Monday, April 15, 2013

If This Is the Yankees' Annual "Bad Start"...

The Yankees faced the Baltimore Orioles this weekend, the team which, last season, pushed them for both the American League East title and the AL Division Series.  And the Yankees took 2 out of 3.

The game they lost, naturally, was the one I paid to see.

*

On Friday night, the Yankees fell behind 1-0 in the top of the 3rd, but in the bottom of the inning, got the run back on a Brett Gardner walk, a Robinson Cano single, and a Kevin Youkilis single.  In the 5th, Francisco Cervelli walked, Gardner sacrificed him to 2nd, and Cano singled him home.  The Orioles tied it up in the top of the 7th, making it 2-2.  It seemed as though a good performance by CC Sabathia was going to go to waste.

But Cervelli -- Did somebody say the Yankees don't have a catcher? -- led off the bottom of the 7th with a walk.  William Nathaniel Showalter III, the former Yankee manager now Bucking up the O's, replaced starter Miguel Gonzalez with Troy Patton.  The 5th-inning pattern repeated, and Gardner bunted Cervelli over to 2nd.  Cano grounded out, and then the O's intentionally walked Youk to set up the double play.  But Patton hit Travis Hafner with a pitch -- and since that loaded the bases for the hot-hitting Vernon Wells, it was almost certainly not intentional.

Wells hit one to center field, and Adam Jones -- not to be confused with the football player/criminal of the same name, nicknamed Pacman -- muffed the ball.  All 3 runs scored, and that was the final: Yankees 5, Orioles 2.

WP: Sabathia (2-1).  SV: Mariano Rivera (2).  LP: Gonzalez (1-1).

*

Saturday was a bit chilly.  There's something strange about going to a baseball game during daylight and needing a jacket.  But colder than the air was Phil Hughes' pitching.  Even from my seat in Section 420c, high above home plate, I could see that Hughes had nothing.  He had trouble throwing strikes, and the strikes he did throw got hit hard.

In the 1st, he allowed a double to Nate McLouth, a walk to Nick Markakis, and a force-groundout to Jones.  1-0 Baltimore.  In the 2nd, he allowed a homer to Ryan Flaherty, a single to McLouth and a double to Manny Machado.  2-0 Baltimore, and it might've been even worse if McLouth hadn't been stupid enough to run on the throwing arm of the still-potent Ichiro Suzuki.

The Yankees got those runs back in the bottom of the 2nd.  Hafner led off with a home run, his 3rd.  After Jason Hammel got Wells and Ichiro out, J.J. Hardy threw away a Cervelli grounder, letting him get to 2nd, and Lyle Overbay singled him home to tie it up.

But right away, Hughes gave it back: Homer to Markakis, single to Jones, double to Chris Davis, groundout by Matt Wieters, RBI groundout by Hardy.  4-2 Baltimore.  A one-out double by Cano was wasted in the bottom of the 3rd, and in the top of the 4th, Hughes allowed a homer to Nolan Reimold and a double to McLouth.  Boos abounded in The Bronx.

Finally, at 5-2 Baltimore, Joe Girardi's binder told Joe that it had seen enough.  He pulled Hughes for David Phelps.  Phelps retired the next 6 O's, and only allowed 1 hit over 4 innings.  Joba Chamberlain pitched a scoreless 8th and David Robertson a scoreless 9th, and Wells homered in the 6th to bring the Yankees to within 5-3 -- 2 runs, or "a bloop and a blast" as John Sterling likes to call it.  But the Yankees wasted a leadoff single by Gardner in the 7th, and Ichiro and Overbay singles in the 8th, and that was that.

WP: Hammel (2-1).  SV: Jim Johnson (5).  LP: Hughes (0-2).

I don't think the problem is in Hughes' head.  I do think he came back from injury too soon.  I would give him another chance, but if he blows that, Phelps should get his spot in the rotation.

"Good morning, Mr. Phelps.  Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to be the starting pitcher against the Toronto Blue Jays, and pitch better than Phil Hughes would.  Because he would self-destruct in 5 seconds."

Cost me $41 to see this game -- and that was just the game ticket.  Throw in the bus ticket to New York and the Subway fare, and we're talking $65.

*

Last night, however, the Yankees had a rarity: A complete game by their starting pitcher.  And a shutout, no less.  Hiroki Kuroda was masterful, allowing only 5 singles, and no walks.  No Oriole got on base more than once.

The O's own Asian pitcher, the Taiwanese lefthander Wei-Yin Chen, was nearly as good, except for the bottom of the 5th.  Brennan Boesch led off with a single, and Cervelli followed with the same.  After an Overbay flyout got Boesch to 3rd, Jayson Nix flew to right, and the sacrifice got Boesch home.  For all the world, this was feeling like it would stay a 1-0 game.

Gardner had another idea.  He hit a screamer down the right-field line, and it hit the pole for a home run.  Sterling invoked the great WABC-Channel 7, later WCBS-Channel 2, sportscaster Warner Wolf: "It hit the fair pole! If it's a fair ball, then don't call it the foul pole." 3-0 Yankees, and that was the way it ended.

WP: Kuroda (2-1).  LP: Chen (0-2).

*

So the Yankees have a day off, before starting their first Interleague series of the season, welcoming their 2001 World Series opponents, the Arizona Diamondbacks -- who, hopefully, left their steroids behind in Phoenix.

Tomorrow night at 7: Ivan Nova starts against Brandon McCarthy.  Wednesday night at 7, CC against Wade Miley.  (I know, it sounds like the name of a bad country singer.  Well, he is from Louisiana, so he probably likes country music.) Thursday night at 7, Hughes -- for the moment, he's scheduled to make this start -- against Patrick Corbin.

This afternoon, as is the custom, New England, and in particular the State -- excuse me, the Commonwealth -- of Massachusetts, celebrates Patriot's Day.  Every year, on the 3rd Monday in April, they commemorate the Battle of Lexington and Concord, the start of the War of the American Revolution.  (Lexington Green is 14 miles northwest of Boston's Downtown Crossing.)

On this day, the nation's oldest long-distance race is conducted, the Boston Marathon.  So as to avoid the combination of traffic that would be generated by a Red Sox home game and street closures for the Marathon, on Patriot's Day, the Red Sox play the Major League Baseball season's only morning game, an 11:05 AM start.  That game has already concluded, and the Sox beat the Tampa Bay Rays, 3-2.  The Marathon, as has usually been the case the last 20-odd years has been won by African runners: Lelisa Desis of Ethiopia was the men's winner, and Rita Jeptoo of Kenya is the women's winner.

Republicans are probably thinking the woman from Kenya is actually from Hawaii.

Anyway, the current AL East standings are as follows:

Boston 8-4
New York 6-5, 1 1/2 back, 1 in the loss column, with a game in hand
Baltimore 6-6, 2 back
Toronto 5-7, 3 back
Tampa Bay 4-8, 4 back

Since starting the season 1-4, we have since gone 5-1.  If this is the annual "bad start" the Yankees have had since 2005, if this is the bad start we were "doomed" to have with all our early-season injuries, I have to say, I can live with it.

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