Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Raul Is Cool, Yanks Can Clinch 1st Seed Tonight

The Baltimore Orioles won last night, meaning the Yankees could not clinch the American League Eastern Division in this, their next-to-last game of the regular season.  So a win was necessary to avoid falling back into a tie.

Last night's game against the Red Sox -- The Scum, even in a horrible season, the 91 losses with which they entered the game being their worst since they lost 100 in 1965, 47 years ago -- had all the hallmarks of a game the Yankees were destined to lose even though they shouldn't have.

David Phelps was the starter, in place of the inconsistent Ivan Nova.  And he pitched decently, if not especially well: 5 1/3 innings, 2 runs, 3 hits, 2 walks, 4 strikeouts.  Boone Logan, Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson, between them, pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings.  Allowing only 2 runs over the first 8 innings, you'd think the Yankees would win.

But the Yankees stranded men on 1st and 3rd in the 1st inning, man on 1st in the 2nd, 1st and 3rd with 1 out in the 3rd, a leadoff single in the 4th, 1st and 2nd with 1 out in the 5th, and 2nd and 3rd in the 6th.  How many games have the 2010, '11 and '12 Yankees lost that looked like this?

The Yankees entered the top of the 9th trailing 2-1.  And manager Joe Girardi's binder apparently told him to bring in his closer, Rafael Soriano, even though the Yankees were losing.  And the first batter he faced was James Loney, who hit a home run to make it 3-1 Sox.  And then Soriano allowed a single to Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

It was the kind of situation that once again had me remembering that Girardi wouldn't return Robertson to the closer's role that he had earned when Mariano Rivera went down with his season-ending injury, after being hurt himself: Girardi gave the job to Soriano and relegated Robertson back to 8th-inning duty.  That decision has come back to bite the Yankees many times, and I am still not convinced that Soriano in the 8th and Robertson in the 9th wouldn't have been a better choice than the other way around has been: Each man is better suited to the other's current role.

So the Yankees went to the bottom of the 9th needing 2 runs.  And Andrew Bailey was pitching for the Sox.  As noted baseball fan and crook Richard Nixon would have said, we didn't have Jonathan Papelbon to kick around anymore.

Two runs seemed big, but, as John Sterling tells us, that's "just a bloop and a blast." Or a walk and a wallop.

Curtis Granderson led off with a single.  It was a line drive, not a "bloop," but it was the baserunner we needed.

Girardi sent Raul Ibanez up to pinch-hit for the useless Eduardo Nunez.  Ibanez has come through for the Yankees all season long.   We needed him to come through one more time.

He did, hitting a screaming liner into the right-field seats, his 19th homer of the year.  Tie ballgame.

In the last off-season, the Phillies signed Papelbon and let Ibanez go.  It seemed to make sense: Brad Lidge was no longer an effective closer, and Papelbon had as many World Series-ending strikeouts as Lidge: 1; while Ibanez was about to turn 40 years old and can't field at any position, and the National League still won't wake up to the truth that pitchers can't hit and the designated hitter is needed.

Well, for the first time in 6 seasons, the Phillies did not make the Playoffs.  Papelbon hasn't had a horrible year, but Ibanez has been a huge pickup for the Yankees -- and Alfredo Aceves, who was a key member of the 2009 World Champion Yankees, was made the Sox closer, and while he's gotten 25 saves for a team that's won only 69 games, he also leads the major leagues with 8 blown saves and is 2-10.

The Yankees could have won the game in the bottom of the 9th.  After Ibanez' huge homer (huge in significance, if not in distance), Ichiro Suzuki grounded out, but Derek Jeter doubled.  Nick Swisher was intentionally walked to set up the double play, or at least the force, but then Alex Rodriguez was walked unintentionally.  Bases loaded, 1 out.  But Mark Teixeira flew out, and it was too close for Jeter to score.  And Robinson Cano grounded out.

Soriano got through the 10th okay, but the Yanks got nothing in their half.  For the 11th, Girardi brought on... oh no... Derek Lowe.  Poetic justice on the Sox if he could do the job, but he hasn't been doing the job.  And, sure enough, he allowed a leadoff single to Loney.  He got Saltalamacchia to ground into a force play, then threw a wild pitch.  He struck out Ryan Lavarnway, intentionally walked Pedro Ciriaco, and got Jose Iglesias out on a force.

