Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Nix On -- He's the One

The first live professional sporting event that I ever saw was the Yankees against the Toronto Blue Jays at the old Yankee Stadium.  The Jays won.  I have hated the Jays ever since.  They've been a pain in the Yankees' neck ever since, too: No matter if one team is good and the other is struggling, or both were good, or both were struggling, they have been annoying.  I call them the Pesky Blue Jays.

Yesterday, due to an earlier-season rainout, the Yankees had to play a day-night, separate-admission doubleheader at Yankee Stadium II against the Jays.  I wanted to win both games.  I also wanted to be there for either game, but it was not to be.  (I had to work during the first, and wouldn't have gotten out of work on time to catch the start of the second.  I'm at the point where I can now longer take 18 innings of baseball at once.  Nine is enough, thank you.  With all due respect to Dick Van Patten, Betty Buckley, et al.)

Ivan Nova started the first game for the Yankees.  He'd been great lately, but in the top of the 2nd, he allowed 4 Toronto runs, all earned.  Oy vey...

But that was it.  Nova didn't allow any other runs.  "Onebadinningitis" can kill a team's hopes.  But Nova settled down, and the Yankees got him the runs he needed.

In the bottom of the 3rd, with 1 out, Brett Gardner singled, Ichiro Suzuki doubled, and Robinson Cano hit a home run to center field, his 23rd round-tripper of the season.  The Yanks were within 4-3.

Alex Rodriguez led off the bottom of the 6th with a single.  Curtis Granderson and Mark Reynolds struck out, but Jayson Nix (who would be heard from a few times on the day) drew a walk, and then Chris Stewart hit his 4th homer of the year, getting Nova off the hook.  6-4 Yankees.

Ichiro led off the bottom of the 7th with a single, and Cano doubled him home.  Nix led off the bottom of the 8th with a single.  Stewart flew out.  Gardner was up.  Nix tried to steal 2nd, but Jays catcher Thad Weber threw the ball away, allowing him to get to 3rd.  A sacrifice fly was all that was needed, and Gardner got it, driving Nix in.

Yankees 8, Blue Jays 4.  WP: Nova (7-4).  No save.  LP: Neil Wagner (2-4).

*

Phil Hughes started the 2nd game, and it was a case of here we go again -- not just because he's had such trouble this season, but because the 2nd game started off like the 1st game, with the Jays taking an early lead.  Fortunately, Hughes ended up pitching better than Nova, even though Nova got the win in his game, and Hughes didn't get the win in his.

Hughes allowed a single, a stolen base, a move-up grounder, a run-scoring wild pitch, and a walk.  And that was in the first 3 batters of the game.  But then he induced a 3-6-3 double play to leave the Jays only up 1-0.

Nix would be a major factor in the game, but not while leading off the bottom of the 3rd, as he grounded out.  But Austin Romine singled, Gardner moved him over with a groundout, Vernon Wells walked, and Cano singled Romine home to get the run back.

The Jays -- who have a player named Kevin Pillar, no relation to former Boston pain in the ass Kevin Millar, or as they pronounced it up there "Kevin Millahhhh" -- got another run in the 5th, after Hughes made a mistake allowing a triple to Munenori Kawasaki (who, in spite of his name, has never hit for the cycle) and a sac fly by Rajai Davis.  But with 2 outs in the bottom of the 7th, Nix hit one out to left field, only his 3rd homer of the year, and the game was tied again.

When the Jays brought Darren Oliver to pitch the bottom of the 9th, you could feel that the win was in the bag: Oliver had frequently been pounded by the Yanks in the past, especially when he pitched for the Texas Rangers in the 1990s, and he's about to turn 43 and would've been out of the major leagues years ago were he not a lefthanded pitcher.  (There aren't a whole lot of players who have batted righthanded and thrown lefthanded, but he's one.  Easily the greatest of those was Rickey Henderson.)

Reynolds led off the inning by drawing a walk.  Ichiro pinch-ran for him.  Eduardo Nunez bunted him over to 2nd.  Ichiro stole 3rd.  And Nix completed what soccer fans would call a "Man of the Match" performance by singling him home.  Yankees 3, Blue Jays 2.

WP: Mariano Rivera (4-2).  LP: Oliver (3-4).

The Yankees have won 3 straight, and 9 of their last 12.  The return of A-Rod, the somewhat different return of Curtis Granderson, and the very different return of Alfonso Soriano, are big reasons why.  Mark Teixeira, Kevin Youkilis, Francisco Cervelli and David Phelps are out for the season, but Derek Jeter may return in a week.  Travis Hafner and rookie revelation Zoilo Almonte might also return soon.  Look out.

We are now 6 1/2 games behind Boston and Tampa Bay, who are tied for the AL East lead.  The Rays have 4 games in hand on the Sox and 1 on the Yanks, so the Yanks are 7 games behind the Rays in the loss column, 5 thus behind the Sox.  We are 5 games out of the 2nd AL Wild Card spot.

The Yanks are coming.

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