Friday, June 11, 2010

Yankees - A-Rod + Pena Batting Cleanup = Loss

Yeah, I did it. I went down to Baltimore yesterday. I'll give a critique of the experience in a separate post. This is solely about the game itself.

I get into Oriole Park at Camden Yards early enough to see the Yankees take batting practice. And I'm in Section 338, in the first row of the upper deck, right over the plate, perfect view if not for the railing in front of me. (But it has to be that tall for safety reasons, so credit to the Orioles for that.) And there's A-Rod, crushing the ball. I finally had to yell, not that he was likely to have heard me from there, "Hey, Alex! Save some of that for the game, will ya?"

He didn't. Bottom of the 1st inning, Adam Jones hits a grounder that a good third baseman could have gotten without much trouble. Here's A-Rod's account, from

"Not only did I not make a play, it was a routine play. It's a play you make 10 out of 10 times. I just locked up. At that point I pointed to him. I had warned him about 15 minutes before the game to make sure he was ready."

A play you make 10 out of 10 times? Obviously not. I guess they didn't teach A-Rod math at the University of Miami. Unless, in this case, "you" refers to who he's talking to. Well, if he was talking to a reporter, probably not. If he was talking to me, you gotta be kidding. But then, I am not a man frequently referred to as "the best player in baseball."

"Him," to whom Alex was pointing, was his 3rd base backup, Ramiro Pena. Now, Pena is a good fielder who can play almost any position. You want someone like him on your team.

What you don't want is Ramiro Pena batting 4th. You want your lineup to look something like Jeter-Swisher-Teixeira-Rodriguez-Cano-Posada. Jeter-Swisher-Teixeira-Pena-Cano-Posada looks very different. (Well, Yankee bench coach Tony Pena, no relation, was a good hitter in his day, but he wasn't a cleanup hitter.)

So not only did A-Rod let in the 1st run of what turned out to be a 1-run Yankee loss, but he didn't even come to bat, sinced the Yankees went out 1-2-3 in the top of the 1st.

Regular catcher Jorge Posada, still working his way back from injury, was the DH again. Therefore, essentially, the Yankees' starting lineup had Ramiro Pena, Marcus Thames and Chad Moeller (shown in the photo above), in place of, respectively, Alex Rodriguez, Brett Gardner and Nick Johnson.

Even against the Orioles, who got off to one of the worst first 2 1/2 months in memory (but still far better than their hideous 1988 when they lost their first 21 games), and even in Camden Yards, where almost anyone can get a lucky pitch and hit one out, that could still have been enough to win.

But A.J. Burnett, 11-2 lifetime against the Birds and 5-0 in that ballpark, didn't have his good stuff. He was great in innings 2, 3, 4 and 7, but struggled in innings 1, 5 and 6.

To make matters worse, the Yankees engaged in their nasty habit of flopping against a pitcher they've never seen before, especially one making his major league debut. Jake Arrieta wasn't especially sharp, but when the Yankees took a 3-2 lead in the 3rd on Curtis Granderson's triple, Arrieta shook it off and pitched pretty well until getting into a jam, and then impressively working out of it, in the 6th. Whatever still has to be done for the 24-year-old Missourian to become a good major league pitcher, it's not confidence, and it's not poise. Whether he's going to make it is not clear. What is clear is that he's ready to try.

It's a little fitting that he's from outside St. Louis, about 75 miles south of Busch Stadium. The Orioles had been the St. Louis Browns before moving to Baltimore in 1954. Maybe Arrieta can be a big part of the Orioles' rebirth as a respectable baseball business. Which they currently are not: A class organization, yes; but a respectable baseball team, no. More on that in a subsequent post.

(UPDATE: In 2013, Arrieta was traded to the Chicago Cubs. In 2014, he became one of the best pitchers in baseball. In 2016, he helped the Cubs win the World Series. Think how much better the Orioles would have been from 2012 onward if they'd had that kind of starting from Arrieta.)

