The Yankees finally beat the Angels on Los Angeles' home field last night, 6-5, in a game in which the Yankees led 5-0 at one point and wouldn't end until nearly 2am on the east coast. The Yankees also clinched their 14th playoff appearance in 15 seasons during the game, as the Texas Rangers lost to Oakland, although that achievement was given a bit more heft with the completion of the Yankee win, which dropped their magic number to 6 and also increased their lead in the AL East back to a more-comfortable 6 games (thanks to a surprising second loss in a row by the Red Sox against Kansas City. Thank you, Cy Greinke).
That they managed to win this particular game says more about the talent of the lineup than anything Joe Girardi did or didn't do last night. Chad Gaudin and Ervin Santana traded zeroes until the top of the 3rd, when A-Rod blasted a mammoth two-run home run to center field on a 3-0 pitch that I thought he'd be taking. Jorge Posada followed a few batters later with a two-run bomb of his own, putting the Yankees up by four. Hit-deki Matsui would follow in the top of the 5th with a long solo shot to right field. Unfortunately, even a 5-0 lead didn't feel comfortable against a team like the Angels, who, in addition to having the second-most come from behind victories in the league after the Yankees, have an annoying Red Sox-like tendency to claw back no matter how far down, especially in their home park.
The Angels began to do just that in their half of the 5th. Chad Gaudin, who up until that point had pitched quite well, gave up a solo home run just inside the RF foul pole to Chone Figgins of all people. That this run and the subsequent run the Angels would score that inning on a Vlad Guerrero single came with two outs underscored the Yankees' pitchers' continuing futility to close the door on innings. As River Ave. Blues has previously documented, nearly 50% of the Yankees' runs allowed this year have come with two outs -- that's madness, and hopefully something they can correct come playoff time.
The Angels would continue to battle back while Matt Palmer once again held the Bombers' bats in check, plating two more runs in the 6th off a very well-rested and slightly erratic Alfredo Aceves. Joe Girardi's failure to bring Damaso Marte in to face the lefty Abreu in the 6th was puzzling, and made worse when Marte did finally come in to relieve Aceves in the 7th only to give up a booming double to new Yankee-killer Kendry Morales, who finished the game 4-4 with a walk. Phil Hughes came in to extinguish the fire in the 7th, preserving the lead. However, the tying run scored in the 8th after Howie Kendrick got on via a Robinson Cano error, followed by an errant throw from Posada to try to nab Kendrick stealing which then sailed into CF, allowing Kendrick to make it to 3B with no outs. That Phil managed to escape the inning letting in only the one run was quite impressive, despite the failures of his defense.
Up came the Yankees in the top of the 9th, in a situation in which they pretty much had to take the lead back. Had the game gone into the bottom of the 9th tied, there's almost no question that the Angels would have pulled out the walk-off victory. Girardi had already made several questionable bullpen moves earlier in the game, but nothing was quite as maddening as what happened in the following sequence: Brett Gardner battled his way to leadoff hit against Matt Palmer. Darren Oliver came in, and Gardner, who nearly got picked off, wound up stealing second on a pitchout. Oliver then walked Jeter on four pitches, giving the Yankees runners on 1st and 2nd with no outs. In steps Johnny Damon, who's come through with big hits for the Yankees time and again this year. One might be able to make an argument for a bunt in this situation with no outs, although you'd be wrong, because (a) this is the Yankees, the best-hitting team in baseball, and (b) with runners on 2nd and 3rd, 1 out, and first base open, why give Mark Teixeira anything to hit?
