Sunday, September 9, 2012

Safe. Outrage!

Before I get to last night, and the way it ended, I haven't yet discussed the Friday night game on this blog.  So here goes:

The Yankees scored 5 runs in the top of the 4th.  Scoring 5 runs in an inning is what Yankees is supposed to do.

Nick Swisher led off the inning by taking one for the team, getting hit with a pitch.  Robinson Cano drew a walk.  Alex Rodriguez struck out, and Russell Martin came to the plate, hitting around .200.  And yet, out of his few hits, 15 of them were home runs.  Make it 16: He hit one out.

Curtis Granderson, who is in a serious slump, struck out.  But Andruw Jones, also in a serious slump, got a hit.  And then Steve Pearce homered.  5-0 Yankees.

Then came the top of the 5th.  Derek Jeter led off with a single.  Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano were unable to advance him, but A-Rod hit his first homer since going on the Disabled List.  It was now 7-0 Yankees.

Granted, the Orioles are a vastly-improved team.  And Oriole Park at Camden Yards at Camden Street at Inner Harbor at Baltimore at Maryland at Northeast at United States of America at North America at Western Hemisphere at Planet Earth at...

I know, I know, I'm making it sound like the Whatever They're Calling Themselves This Season Angels of Anaheim.

...is a bandbox, where no lead is safe.  But, surely, the Yankees can't blow a 7-0 lead, right? Not even if Joe Girardi goes apeshit with the bullpen again.  Right?

Certainly, Phil Hughes did his part for the first 5 innings.  But in the bottom of the 6th he allowed a 3-run homer to Adam Jones.  Still, he left the game leading 7-3.

But Girardi put Cody Eppley on the mound for the 7th, and he pitched to 2 batters.  He got Manny Machado out, then allowed a home run to Robert Andino.  7-4.

I saw this, and thought, "Oh, no, they're not gonna blow this, are they?" Was it really going to be "Seven-nil and we fucked it up"?

Girardi pulled Eppley for Boone Logan.  No... But no further damage was done in the 7th or the 8th.  Jeter singled home a run in the 9th, and it was 8-4 Yankees.

Rafael Soriano got the first 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th, but Machado hit one out off him.  8-5... But Soriano struck out Andino to end it.  Untuck.

WP: Hughes (14-12).  LP: Wei-Yin Chen (12-9).  The Yankees move back into first place by a game.

*

Now, on to last night.

Let's clear this up: The Yankees had plenty of chances to win last night's game:

* Scored a run in the 1st, but left Mark Teixeira on 2nd.

* Scored another run in the 2nd, but left Ichiro Suzuki on 2nd.

* Left Derek Jeter on 1st in the 5th.

* Left Teixeira on 2nd and Cano on 1st in the 6th -- with one out.

* Scored a run in the 8th on another A-Rod homer -- his 17th of the season, the 646th of his career, and his 2,879th career hit -- but left Cano on 3rd and Eduardo Nunez on 1st.

That's 7 men.  If any 2 of those had scored before the top of the 9th, the final play of last night's game wouldn't have mattered a whole lot -- unless, of course, the O's had an offensive explosion in the bottom of the 9th that ended up not being played.

Also, CC Sabathia did not pitch like an ace.  I can't fault the big fella, he's been fantastic all 4 years he's pitched for the Yankees.  It is now safe to put him in the category of Yankee Legend.  He's won 72 games in a Yankee uniform.  That's more than Catfish Hunter, Ed Figueroa, Jimmy Key, David Wells or Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez -- all Yankee Legends.

But last night, he just didn't have it.  He didn't finish the 7th inning, and allowed 5 runs.  And the Yankees went into the top of the 9th trailing 5-3.

Against Oriole pitcher Jim Johnson, Ichiro led off with a hit.  Eric Chavez got a hit.  Chavez was replaced by pinch-runner Chris Dickerson.  Jeter bunted down the 3rd base line and no one had a play.  His 3,277th career hit.

The Yankees had the bases loaded and nobody out.  The next 4 batters would have been Swish, Teix, A-Rod and Cano.  And, as I said, Camden Yards is a bandbox.  The Yankees' chances looked pretty good at this point.  A single would probably have tied the game.  Another, or an extra-base hit by Swish, might well have gotten the Yankees the lead.

But Swish hit a perfect double-play ball.  Somehow, he beat it out to 1st, and Ichiro scored.  So it's 5-4 Orioles, Dickerson on 3rd with the tying run and only 1 out, with Swish on 1st.  The next 3 batters would be Teix, A-Rod and Cano.

All Teix had to do was get the ball out of the infield, and the game was tied.  Maybe not if the ball was hit to that short right field fence, but maybe even if it was.

Teix did not hit the ball out of the infield.  He grounded to 2nd, a perfect double-play ball.  How this play ended is about to be discussed, but the fact remains that Teix choked.

