This was a chance for the O's to make a statement, and they sure did on Friday night.
Hiroki Kuroda had pitched wonderfully for the Yankees lately, and he pitched pretty well on Friday, too -- except for a 4-batter stretch in the top of the 2nd. Adam Jones led off with a single, Matt Wieters singled him to 3rd, Chris Davis got Jones home on a sacrifice fly, and Mark Reynolds homered to make it 3-0 Baltimore. Kuroda allowed J.J. Hardy to homer in the 6th, and despite otherwise pitching well, was the losing pitcher (12-10).
Manager Joe Girardi let Kuroda pitch into the 9th, and he got Wieters for the 1st out. Then Girardi removed him. What happened, Joe, did your binder tell you that Kuroda had reached his pitch limit? It was only 4-0, not good but overcomeable.
Girardi brought in Clay Rapada. Rapada got Davis to ground out. Okay, so leave him in to get the last guy in the 9th, right?
Wrong. Girardi consulted the binder again. He brought in Derek Lowe, who is finished. The 1st batter Lowe faced was Reynolds, who hit another homer. Then he allowed a single to Robert Andino, and a single to Manny Machado, and an RBI single to Nick Markakis. It took Lowe 5 batters, and 2 runs, to get 1 out.
What does the binder tell you about Lowe now, Joe?
Curtis Granderson hit his 34th homer of the season in the bottom of the 9th, to mess up the shutout, but Miguel Gonzalez (6-3) and the Oriole bullpen otherwise limited the Yankees to no runs on 3 hits and a walk. Orioles 6, Yankees 1. Yankee lead down to 2 games.
So the Yankees had a 10-game lead, and the Orioles had closed it to within 2 games.
Just like 1996.
More precisely, according to Baseball-Reference.com (a website which is your friend, whether you know it or not), in 1996, the Yankees were 12 games ahead of the Orioles on July 28, were down to 2 1/2 ahead on September 10, and ended up winning the Division by 4, before beating the Texas Rangers in the Division Series, the O's in the ALCS, and the Atlanta Braves in the World Series.
This year, we were 10 up on July 18 -- remember, the Boston Red Sox were 9 1/2 ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers and 14 ahead of the Yankees on that date in 1978 -- and at the close of business on Friday, August 31, were up by 2.
So Saturday, September 1, the Yankees needed a win, badly. And in the bottom of the 4th, it wasn't looking good, with the Orioles 3-0 up, as David Phelps -- effectively, Andy Pettitte's replacement in the rotation -- didn't have it.
Then Robinson Cano pulled a run back with his 28th home run of the season. But the key inning -- maybe of the entire season thus far -- was the bottom of the 7th. Until then, Wei-Yin Chen had done a fabulous job on the mound for the Bay City Birds. He got Andruw Jones to pop up for the 1st out.
But then Steve Pearce came up. A "Quadruple-A" player who wasn't good enough to stick with the Pittsburgh Pirates – before they got good again this season – the Yankees got him from the Houston Astros for cash, and he came into yesterday's game as Granderson got hurt, and Girardi moved players around, taking Nick Swisher off 1st base and putting Pearce there. He singled to left.
After a Russell Martin fly out, Jayson Nix drew a walk, and Eduardo Nunez -- remember him? He can hit a little -- singled home Pearce. Buck Showalter, the last Yankee manager who never won a Pennant, replaced Chen (12-8) with Pedro Strop. But it was Ichiro Suzuki who got stroppy, drawing a walk to load the bases. Then Derek Jeter worked another walk, forcing home a run. Then Hardy made an error to allow Swisher on base and force home Nunez.
Boone Logan (6-2), David Robertson and Rafael Soriano (35th save) shut the O's down the rest of the way. Yankees 4, Orioles 3. It wasn't pretty, and there was plenty of help from oppositional incompetence, but the Yanks got their biggest win of the season to this point. And were back up by 3.
But yesterday's game is one that may end up living in infamy. The following key personnel were now unavailable: 3rd baseman knd main slugging threat Alex Rodriguez, slugging 1st baseman Mark Teixeira, slugging center fielder Curtis Granderson, speedy right fielder Brett Gardner, starting pitcher Andy Pettitte, starting pitcher Ivan Nova, starting pitcher Michael Pineda, and relief ace Mariano Rivera.
The Yankees got off to a good start, with Chris Dickerson, filling in for Grandy, hitting a 2-run homer in the 2nd. But in the 5th, Reynolds homered again, this time off starter Phil Hughes, who had been much improved lately. A Swisher single in the bottom of the inning made it 3-1 Yankees, and things were looking up.
