Monday, April 22, 2013

All's Well That Ends Wells

The Yankees went into Toronto for the weekend, and, let's be honest, those pesky Blue Jays didn't look like obvious choices to win the AL East.

On Friday night, the Yankees struck like people vote in Chicago: Early and often.  A double by Robinson Cano, Kevin Youkilis getting hit by a pitch (but not whining like he did when he was in Boston, guess he got de-bitch-ified), Travis Hafner doubling and Vernon Wells grounding out scored 2 runs before the Jays ever got to bat.  Hafner homered in the 3rd (his 5th of the season), followed by a Wells single, an Ichiro Suzuki double and an Eduardo Nunez sacrifice fly.

In the 6th, Lyle Overbay homered (his 2nd), Francisco Cervelli doubled, Brett Gardner tripled, and Cano got another run home on a groundout.  In the 7th, Wells tormented his former team again with his 4th homer of the season.

Andy Pettitte had some shaky moments, but pitched into the 8th, allowing 3 runs on 6 hits and a walk (3-0). Shaun Kelly went the rest of the way (not a save situation).  Brandon Morrow took the loss for the Jays (0-2).  Yankees 9, Blue Jays 4.

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Saturday afternoon's game had, "Uh-oh, here we go again" written all over it.  Hiroki Kuroda took a 2-hit shutout into the bottom of the 8th, while Wells hit his 5th homer in the top of the 2nd, and the 5th included a Jayson Nixon single, a Gardner double, an intentional walk by Mark Buehrle to Cano, and a Youkilis single. Wells should have had another RBI right after that, but Cano wasn't able to score on his single.

And that ended up making a difference.  It was 3-0 Yankees in the bottom of the 8th, when, with 1 out, Colby Rasmus singled off Overbay's glove.  It was then that Joe Girardi consulted not his eyes, which should have told him to leave Kuroda in, but his binder, which said take him out.  He brought in David Robertson, who struck out Maicer Izturis, but then walked Adam Lind, who was then replaced by pinch-runner Emilio Bonifacio, and gave up a single to Rajai Davis to make it 3-1.

Up stepped Melky Cabrera, our old friend from 2009, outed as a steroid user last year with the San Francisco Giants, and thereafter they won the World Series without his help.  Apparently, the Jays don't care about a guy's past -- but then, you could also say that about the Yankees.  The Melkman singled home Bonifacio and Davis.  Tie game.

Then Robertson walked Jose Bautista.  Winning run on 2nd.  All because Girardi trusted his damn binder instead of his eyes.  The next batter was Edwin Encarnacion, who is off to a lousy start this season but hit 42 homers with 110 RBIs last year.

The season thus far has been good to the Yankees and bad for the Jays, in each case confounding predictions.  This next batter could have turned around both seasons.

Roberts dug deep into his character, and struck him out swinging.

Unfortunately, the Yankees went down 1-2-3 in the 9th, and Girardi dug deep into his binder, and brought in Boone Logan to pitch.

Joe Girardi hates me.

Incredibly, Logan got the Jays out 1-2-3 to send the game to extra innings.  Additional frames.  Extended play.  Free baseball.

The Yankees went down 1-2-3 in the 10th.  But Logan remembered that he sucks, and allowed a leadoff single to Izturis, and allowed Bonifacio to bunt Izturis over to 2nd.  Winning run on 2nd, only 1 out.

Girardi's binder must've told him the same thing my eyes told me, and he yanked Logan for Kelley.  Kelly induced Davis to pop up and Melky to ground out, ending the threat.

Who do you think started the winning rally in the top o fthe 11th? In the words of the immortal Jim Varney, "Hey, Vern!" Wells led off with a single, Cervelli hit the same, and then Ichiro bunted.  Aaron Loup, now pitching for the Jays, did what every fielder is taught to do: Get the lead runner.  Which made sense, since he was a lefthanded pitcher throwing to 3rd base, the easier throw.  But it was anything but easy, and he threw it away.  Wells and Cervelli both scored, and that was all Mariano Rivera should have needed to close it out in the bottom of the 11th.

