolo Colon, and CC Sabathia had a fine night while any time Ivan Nova doesn’t get his ass handed to him, I call that a victory. If you’ve already started building a statue to Colon on your front lawn so you can leave offerings at it before each of his starts, I don’t blame you. Finish that shiz! =)

The Bad:
The Offense – For an offense of the Yankees caliber, a shutout is pretty hard to accept despite who is pitching on the opposing side. And yes, I know they got their hits in last night, but it sure did take long enough. But, Nick Swisher finally got the home run column filled, so maybe he’ll start hitting… wait, did he hit it right handed or left handed? Please tell me he hit it left handed, because he’s been so bad against left-handed pitchers so far this year…

The Fug-Ugly:
The Bridge to Mo – They only had one chance to get the ball to Mariano Rivera, and they blew it. I’m not worried about Rafael Soriano going forward, but it’s time to pick it up. Blowing leads against the White Sox at home is not acceptable!

The Yankees have Toronto coming in this weekend – hopefully, the Yanks pitching can keep the Blue Jays homers to a minimum.  Also:  Francisco Cervelli returns to the roster tonight!

Yankees Take Another Rain Shortened Season

I know it’s April and this is when it’s supposed to rain, but I’m starting to lose my cool.  The Yankees are nearing their 2010 rain out total, and we’re not even through with the first month yet!  Here’s The Good, The Bad and The Fug-Ugly from Baltimore.

The Good
CC Sabathia was, in a word, dominant on Saturday.  Sure, he labored toward the end, but he was really dealing – vintage CC, I loved every minute of it!

Freddy Garcia might not deserve a statue or a plaque yet, but he probably deserves an apology.  I know it’s only two starts, but they haven’t been against teams without any hitters and he hasn’t let up run yet, right?  I’ll take 12 IP of 0 run ball every two times out!

Russell Martin is probably worth praying to.  Like I wrote the other day, he does it all.  Take a closer look at your mailman – it’s Russell Martin!

Curtis Granderson is putting on a hitting display, and I love it!  The Grandyman is my favorite kind of player:  an outfielder with speed and power.

The Bad
Nick Swisher needs to worry less about shaving (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re lucky) and more about hitting the ball.  At least he’s still getting his walks.

Derek Jeter managed some hits on Sunday, but they were mostly infield squeakers.  Who knows, maybe a game like this will get him started, and if he’s going to lead off and gave Curtis Granderson protecting him the two hole, that could help him, too.

Mariano Rivera is not a machine, and I guarantee that if he only had to get three outs, he would have been fine.  Mo can’t pitch in more than one inning anymore.  Just forget about that.  It’s over.  Not in April, anyway – in October… you do what you have to do.  But in April?  Let’s not and not even say we did.  Anyway, Mo will be alright, so lets not bother having the “he’s done!” conversation because he blew two saves.

The Fug-Ugly
Brett Gardner had what, one hit in two games?  I know it was a double and I know that’s not the end of the world, but the guy is striking out a lot… I really want Gardner to find a way out of his funk now that he’s been moved to the bottom of the lineup, because I don’t want to see this guy end up being the next Melky Cabrera…  well, it won’t be that bad.  If anything, he could be a fifth outfielder and pinch runner/base stealer on this team.

I was just about to write ‘Kyle Farnsworth‘ or ‘Octavio Dotel,’ because sometimes, I get my free agent setup men confused… (wait, was Dotel a setup man or just in the pen?  I can’t remember and don’t care enough to check)  But yeah, Rafael Soriano‘s back soreness is troubling, and I’m particularly annoyed given that I can’t find any reason for it.  Was it the flight down from Toronto?  Did he wake up in pain on Saturday morning?  I just don’t understand how someone is in so much pain that he has to miss two games, making it necessary to inject Mariano Rivera into the 8th inning (where he should never be, ever!) and have no reason for it at all.  That’s weak sauce, right there.

Russell Martin getting plunked between the numbers after he’d already hit two home runs in a game… that’s not cool, and it looks really bad – I’m all for pushing guys off the plate, but when you hit a guy in the back in between the numbers, it looks like it’s on purpose.  You don’t need to let the hitter get too comfortable in the batter’s box, but you don’t need to hit him, either.

The White Sox are in town, who are 8-14 on the young season – lets not read anything into that until we see them for ourselves…  but yeah, they probably stink.

Freddy Garcia And Bats Combine to take Games 2 and 3 From Rangers

Another home stand over, another series victory.

After Friday night’s rough outing from Ivan Nova, the Yankees got 6 shut out innings from Freddy Garcia – maybe the last place you’d look in the Yankees rotation for a pick-me-up performance. I suspect that Garcia is the the kind of pitcher who performs better on extra rest, but I don’t have the data to back it up; just notating that he exceeded expectations against a good hitting team after not having started a game in a few weeks. (Garcia did get that one relief inning in Boston, so this is only his second appearance of the young season.)

CC Sabathia just didn’t have it last night, most notably with his awful fastball control. The ESPN announcers can credit the text bats all they wish, but if CC is going to throw his fastball right down the middle like that, it’s akin to putting the ball on a t-ball stand for big league hitters, never mind a good hitting team like Texas. Sabathia is, however, an elite pitcher, so he has his secondary pitches to keep him in the game through 6.1 innings, most notably his change up to right handers and several good sliders. Last night, it was the Bronx Bombers doing it Bomber Banter style with homer after homer: Robinson Cano, Russell Martin and Curtis Granderson all contributed with the long ball. Martin and Eric Chavez also contributed via the 2 out RBI, so these guys were all getting it done box score style. Meanwhile, Derek Jeter, the anti-box score hero, contributed with a hit of his own, but I don’t feel like he’s in the zone yet, but I do think he’s close now. Chavez has continued to prove himself to be a valuable piece as he’s hit well in limited duty and has played a solid third in A-Rod’s absence – hopefully, A-Rod’s stiffness is a thing of the past by Tuesday. For next year, the Yankees are probably better off going with a right handed bat who can also play left field for Garnder as a DH so A-Rod can spend more time there. The guy is a beast at the plate, but I just don’t trust him to stay healthy if he has to play 150 games in the field.

We got to see the big three again last night – Joba Chamberlain was not great in relief and surrendered a run, but Rafael Soriano was downright nasty as he took down all three batters he faced with authority. Mariano Rivera came in and was Mo – that’s all there is to that.

I do want to take a second and mention that the new ESPN Sunday night baseball crew is twice as bearable as the old one. I guess they got a new director in there, too, because everyone is a lot more focused on what’s happening on the field rather that showing us the announcers in the booth, talking about nonsense or pimping topics/interviewing other things/people that have something to do with something that’s going to be on ESPN on another day. I think this puts ESPN slightly behind of FOX Sports in my ‘Totally Unbearable To Watch Sports On Your Network’ race – meaning FOX is currently the most unbearable.  On the other hand, ESPN’s constant badgering of the Yankees leading MLB in home runs was annoying – I don’t care what anybody says, LEADING THE LEAGUE IN HOME RUNS IS NOT A BAD THING!

The Yankees are off today and will be back tomorrow at Toronto to face the Blue Jays. The Jays will be pesky again this year, but I don’t see them as a playoff team this year.

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