But if the Yankees fail to win the AL East, or fail to make the Playoffs entirely, the top of the 6th is the one that we'll look back on as to where it all went wrong. This won't be entirely accurate, since we'd already gotten from 10 games up down to 2 up 2 days earlier. But it will have been the surest symbol of a collapse nearly as bad as the Red Sox of last season.
Nate McLouth opened the inning with a walk. Jones singled McLouth over to 2nd. Wieters singled McLouth home. Yankees 3, Orioles 2.
The next batter was Reynolds, who'd already hit 3 homers in the series, including one off Hughes the previous inning.
Hughes threw Reynolds a curveball that didn't curve enough. Steve Politi's column in today's Star-Ledger tells the story:
Reynolds hit that pitch into the left-field seats, too, turning a one-run lead into a two-run deficit, and no matter who Girardi trotted out there next — and he tried everyone — it didn't matter.
Baltimore won 8-3. What could have been a 4½-game lead over the Rays heading into a 10-game trip that starts in Tampa today is just a two-game lead over the Orioles. And Girardi had no one to blame but himself.
Imagine that: Girardi, the binder-toting micromanager who has never met a pitching change that he didn't like, getting burned for not making one.
"That was my decision, okay, to leave him in there," Girardi said, his voice rising, when asked a third time for an explanation. He had to be pressed because his answer made no sense.
He said he stuck with the flat-lining Hughes because there were no outs, and had he gone to righty Cody Eppley, he’d have to use left-handed Boone Logan to face DH Chris Davis before bringing in another righty to face third baseman Manny Machado to finish the inning.
"If it's one out, it’s a different story," Girardi said, "but it's nobody out."For fuck's sake, as they say in English soccer.
No. You do not bring in a pitcher to face only one batter. Ever. That is blatant stupidity.
I don't give a damn what your binder or "the book" -- as in "he manages by the book" -- says. Use your eyes! If a pitcher is pitching well, you leave him in. If he's not, you get another pitcher ready to come in.
If you know you're going to need a lefty pitcher in the coming inning, bring that pitcher in to start the inning. Don't waste 2 pitchers when 1 will do just fine.
Forget all this left-to-lefty, righty-to-righty stuff. If a lefty pitcher can't get righty hitters out more often than not, he doesn't belong in the major leagues. Same with a righty pitcher who can't get lefty hitters out more often than not. If you can't trust a pitcher to pitch to a batter who's of "the opposite hand," then you can't trust him to pitch to any batter. Simple as that, baby.
I am a liberal Democrat. I am against burning books, because it is an insult to freedom of expression. But if "Girardi's binder" actually exists, burn the goddamned thing! Burn it on the pitcher's mound at Yankee Stadium! Let the press see it. Let the cameras roll! Let 'em roll, baby, let 'em roll! The whole world should be watching!
If the Yankees do not win the 2012 American League Pennant, the game of September 2 should be Exhibit A for the prosecution in the firing of Joe Girardi.
Get rid of him, and replace him with a manager who knows how to use his eyes.
Anyway, as Politi said, the final was Orioles 8, Yankees 3. WP: Randy Wolf (4-10), the former Philadelphia Phillies ace lefty. I didn't realize he was still in the major leagues. No save. LP: Hughes (13-12)
So, going into the action of today, Labor Day, Monday, September 3, 2012, with 29 games to go, the Yankees are 2 games ahead of the Orioles, 3 1/2 (4 in the loss column) ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays, who've also surged and must be stopped, 15 (16 in the loss column) ahead of the Red Sox, and 16 ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Elimination Numbers: 17 for the Jays, 20 for the Sox, 29 for the Rays and 31 for the O's.
Jeter has said that every other team in the Division would trade places with the Yankees. Which is true: It's better to be in 1st place than not to be. If you don't mind the oblique reference to William Shakespeare. Which is better than an oblique strain.
The good news is, A-Rod is back in the lineup as the designated hitter, as the Yanks begin a roadtrip with a series in Tampa Bay. And CC Sabathia, the ace, is starting. Grandy should be back tomorrow. Teixeira should be back in time for the weekend series in Baltimore -- where the Maryland native, who snubbed his ome-area team to sign with the Yankees for 2009, will once again be lustily booed. Pettitte and Nova look like they will be back in a couple of weeks.
I just hope Girardi, whom Politi calls "the ultimate micromanager," doesn't find a way to fuck this up.
Find the binder. Burn it. Stop Girardi, before he consults again! And if he says, "The only way you're going to get my binder is to pry it from my cold, dead hands," well...
As Girardi's fellow Chicagoan, Jack Benny, would have said, "I'm thinking it over!"