Now, let's go back to Teix's previous at-bat.  He took a 3-2 pitch in the top of the 8th, and it was well outside.  Home plate umpire Cory Blaser -- no, not the Mayor of Newark, that's Cory Booker -- called it strike three.  A bogus call, and Teix argued it, to no avail.  Ironically, the Yankees might have been better off if Blaser had tossed him, because he wouldn't have hit that double-play grounder in the 9th.  Sure, whoever batted in his place might have done the same thing.  But we'll never know.

What we do know is that Teix hit a double-play grounder to 2nd.  Andino threw to shortstop J.J. Hardy to force out Swish.  Hardy threw over to Mark Reynolds at 1st, and Teix tried to beat the throw with a head-first slide.

First base umpire Jerry Meals called Teix out.

Take a look at the photo above: The ball was 2 feet away from Reynolds' glove when Teix's fingertips touched the base.

Like many of you, I'd never heard of Meals before this, even though he was a sub ump, going from Triple-A to the majors, starting from 1992 until becoming a permanent MLB ump in 1998.  I suspect that if he'd made a high-profile goof before this, we'd have heard of him.  The umpires we've heard of are usually the ones who make big mistakes: Don Denkinger in the 1985 World Series, Rich Garcia making a call in the 1996 ALCS that helped the Yankees and hurt the Orioles, Eric Gregg making his strike zone twice as wide as his stomach, Jim Joyce costing Armando Galarraga a perfect game, and the collected works of Bruce Froemming.  The odd thing is that, except for Froemming, who really is an incompetent ass, those other umps were generally considered good umps and good guys, their high-profile mistakes being each man's exception rather than his rule.

The point is, before last night, I knew nothing about Meals.  And for all I know, he may never make another egregious mistake for the rest of his career.

EDIT: Last season, Meals made a bad call in a game between the Atlanta Braves and the Pittsburgh Pirates, giving the Braves a win they didn't deserve.  But that call doesn't stand out for me because, A, I don't root for the Pirates; B, I don't root for the Braves; C, the Braves missed the Playoffs anyway so it didn't have much effect on the Playoff race; and D, the Pirates, though improved (enough to maybe make the Playoffs this year), were not going to make the Playoffs last year anyway.

This one, I will remember.  Even if the Yankees somehow go all the way, it's still going to stand out.  I'll be able to forgive, but forgetting will be kind of hard.

Because this obviously blown call ended the game.  It should have been Chavez on 3rd, Teix on 1st, Dickerson scoring the tying run, and there being 2 out, with A-Rod and Cano coming up, with the Yankees thus far having used only 1 reliever (Eppley -- this was important in case the game went to extra innings).  Instead, it was the 3rd out of the inning, Dickerson's run did not score, and the final was Orioles 5, Yankees 4.

WP: Joe Saunders (8-11).  SV: Johnson (42).  LP: Sabathia (13-5).

The Yankees and Orioles are once again tied for first place.  The Tampa Bay Rays are 2 back, the Toronto Blue Jays 14 1/2 (14 in the loss column), the Boston Red Sox 15 1/2 (16). The Sox' elimination number is 8, the Jay's 10, and the Rays' 22.

There are 23 games to go in the regular season.  According to CoolStandings.com, because of each team's remaining schedule...

Percent chance of winning the Division: Yanks 48.6, Rays 26.5, O's 24.9.  Again, that's based on remaining schedule, which is why the Yankees and Rays are both ahead of the O's.

Percent chance of winning at least a Wild Card berth: Yanks 75.9, Rays 53.6, O's 28.4.

So, in spite of blowing a 10-game Division lead, losing quite a few games that they should have won, including last night's, the Yanks are actually in good shape.

But that doesn't take the sting out of last night's blown call.  We can't say it cost the Yankees a win.  But it did cost the Yanks a tie, with a pretty good shot at more runs.  We'll never know if those more runs would have come, or if the bullpen would have blown it all anyway.  But the Yanks did get screwed last night.

Maturity is knowing that one blown call didn't cost your team the game.  But that doesn't excuse the call.

I am not sad about last night's loss.  I am enraged.  Or, should I say, "out-raged."

The series finale is this afternoon, first pitch scheduled for 1:35.  Zach Britton starts for the O's.  For the Yanks... oy vey... Freddy Garcia.  Good thing the bullpen was barely used last night.

This could be the game that decides the AL East.  So if you're a Yankee Fan, the NFL does not exist until this game is over.  To hell with football, including the Jets: Between 1:35 and whenever this game ends, you watch Yankees vs. Orioles.

Even if Garcia -- or Eppley, or Logan, or Joba Chamberlain, or Derek Lowe, or Clay Rapada, or Cory Wade makes you say, "I can't look... "

Yeah, I know, we should have scored enough runs to make that play not matter at all.

But, damn it, Teix was safe!

The man who's watched baseball for 35 years understands and accepts that one bad call did not, by itself, decide this game, and will not end up deciding the AL East race.

Unfortunately, the 7-year-old boy I was when those 35 years began is still screaming over this -- and using words he didn't know at that age! Luckily for everyone (especially me), the 7-year-old wasn't drinking last night.  If he was, there could have been trouble.

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