So of course Girardi gives Damon the bunt sign. Damon quickly bunts foul twice, which means that a third foul bunt will result in a punchout. This apparently did not phase Girardi, who called for the bunt with two strikes, and the only reason this did not come back to bite Girardi was because Damon managed to lay a miracle roller down the first base line that just stayed fair, moving the runners to second and third. To the surprise of no one, the Angels then intentionally walked Teixeira, loading the bases and setting up the potential inning-ending double play with Alex Rodriguez at bat. Granted, I'm perfectly happy to have my cleanup hitter, owner of the 7th-best OPS in the AL, come to bat with the bases loaded in this situation. But the fact that A-Rod managed to hit one deep enough to plate Brett Gardner on the sac fly and go-ahead run says more to about A-Rod and Gardner's talent, and also completely bailed Joe Girardi and his horrendous tactical miscues out. Unfortunately that one run would be all the Yankees would get, setting the stage for Mariano Rivera to protect a one-run lead in the bottom of the 9th.
Could Mariano, coming off the shocking walk-off loss to the Mariners last Friday, shake it off and pitch the Yankees to a much-needed victory? It didn't look great after walking Kendry Morales to start the inning, but Mo managed to get an absolutely huge strike 'em out-throw 'em out double play facing Juan Rivera, which effectively ended the Angels' chances. Erick Aybar then grounded out weakly to second base to seal the Yankees' first victory in Anaheim since September 9, 2008.
This was a rather tense, nearly four-hour long game, but it was great to see the Yankees finally pull a victory out in Anaheim, while also clinching the playoff berth in style. The teams play the rubber match this afternoon at 3:35ET. It seems highly unlikely that the Red Sox will lose a third game in a row to the Royals tonight, so another Yankee victory to chop that Magic Number down to 5 would be fantastic, especially going into an off-day before battling Boston back home this weekend for a three-game set.
As an aside, the liveblog was a lot of fun last night, and Cover It Live claimed that there were 21 unique visitors last night. I'm not really sure how that's possible, as the only way anyone could have known about its existence was through Twitter, where I only have 54 followers, and I doubt nearly half of them are hardcore enough Yankee fans to tune into a random liveblog of a west coast game. My hat's off to the one guy who stayed with me throughout the entire game, continually dropping comments under a host of different aliases, including Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, David Cone, Michael Kay, Ken Singleton's son, Chris, Paul O'Neill, Alfredo Aceves, Alex Rodriguez, Godzilla, Phil Hughes, Mariano Rivera, Wade Boggs, Joe Torre, Don Mattingly, and several others. Who knew bantering with pretend Yankees could be so much fun? Hopefully next time we do this we can get even more people aboard.
Highlights from last night's liveblog
“Larry: Robbie ‘First-Pitch’ Cano steps to the plate, and unsurprisingly swings at the first pitch. However, it actually goes for a leadoff double. Fortunately, no one was on base for this at-bat."
Larry: You're calling the game and typing in the comment section of a liveblog almost no one knows exists? That's damn impressive.
Jorgie: Yeah, what do you think I'm doing when I wiggle my fingers? Calling a pitch? Come on. Don't you recognize typing when you see it?
Larry: Great point."
"Chad Gaudin: Shut up, Kay. Let me concentrate on getting out of this inning without your incessant blabbering.
"Larry: Hunter makes a nice catch on the 4th ball Tex has scorched one tonight. If that were an Angel it would've found a gap."
"Larry: If you let Johnny bunt with two strikes, you should be fired."
"Larry: I can't believe it's 1:30am and I'm still doing this.
The Captain: You? What about all of us?
Larry: I'm even more amazed that you're all still here."
And here are the results of the in-game polls:
Who will win New Jersey governor?
Chris Christie: 33%
Jon Corzine: 0%
Derek Jeter: 67%
How much did Danny Tartabull get paid for his appearance on Seinfeld?
$10 million: 0%
Danny Tartabull?: 33%
Will the Yankees win this game? (this was in the bottom of the 5th, with the Angels starting to mount a charge)
Fuck the Angels: 20%
Who will win the 2009 AL MVP?
Joe Mauer: 50%
Mark Teixeira: 0%
Derek Jeter: 0%
Danny Tartabull: 50%
Who is the worst team in baseball?
Other game recaps
River Ave. Blues | Replacement Level Yankees Weblog | NY Times | The Journal News | Bronx Banter | Was Watching | NY Daily News