Weird phenomenon: Not wanting Pena to bat and kill a 7th-inning rally, Joe Girardi pinch-hit for him with Francisco Cervelli, who has hit rather well as Posada's backup. It didn't work. But this was the first time I can ever remember a team having all 3 catchers on their roster in the game at the same time: Posada was the DH, Moeller was catching, and Cervelli was pinch-hitting and remained in the game to take over for Pena at 3B.

The Yankees threatened in each of the last 4 innings, but to no avail. Damaso Marte and (to my surprise and, well, relief) Chan Ho Park pitched superbly in relief of Burnett. But the Orioles won the game, 4-3, ending a 10-game losing streak against the Yankees.

The crowd was announced at 27,064, although I don't think it was inflated this time. It was about 19,000 the night before and 23,000 the night before that. It wasn't that long ago that you couldn't get a seat at Camden Yards, especially for a Yankee visit. Now, you can just walk up to the box office and pretty much sit wherever you can afford.

The Yankees did get a bit of luck, though: Tampa Bay lost to Toronto, so the Yanks remain just 2 games out of 1st in the loss column. And the Red Sox? As they would say in English soccer, "Five-nil, and you fucked it up!" Three Indian errors led to 4 Sox runs in the bottom of the 1st, and they extended it to 5-0 in the 2nd, but the Tribe chipped away, and took a 6-5 lead in the 6th. But the Sox took the lead back and were up 7-6 in the bottom of the 9th. Enough for them to win? In the immortal words of Lee Corso, "Not so fast, my friend!" Russell Branyan singled home 2, and Cleveland walked off with an 8-7 win that could be a huge lift for them, and a gut-punch to the gutless Boston Scum. (Thank you, Indians and Jays.)

And the Mets only got a split of their rain-forced doubleheader with the resurgent San Diego Padres. The Great Johan Santana started the opener, rookie Jon Niese the nightcap. Guess which pitcher threw a 1-hit shutout. Guess which one lost. Of course: The Great Johan Santana lost, and Niese threw the near-gem.

(Incidentally, you may hear the phrase "pitched/threw/tossed a gem." No. In baseball, a "gem" is a no-hitter. Not a near-no-hitter. Unless, of course, you're Armando Galarraga. How is it that this is the first time I've mentioned the stolen perfect game in this blog? Bud Selig, you shameless slug, give him credit for what he earned!)

So, I got back home at around 2:30 in the morning, turned on WFAN, and heard Joe Girardi talk about how A-Rod has had difficulties with "tightness in his groin."

This is like the scene in the 1st season of Friends where, during the Christmas season, instead of being hired to play Santa Claus, the department store where Joey works makes him put on an elf costume, and Chandler sees this and his brain overloads: "Too... many... jokes... must... mock... Joey!" (Sadly, while I found many references to this on the Internet, I couldn't find a clip. Apparently, most of the "Joey highlights" on YouTube are from later seasons, after the show jumped about 50 sharks.)

So, A-Rod has groin problems. Too... many... jokes... must... mock... Alex!

The fact that it was blamed on the artificial turf in Toronto -- where the Stripper Incident and the Ha! Incident took place -- makes it even more ridiculous.

A-Rod has now helped the Yankees win a World Series, and all is forgiven. But I will never, ever understand him.

Incidentially, this is not the longest roadtrip I've ever made to see the Yankees play. Far from it: As far as American League opponents go (excluding Interleague games with the Mets and Phillies), Baltimore is the Yankees shortest roadtrip, an even 200 miles from Yankee Stadium to Camden Yards (160 miles from my home base).

My longest trip thus far has been to Cleveland, almost 500 miles, and lucky for me they held on to win a tight one (in 2007). I've also seen them play in Toronto, and lose. Twice (2005 and 2006). I've also seen the Yankees win at Shea (although I have yet to see an Interleague game at Citi Field), the Vet, Fenway (all three of those in 1999) and at Camden Yards (in 2004), and seen them lose to the Washington Nationals at RFK (that infamous 8-2, 9-8 game in 2006).

The Yankees next visit Baltimore on September 17, 18 and 19. I am considering going again. But they'd better win.

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