Wow. It's been a while since we've spoken (a quarter-season, to be precise) and there's a lot of catching up to do. Unfortunately, this is not the time for a wide-ranging discussion of all things Bronx Bombers (that'll be later in the week). This is the time for...photoblog:
It's not Fourth of July without baseball, the Yankees, and Freddy.
The pitching matchup for George Steinbrenner's 80th birthday was geared more toward the future--Phil Hughes for the Yanks and Brandon Morrow for the Blue Jay could spend a lot of their time crossing swords in the AL East between now and the Boss's 90th birthday. They're both power pitchers who established themselves in the bullpen before taking regular rotation slots. Morrow's a harder thrower (getting up to 97 on the stadium gun) than Phil, but also more prone to wildness (5.3 BB/9 for his career).
Phil the Phenom, coiled to attack. Has he been Joba'd?
Sadly for the Yanks, Phil's been in a bit of a phunk since the Yankees skipped him in the rotation a couple of weeks ago, the latest manifestation of their continuing experiment in limiting wear-and-tear on young arms. In his first start after the layoff he looked like he was throwing batting practice to the Mariners, allowing a career-high 10 hits in less than seven innings. Today he started strong, striking out the game's first two batters, but later he was Big Fly Hughes, allowing Lyle Overbay a cannon blast to dead center in the third, an excuse-me popup off the right field foul pole to Dwayne Wise, and another scorcher to star underperformer Adam Lind. Hughes' struggles were particularly galling since he was facing a true Sunday lineup: backups starting at second, catcher (Jose Molina for John Buck), and center (Wise for Vernon Wells).
Teixeira achieving full extension for his 5th inning double.
Wise's three-run homer was in the top of the fifth, and it really took the wind out of the crowd, erasing what had been a 3-1 lead. It looked like the Yanks were storming back in the bottom of the frame. Nick Swisher, fresh off his "Vote for Swish" pitch on the Jumbotron, singled to lead off the inning, then Mark Teixeira unleashed a massively promising drive to center...and, I'll let the pictures tell the story.
"Vote for Swish!" heading home! A-Rod says slide!
Sliding didn't work out so well. JoMo stonewalls Swish!
Yankee fans can give great dissertations on Jose Molina's failings, but an inability to block the plate has never been among them. If you click on the above picture, you'll see that the entirety of the plate is safely underneath Molina's ample backside--so long as he holds on to the ball, Swish is dead meat. Now, that was a bummer, but we still have a man on third, just one out, and the cleanup hitter at bat. Feelin' good, right?
Then the whole thing happens again. A-Rod hits a fly to Wise in mid-center. Teixeira heads home to score on the sac fly. Dead at the plate, again. Two hits, only one batter makes an out, no runs. Devastating.
At this point, Dwayne Wise--a guy who's only known because he made a gorgeous play to save Mark Buehrle's no-no last year--has dominated the game. His dinky little foul-pole homer was the leading margin; with Molina's help, his sharp throwing killed the Yankee rally in the fifth. Then, with the score 5-3 Jays in the sixth, here comes Wise again. Two outs, the team's slowest runner on first, and Brett Gardner hits a fly to fairly deep center, but it hangs up and Wise is under it. Should be an easy play. Then he loses it in the bright July 4 sun, something you can't do with Gardner running the bases. Tie game.
Now, as far as I can recall, I've never seen a Yankee hit an inside-the-park homer in person. Despite what the official scorer said, I still haven't seen one. Most inside the park homers involve some sort of blunder on the part of the fielder, but this fly ball hit Wise on the glove. As Brother Joe said on Twitter (mas o menos): if that's not an error, then there is no such thing as an error.
Brett Gardner trots home on his game tying...big mistake by the other team's fielder?
In the seventh, the Yanks took the lead, with Jeter scoring on another Teixeira double. Again, the inning meets a premature end because of a baserunner kill at the plate. (And again, it's Swisher. This is not how you get us to Vote for Swish!) Wise wasn't involved in that play at the plate, but that doesn't mean he was done...
Usually, the opposing team sees this, it's time to make sure you have dinner reservations.
Ninth inning, Enter Sandman, and the folks who've been melting in bright sunshine start heading toward the exits and the shade. The Jays got a couple of ground singles wrapped around a Jose Molina whiff, but it looked like Rivera had gotten out of it when he got Fred Lewis to ground one to Ramiro Peña for what looked like the game-ending double play. Rather than flipping to Cano for the 6-4-3, Peña took a page out of the Jeter playbook, going to the bag so that he could make the throw to first. Interesting idea, but it looked like Peña had a hard time finding the bag, so instead of the game-ending DP, he was only able to record the force.
Even though Peña had scored and knocked in a run earlier, Brother J, my wingman at the game, was livid. Channeling Boss Steinbrenner on his birthday, he wanted Peña immediately pulled off the field and put on a bus to Scranton before the inning was over. Either way, that made it Wise time again, and the center fielder blooped a single to center to get his fourth RBI.
The way the Yanks have been rolling lately, extra innings was bad, bad news. Under very similar circumstances, Dave Roberts and Chan Ho Park collaborated to blow Friday night's game against the Jays, and the bullpen overall has not been one of the team's strong suits (they're ninth in the AL in WXRL). Roberts, pitching the tenth, immediately looked Chan Ho-riffic, putting the first two batters he faced on base. Luckily, he was bailed out by some heads-up defense by Alex Rodriguez, who turned Edwin Encarnacion's sac bunt into a 5-4-3 double play.
In the tenth, it looked like Joe Girardi might have super geniused himself out of a win. Lefty Dave Purcey walked Robinson Cano to lead off the inning, and Francisco Cervelli, who replaced Jorge Posada due to injury, was at the plate. I'm not a Cervelli believer--I like him, but not as much as everyone did when he had a .390 batting average in mid-May--but having him bunt, against the lefty with Granderson and Gardner coming up...I have my qualms. Granderson's brutal against lefties (.514 OPS), Gardner's much better (.742 OPS) but still not wonderful. Splendid chance to see a runner stranded in scoring position. Luckily for Girardi, after Curtis made his out, Gardner was able to work a walk against the lefty, which brought up newly-reactivated Marcus Thames, who, as we all can remember, loves pie as much as he hates fielding. Marcus sent us home happy.
Marcus Thames says "Mmmm, pie!"