Saturday, August 15, 2015

Yankees Send Pesky Blue Jays a Message: You're Not Ready


So after a struggling week that included a sweep by the Toronto Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium II, the Yankees headed to Toronto to take on those pesky Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre.

Built in 1989 as the 1st retractable roof stadium in North America, the Rogers Centre, formerly the SkyDome, is a hideous, ghastly stadium that looks like the set of a film about a dystopian future. It has a ridiculous-looking dome, awful carpeting in the fan concourses, and bad hot dogs. And despite the roof being retractable, and despite Toronto being over a full degree of latitude south of Green Bay whose Lambeau Field has real grass, the awful carpeting in the stadium isn't limited to the concourses: The field has artificial turf, and is a hideous pea green.

(Arizona, Houston, Milwaukee, and Seattle also now play in stadiums with retractable roofs. Only 2 MLB teams still have the plastic stuff: Toronto, and Tampa Bay, which has a permanent roof. They need a real ballpark, too.)

Last week, the Blue Jays said they wanted to "send a message" to the Yankees: We are not only ready to contend for the Playoffs, we are ready to win the American League Eastern Division. They sent the message, all right: Not only did they sweep the Yankees 3 straight, but limited them to just 1 run in the series.

Now, the Yankees had to send a message of their own. Would they be equal to the task? A crowd of 46,689, officially 95 percent of current capacity, a few of them Yankee Fans who'd crossed the border, but mostly Canucks watching the biggest game their franchise has played in 21 years, 9 months and 23 days, and baying for Yankee blood, paid their way into the SkyDump to find out.

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Would the Yankees be able to send their message? It sure didn't look like it for most of the game. Ivan Nova pitched well, going 7 innings, allowing 3 runs on 5 hits and just 1 walk. That should have been good enough to win.

But the Yankees' fecklessness at the plate continued. Alex Rodriguez doubled with 2 out in the 1st, but was stranded. Chase Headley singled with 1 out in the 2nd, but got no further. B.J. Ryan led off the 3rd with a single, and with 1 out Brett Gardner singled him to 2nd, but that was it for that would-be rally. The Yankees went down 1-2-3 in the 4th. Jacoby Ellsbury and Gardner singled with 2 out in the 5th, but were stuck. Headley doubled with 2 out in the 6th, but this ended up being another tease. Didi Gregorius singled to lead off the 7th, but remained there.

The Yankees had played 34 innings against the Jays this month, and scored a grand total of 1 run. It had been 33 consecutive innings since the Yankees had scored on the Jays. It is the longest scoreless streak in the 113-year history of the Yankee franchise.

And that includes the early years as the New York Highlanders; the 1925 nosedive that phased out players like Wally Pipp, Wally Schang, Aaron Ward, Everett Scott and Whitey Witt, and phased in players like Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, Mark Koenig and Earle Combs; the CBS years of players like Horace Clark, Jake Gibbs, Steve Whitaker, and Gene Michael before he learned how to build a team; the years when the Yankees seemed to be Don Mattingly and 24 guys named Wayne Tolleson; and the hopeless-hitting last 2 seasons, which seemed to be under the Curse of Kevin Long.

A-Rod opened the top of the 8th by flying to center. The Yankees trailed 3-0, and were down to their last 5 outs. And there was no Curse of the Bambino to take advantage of, either, as on October 16, 2003.

Then again, the Jays hadn't appeared in so much as one single solitary postseason game since, as I said, 21 years, 9 months and 23 days earlier: October 23, 1993. The Curse of Mitch Williams? The Curse of Macho Row?

But then Mark Teixeira singled to center. And Brian McCann singled to left. And Headley sent a drive to deep center that bounced over the wall for a ground-rule double. Teix scored. The Yankees finally scored on the Jays again.

Jays manager John Gibbons pulled starting pitcher David Price, who had handcuffed the Yankees for the 2nd time in a week, even though he'd thrown only 112 pitches, which is only a large amount if you're Yankee manager Joe Girardi and anything over 90 pitches makes you start to sweat and anything over 100 makes you start to tremble. Gibbons brought in Aaron Sanchez, a righthanded pitcher, to replace the lefthanded Price.

