Monday, August 10, 2009

Game Story: Sweep Dreams in the Bronx

The Sunday plan landed me at Yankee Stadium last night, for the most comfortable Yanks/Sox game I've attended since 2002 or so. With the Pinstripers taking the first three games of the set in dramatic fashion, there was a "found money" quality to the game--a loss would sting, but it's still three out of four, right?--and the spacier environs of New Yankee Stadium made it a bit easier for Yanks and Sox partisans to make their respective ways to the beer and bathroom lines without tripping over each other. When people who hate you come into your house, it's definitely nice to have some elbow room.

I wasn't expecting much from the matchup. The MoLester has been sterling against the Yanks for his career--he only has one bad start against the team, and that came before his cancer diagnosis in 2006. Andy Pettitte's record against the Beantowners was much more mixed--15-8 against them for his career, but in the last few seasons it's been more Bad Andy than Good Andy.

Fortunately, it was all about Good Andy last night, running up another seven shutout innings to go with the combined effort shutouts on Friday and Saturday. The only players who really gave him trouble were JD Drew and Nick Green, although Andy avoided pitching to Mike Lowell as if he were the second coming of Albert Pujols.

It was 1-0 in the eighth (on an Alex Rodriguez line homer to center) when both managers tried to cough up the game. With Andy at 112 pitches, Joe Girardi called on Phil Coke to face the top of the order. It made sense to play a matchup against Jacoby Ellsbury, and the third batter of the inning, Victor Martinez, is marginally better against righties than lefties in his career, but then you have two more righthanded hitters, Bay and Youkilis. So while it wasn't a surprise to see Coke come into the game, it was a surprise that after he left the bullpen, no one else was warming up. Not Rivera in case a four out save is needed. Not Phil Hughes. Not even Brian Bruney "just in case." I like Coke and I'm all in favor of confidence, but this was just lousy planning--this is the same guy who gave up 6 runs in a third of an inning just last week. You give that guy a safety net, if you can. Coke gave up the lead on a 2-run V-Mart homer, and was fortunate to escape more damage when Jason Bay rapped into a double play.

After the game, Girardi defended his decision by saying that he wouldn't pitch Hughes in three straight games--the Phil Hughes Rules, anyone?--but if that was the case, why on earth did Girardi only get two outs (on nine friggin' pitches, total) out of Hughes in those appearances?

Anyway, in the bottom of the eighth, Tito Francona has his house much more in order. Josh Bard comes out of the bullpen to face the #9 spot, Derek Jeter, and Johnny Damon. As Bard comes in from the bullpen, we could see that both Hideki Okajima and Jon ("I prefer Jonathan") Papelbon are warming up, and not just soft-tossing, either. The stage is set for Bard to face a pinch-hitter and Jeter, Okajima to face Damon, and Papelbon to stretch out to four outs if either pitcher gets in trouble. I mean, that's the only way that having both pitchers warming up behind Bard makes sense, right?

As you probably saw last night, after Bard retired Hideki Matsui (pinch-hitting for Jerry Hairston) and Derek Jeter--making the Captain look bad in the process--Francona lets Bard face Damon. As I twittered at the time, Brother Joe, who's with me at the game, says "This is a risk. Damon could pop one in this park." He barely finishes saying it and Damon has lined a shot into the seats. Bard then faces Teixeira--a more defensible call, Tex kills lefties this year--and the big first baseman pops one so high in the air we never saw it come down. I'm told it was a fair ball. A couple of insurance runs later, we're off to never never land, and Boston was swept.

Some of the Red Sox fans in my section headed for the exits immediately after the Tex homer landed, when the Yanks had just a one-run lead. A couple of them had wrapped up their Boston regalia and tucked it under their arms, so as to hide that they were members of the RSN. It was an odd reaction, given Boston's recent history against the Yanks. You're up 8-4 on the season series! You lead the wild card, from whence you've won the World Series...twice!

This is ridiculous. The Red Sox are a good team. People are blaming Theo Epstein for not picking up Roy Halladay, oblivious of the fact that aside from John Smoltz's blowout Thursday, the Red Sox starters held the Yankees to four runs over three games, even while playing at Coors-on-the-Hudson Stadium. Things happen, and no one wins the pennant on August 10 anymore.


Overheard Outside Yankee Stadium--Man in Yanks paraphenalia talking to young woman of no visible affiliation, wearing a cardigan on a brutally humid night: "You covered up your tattoo? C'mon, show your tattoo. Why not? Show your tattoo. No one is gonna beat you up. Seriously, no one is gonna beat you up."