Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Today Could Be the Clincher

Last night, Cliff Lee started a game as a pitcher for a team with postseason ambitions. Not the New York Yankees. He lost. He's still got a really good record, 16-8, with a 2.38 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP.

Am I going to stop beating the dead horse of "The Yankees can't win without Cliff Lee"? No, because the horse is still alive, because some people are just... that... stupid.

Last night, Ivan Nova started a game as a pitcher for a team with postseason ambitions. This was the New York Yankees, although, when the season started, Nova seemed a poor substitute for Lee, who spurned the Yankees' offers to pitch for less money for a team that was closer to home. Yeah, as it turned out, by 100 miles, which isn't saying much when home is still 1,168 miles away.

Anyway, Nova was the winning pitcher against the Tampa Bay Rays, raising his record to 16-4 -- his 12th straight win, making him the first pitcher officially a rookie to win 12 straight decisions since Larry Jansen of the 1947 New York Giants.

(About Jansen: He also won 23 games, including the deciding Playoff game won by Bobby Thomson's homer, for the 1951 National League Champion Giants, before losing twice to the Yankees in that year's World Series. Early success in the higher-paying Pacific Coast League -- ironically, for San Francisco, the city to which the Giants would move in 1957 -- plus World War II and an arm injury that kept him from pitching in the 1954 World Series that the Giants won, curtailed his career and he won "only" 122 games, against 89 losses. He returned to the PCL and then became pitching coach for the San Francisco edition of the Giants, where he helped develop Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry into the Hall-of-Famers he was unable to become. He died in 2009, age 89.)

Nova's season ERA is 3.62, not bad at all in the DH'ed American League, and his WHIP is 1.33, quite a bit above Lee's, but it's done the job for the Yankees.

The specific job he did for the Yankees last night was to throw 7 2/3 innings, allowing 6 hits, 3 walks, and no runs. Boone Logan got the last out in the 8th, and Luis Ayala finished the shutout in the 9th.

Hitting-wise, there were no home runs for the Yankees, but in the bottom of the 2nd, Nick Swisher doubled, Eric Chavez singled him home, Russell Martin singled him over, Brett Gardner beat out a bunt to load the bases, and then, after Derek Jeter struck out, Curtis Granderson cleared the bases with a double to make it 4-0. Granderson made it 5-0 with an RBI single in the 5th, knocking out Wade Davis (LP, 10-10,and that was the final.

The loss all but eliminated the Rays from Playoff contention. Officially, the Yankees' Magic Number to clinch at least a Playoff berth is now 2, but since their next 2 games are against the Rays, 1 win will reduce their Magic Number by 2. The Boston Red Sox also lost last night, to the Baltimore Orioles, reducing the Yankees' Magic Number to clinch the American League Eastern Division to 3.

Correcting an error I made earlier, there is a rain-forced dual-admission doubleheader at the new Yankee Stadium today. The first game has James Shields going for the Rays, but Phil Hughes, due to back spasms, may not be able to start for the Yankees as planned, and I'm not sure who would get the start. The second game is likely to be CC Sabathia against Jeremy Hellickson. It is possible that the Yankees could delay a decision on Hughes by a few hours, by having CC start the first game instead, but, knowing manager Joe Girardi, he'll probably just substitute someone else instead, to be better safe than sorry.

So, here's the situation:

* If the Yankees win either game of this doubleheader, they, and the Red Sox, both clinch at least a Playoff berth, either the Division Title or the Wild Card.

* If the Yankees win either game, and the Red Sox win, that reduces the Yanks' Magic Number for the Division to 2, and they can clinch as soon as tomorrow night.

* If the Yankees win either game, and the Red Sox win -- or, if the Yankees sweep the doubleheader, and the Red Sox lose -- then the Division is clinched tonight, before the Sox come in for the final regular-season series between the teams on Friday.

Big day, filled with baseball. As long as the weather cooperates in both New York and Boston, that is.

Jeter hits 3082 DONE
Rivera saves 602 DONE
A-Rod homers 629 134
A-Rod hits 2772 228
Magic Number for Playoffs 2
Magic Number for Division 3
Magic Number for Best Record in AL 5

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