The next batter was Chris Young, so this pitching change set up righty vs. righty. In a move that sounded more like it came from Casey Stengel's Big Book of Baseball Hunches (1958, foreward to the 1978 edition by Billy Martin, and to the 2004 edition by Joe Torre), and not from his own infamous binder, Girardi called Young back, and sent up Carlos Beltran.

Yes, Carlos Beltran, once a man looking like a good pick for the Hall of Fame, but now 38 years old, injury-prone, and with a batting average of just .267 and an on-base percentage of .328. He is, however, a switch-hitter who is stronger from the left side, and had 383 career home runs and a 119 OPS+ in the 1st 3/4 of the 2015 season, only slightly below his career OPS+ of 121. Good move?

Great move! Beltran drove it to deep right-center! It was high! It was far! It was gone! A no-doubt-about-er! His 11th home run of the season!

So I (and others) can put down the FIRE GIRARDI signs and the #GirardiOut hashtag for at least another day.

According to Baseball-Reference.com, a website which is your friend whether you know it or not, in the space of just 4 batters, the Yankees' chances of winning the game went from 4 percent to 73 percent.

Girardi relieved Nova, whose performance now did stand to make him the winning pitcher, and brought Dellin Betances in to pitch the 8th. He got the Jays out 1-2-3.

That would not be the case in the 9th. Girardi brought in Andrew Miller, who got ex-Yankee Russell Martin to fly to left for the 1st out. But then Chris Colabello worked him for a walk. Gibbons sent Cliff Pennington in to pinch-run for him. There was the tying run at 1st, and the winning run at the plate, in the form of Kevin Pillar. Time to worry.

Pillar singled. With Ben Revere up, Miller uncorked a wild pitch. (Nothing is ever "uncorked" except a bottle of wine or a wild pitch. I have no idea why "uncork" is used for "throw a wild pitch.") Now the tying run was on 3rd, the winning run on 2nd, only 1 out. A hit would certainly tie, and possibly win, the game for the Jays. And Revere had been hitting lately. And their other big offensive acquisition, the longtime Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, was up next, and he'd been hitting lately, too.

Given the Yankees' last week, especially their last weekend, against this same team, and now at their place, with 45,000 Hosers wanting to finish off the Yankees again, eh, worrying was out. Panicking was in.

Miller struck Revere out. But Tulowitzki pulled a Paul O'Neill -- or, if you're old, a Richie Ashburn; or, if you're really old, a Luke Appling: He fouled off pitch after pitch after pitch, trying to work a pitch out of the strike zone for a bases-loading walk, or a pitch in the strike zone for a game-winning hit.

Closers aren't supposed to throw 28 pitches in the 9th inning. Miller's last pitch to Tulo was his 28th.

Struck him out swinging. Ballgame over. Yankees win.

And, boy, did John Sterling, on 660 WFAN, drag it out: "Theeeeeeeeeeee Yankees win!"

Cue the ghost of Phil Rizzuto: "Holy cow, what a big win for the Yankees! Unbelievable!"

Cue the ghost of Mel Allen: "How about that!"

Yankees 4, Blue Jays 3. WP: Nova (5-4). SV: Miller (26). LP: Aaron Sanchez (6-5).

The Yankees had won the biggest game of the season thus far. The Jays? They had choked away a 3-run 8th inning lead, at home, in their biggest game in almost 22 years.

A message had, indeed, been sent by the Yankees to the Blue Jays: You thought you were ready? In the immortal word of Alex Rodriguez, who said it on that very "field," Ha! You bums aren't ready for a real Playoff race! You're not ready for prime time! Or, to use another metaphor from the early days of Saturday Night Live: Good evening, we're the New York Yankees, and you're not. Your franchise remains what it's been for 20 years: A joke.

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So now, the Yankees have taken back 1st place, leading the Jays by half a game, and by 2 in the loss column. They lead the Baltimore Orioles by 5, the Tampa Bay Rays by 5 1/2 (6 in the loss column), and the Boston Red Sox by 12 1/2 (13).

The series continues this afternoon, with Masahiro "The Hero" Tanaka starting against Marco "Chip" Estrada.

Come on you Bombers! Send another message! (Preferably, including a Teix Message or two. But I'll take the runs however you can score them.)

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