Friday, June 14, 2013

Eighteen Innings. And What Did We Get?

The longest baseball game I've ever seen live was 15 innings.  Well, 18, if you count the Old-Timers' Game before it.  It was July 11, 1987, at the old Yankee Stadium.  Catfish Hunter, 41 years old, was painting the corners the way he used to.  Made sense, he'd had 8 years' rest.  It was the first time players I'd grown up watching played in an Old-Timers' Game, and that creeped me out.  Two of "my Yankees" were still playing, and in the regular game.  Willie Randolph didn't do much.  Ron Guidry struck out 14 batters, but couldn't finish the 7th inning.  The bullpen held off the Chicago White Sox as long as it could, but the Pale Hose scored 3 in the top of the 15th, and that was it: Yankees lose, 5-2.

The longest game I'd ever seen on TV was 19 innings, the Mets-Braves epic in Atlanta on July 4, 1985, the Rick Camp game.  I watched it on Channel 9, then WOR, with Ralph Kiner, Tim McCarver and Steve Zabriskie.  Little did I know that, doing the game for the Braves on WTBS, was John Sterling.  The Mets finally won it, 16-13.

The longest Yankee game I'd ever seen on TV was 17 innings, in the magical season of 1978.  Unfortunately, there was nothing magic about that one: It was at home, against the Boston Red Sox, and after 14 innings, the game was suspended due to the American League's curfew: No inning can start after 1:00 AM.  The game was resumed the next night, August 3, and Boston hit 4 singles off Ken Clay in the top of the 17th to win it, 7-5.  My man Reggie Jackson went 0-for-7.  So did Cliff Johnson, catching that night to give aching Thurman Munson some relief.  It didn't work: Thurm was the DH that day, and he went 1-for-7.  (He was still better off that day than he was exactly 1 year later.) Then the Sox took the night's regularly-scheduled game, too, 8-1, smacking Jim Beattie and Paul Lindblad and making a winner of Mike Torrez.  And seemingly ending that year's AL East race.  (Little did we know... )

Just a few days ago, the Mets lost to the Miami Marlins in 20 innings.

*

And then came yesterday's season finale in Oakland, with the Athletics already having taken the first 2 games against the Yankees.  It was a 12:30 PM Pacific Time start, meaning 3:30 Eastern Time.  No help for anyone there, although it looked like it was a beautiful day for a game.  (Which isn't all that common in Oakland: They got a lot of the drawbacks of living in the San Francisco Bay Area, including the weird weather, and few of the perks and little of the glamour.)

Yesterday the Yankees played 18 innings.  And what did we get? Another day older and deeper in debt.

As with last year's postseason against Baltimore and Detroit, we certainly can't blame the pitching.  Hiroki Kuroda started and allowed just 2 runs, 2 hits and 2 walks over 8 innings.  David Robertson was a little shaky in the 9th, but struck out the side.  Between them, Boone Logan and Shawn Kelley managed to not screw up the 10th.

Adam Warren had what would usually be considered a "quality start." Except it started in the 11th inning. He threw 85 pitches, and, as Paul Sullivan of Sully Baseball (a pretty keen observer so don't hold it against him that he's a Red Sox fan) pointed out, every single one of those 85 pitches could have ended the game in defeat for his team. None of them did.

Warren pitched the 11th, the 12th, the 13th and the 14th like nobody's business.  At which point, YES Network announcer Michael Kay said, "You want free baseball? You got it!"

No, I don't want free baseball! I want winning baseball! If I just wanted the game, I could've rooted for that other team!

Warren got into serious trouble in the 15th, and I thought, "It would be a damn shame if Girardi left him in too long, and he got tired, and he ended up the losing pitcher because of that." The A's had Brandon Moss on 2nd and Josh Reddick on 1st with 1 out.  The batter was Coco Crisp, who's hit the Yankees well for a long time.  And, sure enough, Crisp got a hit, a single to left.  "Well, that's it, game over," I thought.  Except Vernon Wells threw home, catcher Chris Stewart got the ball and blocked the plate, and Moss was out.  Then Warren found something deep within his character and struck out Adam Rosales to end the threat.