The Yankees got a 2-out single from Swish in the bottom of the 11th, but A-Rod hit one just not quite far enough to win the game with a homer that would have had his fangirls not needing a date for a week.

The top of the 12th was a little weird.  Not because Lowe didn't get the job done -- incredibly, he did -- but because there was a delay when a small bird got on the field.  I immediately thought of "Scooter the Squirrel," the squirrel who sat on top of the right-field pole at the old Stadium, within weeks of the death of Phil "the Scooter" Rizzuto, and the Yankees started a hot streak that allowed them to reach the Playoffs.  Was this bird a good sign?

It didn't look like it at first: Teix grounded out to lead off the bottom of the 12th.  Cano was called out on strikes.  I began to wonder how long this game was going to go on.  I thought of the August 2009 Yanks-Sox game that A-Rod won with a walkoff homer in the bottom of the 15th.  I would happily have taken a repeat performance, even if it meant that the fangirls needed a cigarette afterwards.

The batter was Francisco Cervelli.  Last season's backup catcher, kept in Triple-A all season long, called up as the emergency catcher, took the field in the 11th, and was now batting for the 1st time all season.

He drew a walk.  So did Granderson.  The winning run was now in scoring position -- with 2 outs.

The batter was Raul Ibanez.  He went the opposite way, singling to left.  Cervelli, who didn't get to the plate at the major league level this season until the 12th inning of the 161st game, scored perhaps the biggest run of the year.

Ballgame over.  Yankees win.  Theeeeeeeeeeeeeeee Yankees win!

4-3! We beat The Scum, 4-3! We beat The Scum, 4-3! We beat The Scum, 4-3!

John Sterling was right: Raul is cool, and the Yankees are hot.

WP: Lowe (9-11).  LP: Andrew Miller (3-2).

*

The Orioles beat the Tampa Bay Rays, 1-0, so the Yankees' Magic Number is 1.  What's more, the Oakland Athletics beat the Texas Rangers, 3-1.  On September 24, the Rangers led the AL West by 5 games with 9 to play.  On June 30, the A's were 13 games back.  Now that race is tied.  The Yankees' blowing of a 10-game lead on July 18 doesn't seem so bad anymore.

So here's the deal: A Yankee win OR an Oriole loss means the Yankees win the AL East.  A Yankee win means the Yankees finish with the best record in the AL, and get the top seed in the Playoffs.

3:35 PM (12:35 local time), Texas at Oakland: Ryan Dempster vs. A.J. Griffin.  The Rangers' embarrassment will be magnified if the big free-agent signing Dempster doesn't come through for them.

7:05 PM, Boston at Yankees: Daisuke Matsuzaka vs. Hiroki Kuroda.  This all-Japanese matchup leaves me confident, as Kuroda has been solid in most of his games, even in his losses (bad run support), while Dice-K has never truly recovered from a 2009 injury (after going 15-12 for the 2007 World Champions *, and 18-3 for a team that came within 1 win of a Pennant the next season).

7:10 PM, Baltimore at Tampa Bay: Chris Tillman vs. Jeremy Hellickson.  Tillman has had an excellent year, but, of course, if the Yankees win, it doesn't matter what he does.

Granted, the 5-minute gap in the Yanks' and Orioles' scheduled first pitches doesn't matter much.  All 4 teams involved have a habit of playing long games, even when it doesn't go to extra innings.

To make matters worse, the games should end sometime between 10:00 and 10:30 Eastern Time, toward the end of the first Presidential debate.  Jets owner Woody Johnson is half-right: Willard Mitt Romney should never, EVER be President of the United States, but the country comes before sports, and I'll be watching President Barack Obama smack the smug bastard while keeping my smartphone by my side to check the scores.

Then again, we are talking about the Yankees and the Red Sox.  Maybe it'll go to extra innings again, and the Yankees can get a walkoff homer to clinch the Division and the first seed, and beat The Scum, at 10:40 PM.

*

Also worth mentioning: On July 9, 2005, Adam Greenberg came to bat for the Chicago Cubs, against the Florida Marlins at whatever the Dolphins' stadium was officially called at the time.  Making a pinch-hitting appearance against Valerio de los Santos, a journeyman lefthander from the Dominican Republic, he faced one pitch, and it hit him in the head.  It was clearly unintentional, but it gave him a concussion that he couldn't quite shake.  It seemed as if this would be it for him at the major league level: A nearly-horrific twist on the story of Moonlight Graham.

