Every season, it seems, Mariano Rivera has a stretch of 2 games where he goes from being the greatest relief pitcher who ever lived to being, well, a Met reliever.
Unfortunately for the 2011 Yankees, that stretch has just happened. On Sunday night, he allowed a tying run in the 9th, and the Yankees lost in 10.
Last night, he allowed a game-winning 2-run homer to former Yankee Bobby Abreu, to lose the game, 6-4. It was Abreu's 2nd homer of the night, giving him 282 for his career, which also includes (at the moment) a .294 lifetime batting average, a 130 OPS+, 2,356 hits, 387 stolen bases, and 544 doubles. (282 is not a Hall-of-Fame-worthy homer total, but 544 is a hell of a lot of doubles.)
The Los Angeles Angels of Katella Boulevard, Anaheim, Orange County, California, Pacific Time Zone, United States of America, North America, CONCACAF, United Nations, Earth, Sol System, Alpha Quadrant, United Federation of Planets, Milky Way Galaxy, Local Group of Galaxies, Known Universe beat the New York Yankees of River Avenue, South Bronx, Bronx County, State of New York, Eastern Time Zone, United States of America, North America, CONCACAF, United Nations, Earth, Sol System, Alpha Quadrant, United Federation of Planets, Milky Way Galaxy, Local Group of Galaxies, Known Universe.
Or, you could just say, the Halos beat the Bronx Bombers.
WP: Scott Downs (6-2). SV: Jordan Walden (26). LP: Rivera (1-2).
This was set up by "Bad A.J." Burnett allowed 4 runs in 6 innings, and simply did not get the job done.
To make matters worse, the Boston Red Sox beat the Minnesota Twins last night. The Yankees now trail The Scum by 2 1/2 games, 2 in the loss column.
The only bright spot was that, on a hot Tuesday night, against an opponent that's not really a rival (although they think so), with a recently ineffective starter going for the Yankees, factors which, when combined, are not exactly conducive to a big crowd, the Yankees drew 46,466 fans to Yankee Stadium II.
That's about 5,000 more fans than can even fit into Citi Field, where the Mets had their 2nd straight late comeback win against the San Diego Padres. On a night when both the Yankees and the Mets were at home on the same day (happens 3-6 times a season), the Mets drew 24,619.
Had they also been playing at home last night, the Red Bulls could have topped that. In fact, had they been playing in Citi Field, instead of the 19,763-seat Madison Square Garden, the Knicks or Rangers could have topped 24,619. The Devils? Possibly. The Islanders, Nets or Liberty? Probably not. Hell, the Giants or Jets could have topped that with a mere practice.
But, back to the Yankees. They still lead the American League Wild Card race by plenty, and are still within 3 games of first place in the AL Eastern Division. It is far from time to panic.
But in order for the Yankees to make a run at the Division Title in the last 48 games of the season -- 7 weeks -- they are going to have to get the pitching straightened out. That means:
* Mariano has to have gotten his annual 2-game blip on the radar screen out of the way, and now he has to go back to being The Hammer of God.
* CC Sabathia also has to prove his 2-game losing streak, which followed an 8-game winning streak, is over.
* More Good A.J., less Bad A.J.
* Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia have to continue to look like good reclamation projects -- especially in light of the bad reclamation project that was Javier Vazquez last season.
* Ivan Nova has to continue to look good on the mound.
* The question of what to do with Phil Hughes has to be answered. Can he be effective out of the bullpen? Will it be necessary for him to replace "Bad A.J." in the rotation?
* Rafael Soriano, who has looked good since coming off the Disabled List, has to continue to do so.
We've all heard the cliche: "Defense wins games" or "Defense wins championships." No, it doesn't. Defense -- in this sport, including pitching -- doesn't win you a damn thing. It does, however, give your offense a chance to win.
The Yankees scored 4 runs last night -- on Curtis Granderson's 29th home run, a single by Eduardo Nunez, and a 2-run single by Derek Jeter. And 4 runs should be enough for the Yankees' pitching, both starting and relief, to shut the opponent down and win the game.
So... Okay, Mariano, that's enough.
The series continues tonight. Nova starts against... Garrett Richards. (Who?) A 23-year-old kid from Oklahoma that the Angels just brought up from the Class AA Arkansas Travelers. He's 12-2, with a 3.10 ERA and a 1.135 WHIP. Granted, that's in Double-A ball, and he's making his major league debut at Yankee Stadium (albeit Yankee Stadium II), with that short porch in right field, against this Yankee lineup. On the other and, he's a pitcher the Yankees (and every other major league team) have never seen before. You know what that means.
It means, "Thank God this game isn't a Fox Saturday Game of the Week!"