(The play reminded me of the thrown-away bunt that gave the Yankees an extra-inning win against the Texas Rangers in Game 2 of the 1996 ALCS, which was a huge moment in making Title 23 possible, as the Ranges had won Game 1 and looked most of the way like they were going to win Game 2 as well, in New York, but because of that throw, they didn't win another game until April 1997.)


But Mo allowed a leadoff double to Bautista, and Encarnacion hit a liner to right.  For a moment, the game was back in serious doubt.  But Ichiro managed to catch it.  Mo then struck out J.P. Arencibia and Brett Lawrie to nail it down.

Yankees 5, Jays 3.  WP: Kelley (1-0, his first win as a Yankee after 10 previous, all with the Seattle Mariners).  SV: Rivera (5 -- Who's an old man?).  LP: Loup (1-1).

*

Yesterday's game wasn't so good.  Ivan Nova started for us, and allowed 4 runs on 7 hits and 4 walks over the first 5 innings.  In the end, though, he wasn't the losing pitcher.

Chris Stewart, Nova's personal catcher (again, nobody who isn't at least as good as Steve Carlton should have a personal catcher, and Carlton was the best lefty pitcher I've ever seen) homered in the 3rd (his 1st of the season), and the Yankees picked up 2 more runs in the 5th and another in the 6th.  That made it 4-2 Yankees, and that should have given Nova a boost to at least get through the 6th.

It wasn't.  He started the inning by walking Lind, then allowed a double to Arencibia.

Enter Logan.  Exit any chance the Yankees had of winning.

Logan allowed a soft liner in front of Wells, no chance of catching it.  Lind scored.

Since Logan couldn't get out the one man he is actually paid to get out -- the guy named Lefty Hitter -- Girardi pulled him for David Phelps.  Unfortunately, as they would have said on Mission: Impossible, Mr. Phelps self-destructed in five seconds.  He allowed an RBI double to Lawrence to tie it up.  He got 2 outs, but then Melky singled home a run.

It was only 6-4 Toronto.  As John Sterling taught us, a 2-run deficit can be erased with a bloop and a blast.  Unfortunately, in the 7th, the Jays added a walk and a wallop, with Phelps walking Lind and giving up a gopher ball to Arencibia.

Jays 8, Yankees 4.  WP: Brett Cecil (1-0).  LP: Logan (0-1).

There was one highlight for the Yankees in this game, aside from Stewart's homer, and it came in the other half of the 3rd.  Bautista led off with a single, and Encarnacion hit a long drive to left, but Wells snagged it, and followed this great catch with a peg to Cano, who threw to Overbay, and Bautista was out on a double play.

The Toronto fans, who treat going from the Blue Jays to the Yankees (never mind that Wells stopped in Anaheim in between) the way they'd treat someone going from the Maple Leafs to the Montreal Canadiens, booed Wells lustily.  He turned to the fans in the left-field seats and tipped his cap.

The Jays should never have let him go.  But how smart does Brian Cashman look for picking him up? And Youkilis? And Hafner? And Overbay?

*

So here's how things stand in the American League Eastern Division, after 3 weeks of the 26-week season:

The Boston Red Sox are in 1st place, 12-6.  The Yankees are 10-7, a game and a half back, 1 in the loss column, with a game in hand.  The Baltimore Orioles are 10-8, 2 back.  The Tampa Bay Rays are 8-10, 4 back.  And the Jays are 8-11, 4 1/2 back.

Not exactly what everyone expected when the Jays got those 3 starting pitchers, is it? After 4 starts, R.A. Dickey is 2-2, ERA 4.30, WHIP 1.35; Morrow is 0-2, 5.57, 1.71; Buehrle is 1-0, but 6.26 and 1.16; and Josh Johnson is 0-1, 6.86, 1.88.  After 3 starts, J.A. Happ is 2-1 with a 1.19 WHIP, but his ERA is a high 5.06.

For decades, we've heard the old saying: "Pitching is 75 percent of baseball." That's why so many people thought the Jays would win the East.  It's also why they won't.  As usual, the Yanks and Sox lead the way, and there is no longer any reason to believe that it won't be those two down to the wire as usual.

The Yankees head down to Tampa to play the Rays.  Tonight, CC Sabathia against Matt Moore; tomorrow night, Phil Hughes against David Price; Wednesday night, Pettitte against Alex Cobb.

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