Last night, now named the Miami Marlins and playing at Marlins Park, the club he faced in his one appearance gave him a second chance, after he'd spent the last few years in the independent leagues.  He got a one-day contract, and he agreed to donate his day's salary to charity.

Fred Van Dusen was also on hand.  On September 11, 1955, the native of Jackson Heights, Queens, just 18 years old at the time, made a pinch-hitting appearance for the Phillies, and was hit with a pitch.  He and Greenberg were the only players ever to make exactly 1 plate appearance in the major leagues, without playing the field, and be hit with a pitch.  (In his case, he faced 3 pitches, getting plunked on an 0-2 count.) Van Dusen was not seriously hurt, and continued in the minors until 1961, went into the insurance business, and, at 75 years old, is now retired in Tennessee.  He threw out the ceremonial first ball last night.
In the bottom of the 6th, Greenberg pinch-hit for Bryan Peterson, and the 29,709 fans in attendance -- a great crowd, by the standards of either of the Florida major league teams -- gave him a standing ovation.

The pitcher was R.A. Dickey of the Mets.  Since Dickey, the Mets' first 20-game winner since 1990, is a knuckleball artist, and the game didn't mean much to anyone but Greenberg (not even to Dickey, because, let's face it, 21 wins isn't any more special than 20), the likelihood of Greenberg getting hit with another pitch was minimal.

Dickey threw a knuckler down the middle.  Greenberg took it for strike 1.  Dickey fooled him on another, swing and a miss, strike 2.  Dickey threw one more knuckler, and Greenberg swung and missed for strike 3.

Hey, that's one more official at-bat than I, and nearly everyone reading this, will ever have in the major leagues.

The at-bat lasted 33 seconds.  "That's 33 more seconds than I could have asked for," Greenberg told the media after the game.

"This kid brought a lot of smiles, a lot of tears," Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said. "The team's in last place, and all of a sudden you see a standing ovation in the ballpark. You don't see that often, and that was great."


The Marlins won the game in the 11th, 4-3.  Chalk up another bad loss for the Mets.  Face it, Dickey is 2012's answer to Steve Carlton, whose 27 wins in 1972 marked 46 percent of the Phillies' total that season.

*


October 3, 1947: Floyd "Bill" Bevens of the Yankees takes a no-hitter into the bottom of the 9th in Game 4 of the World Series, against the Brooklyn Dodgers. He gets to within 1 out of the first World Series (and thus the first postseason) no-hitter ever. But 10 walks put him in danger, and Harry "Cookie" Lavagetto pinch-hits a double-off the right-field wall at Ebbets Field, and the Dodgers win, 3-2.

Two days later, Al Gionfriddo will rob Joe DiMaggio with an amazing catch to preserve the Dodgers' lead in Game 6, but the Yankees win the Series in Game 7. By a weird twist of fate, neither Bevens, nor Lavagetto, nor Gionfriddo will ever play in the major leagues again.

Who is still alive from this Series, 65 years later? For the Yankees, just Yogi Berra and Bobby Brown. For the Dodgers, no one: Duke Snider was the last survivor, and Gene Hermanski was the last survivor of the Dodgers who actually played in this Series.

October 3, 1951: Bobby Thomson hits "The Shot Heard 'Round the World." The following men who played in that game, 61 years ago, are still alive: Giants Willie Mays, Monte Irvin and Alvin Dark; and Dodgers Branca, Don Newcombe (whom Branca relieved) and Andy Pafko (over whose head in left field the ball traveled). Giant pitcher George Spencer did not appear in the game, but was on their roster and is also still alive; so are Dodger reserves Carl Erskine, Rocky Bridges, Tommy Brown and Wayne Terwilliger.

Just in the last four years, the following players from that day have died: Giants Thomson, Jansen, Whitey Lockman, Clint Hartung, Davey Williams, Jack Lohrke and Artie Wilson; and Dodgers Duke Snider, Preacher Roe, Gene Hermanski, Don Thompson, Clyde King, Johnny Schmitz, and future legendary manager Dick Williams.

Of course, there are many more October 3 anniversaries in baseball.

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