Then I began to wonder if Joe Girardi's Binders Full of Strategies had any contingencies for games that lasted longer than 15 innings, because he left Warren in for the 16th.  Warren got the first 2 outs, then allowed a single and a walk, before Nate Freiman hit a liner to right.  Ichiro Suzuki slipped, but caught the ball anyway.  I yelled out a profanity at Ichiro and added, "We don't need that kind of drama!"

Girardi took Warren off the hook, and sent Preston Claiborne out to pitch the 17th. Flyout, flyout, single, strikeout.

After all this good pitching, you'd think the Yankees would have given their pitchers the gratitude of scoring at least 3 runs.  Yeah, well, you would think, but you'd be wrong.

Brett Gardner led off the game with a double.  Jayson Nixon hit a line drive that A's shortstop Jed Lowrie caught.  Then Robinson Cano hit his 16th home run of the season, to make it 2-0 Yankees.

Over the next 17 2/3 innings, the Yankees sent 67 batters to the plate.  They got 8 hits and 7 walks.  Zero runs.

Let me spell that out: Sixty-seven batters, no runs.

The worst offenders:

* Travis Hafner, 0-for-8, including 3 strikeouts, and 7 men left on base.

* Vernon Wells, 0-for-8, including 3 strikeouts, and 3 men left on base, although he did make that great throw in the 15th to keep the game alive.

* Kevin Youkilis, 0-for-7, including 3 strikeouts, and 6 LOB.

* Mark Teixeira, 0-for-5, including 3 strikeouts, and 4 LOB, though he did draw 2 walks.

* Chris Stewart, 1-for-6, including a strikeout, and 2 LOB, though he did have that great plate-block in the 15th.

* And the 2nd spot in the order: Between them, Jayson Nix, Lyle Overbay and Reid Brignac were 1-for-8 with a strikeout and 5 LOB.

Essentially, this is the kind of game people were fearing they would repeatedly see, when they saw in spring training that we would, through injuries, be missing Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson, and also Teix who could once again, once he came back, go into the traditional Yankee 1st baseman's role (which even predates Don Mattingly) of getting off to a slow start (he's now batting .163).

I began to wonder if I was going to get a text message from the Yankees:

"We're so sorry, Uncle Michael, but we haven't hit a bloody thing all day!"

In the bottom of the 18th, Claiborne got Derek Norris to ground out, but allowed a single to John Jaso.  In this case, the right thing to do would have been to give him at least one more batter, to see if he could get out of it.

But Girardi consulted his Binders Full of Strategies, and he brought in Mariano Rivera to relieve in the bottom of the 18th inning of a tie game. Andy Pettitte, scheduled to be tonight's starter in the opener of a series in Anaheim against the "Los Angeles" Angels, was sent out to the bullpen, just in case someone was needed to pitch a bottom of the 19th.  I remember saying, "I don't like this... " I saw someone on Twitter invoke the old Star Wars line: "I've got a bad feeling about this!"

Mo allowed a single to Seth Smith.  Jaso got to 3rd.  1st & 3rd, 1 out.  Girardi told Mo to intentionally walk Lowrie to load the bases and set up a double (or at least a force) play.

No use.  Freiman hit a weak liner to left, and Wells had no chance at it.  Ballgame.  A's 3, Yankees 2.

WP: Jesse Chavez (1-0).  LP: Claiborne (0-1), though he hardly deserved it.

It was a long day's journey into numbness.

Tonight, at 10:05 PM our time, the Yankees send Pettitte out to face the Angels.  Their pitcher is C.J. Wilson, whom you'll remember giving us trouble in the 2010 ALCS with the Texas Rangers.

At this point, I could live with it if the Yankees lost 9-8.  Or even 13-7.  (Sorry, Andy.) At this point, I could take a 13-7 loss a lot easier than I could take one that was 2-1.

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