For the second time in his last two starts at Tropicana Field Phil Hughes was victimized by a two-out go-ahead home run while also surrendering all of his runs via the home run to the same batter. Last time around it was a Matt Joyce three-run bomb, this time a pair of go-ahead two-run home-runs by Dan Johnson that turned out to be the deciding factor in a 4-3 Rays win, the third straight 1-run game these teams have played.
This outing was essentially a microcosm of Phil Hughes' season. Hughes' final line was probably about what one would've hoped for (6 2/3 IP, 4 ER), but the inability to keep the Rays -- and specifically Dan Johnson -- at bay was a killer. Hughes was incredible through the first four innings (April and May), retiring all 12 batters he faced including striking out the side in the third. Staked to a 1-0 lead -- which really should have been greater, but more on that in a moment -- Hughes gave up Dan Johnson's first go-ahead two-run homer in the bottom of the fifth (June/July), sending the Rays to a 2-1 lead. Hughes recovered and pitched a perfect sixth (July/August) and then gave up Johnson's second go-ahead two-run homer of the game in the bottom of the seventh (August/September), with two outs no less. This a half-inning after Curtis Granderson out the Yankees back on top with a two-run homer of his own off Chad Qualls.
Despite making James Shields throw a slew of pitches over his 6 1/3 innings of work, he managed to keep the Yankees to only one run. The Yankees had him on the ropes in the first, loading the bases with one out, but Lance Berkman swung at the first pitch he saw and grounded into a double play. Thus marked the return of the New York Stranded Baserunners, as the Yankees would leave 10 on in this game. After Qualls surrendered the Granderson home run, the Rays' bullpen buckled down and the combination of Randy Choate, Grant Balfour and Rafael Soriano -- pitching for the fourth game in a row -- blanked the Yankees the rest of the way.
The injuries to Nick Swisher (.379 wOBA) and Brett Gardner (.360 wOBA) have really left the Yankees exposed of late, as the bottom of the order absolutely destroyed the Yankees in this game. Their replacements, Austin Kearns (.308 wOBA) and Colin Curtis (.284 wOBA) combined to go 1-8 -- with the one ultimately being useless as Kearns was thrown out at second trying to stretch his hit into a double -- with four strikeouts and 6 stranded baserunners between them.
Basically, it felt like the Yankees put runners on in nearly every inning only to have Kearns come up and strike out and/or Curtis come up and make an out. The duo combined to go 3-21 with one walk in the three-game set at Tampa, and you have to figure subbing Swish and Gardner in for those two could've made a significant difference in three games that were decided by one run.
So while the Yankees' frustrations continue, it's important not to get too terribly bent out of shape over this series. Yes, they lost two of three to a team they could see in the playoffs while falling out of first place in the process. Yes, they were pretty excruciating losses, as one-run games against your divisional rival tend to be. Did Girardi continue his stretch of questionable moves? Maybe, but ultimately it's on the hitters to produce.
However, it's also important to remember that the Rays were able to throw their top three pitchers at the Yankees at home, a place where they play very good baseball, and the Yankees still came incredibly close to winning both games they lost despite fielding a significantly less-than-optimal lineup. Additionally, outside of the middle game, no Ray was able to knock in runs outside of Reid Brignac and Dan Johnson.
I'm sure plenty of Yankee fans are running to the nearest bridge, assuming that the team won't be able to beat the Rays in the playoffs, but that's just ridiculous. Let's see the Rays win two out of three one-run games against a fully manned Yankee lineup that doesn't include Austin Kearns and Colin Curtis starting in the outfield, and a bullpen that doesn't feature Chad Gaudin and Sergio Mitre coming into 0-0 games in extra innings. Don't get me wrong, the Rays are still plenty talented enough to beat the Yankees' A team, but I wouldn't read too much into what happened these past three days in St. Pete.
More importantly, the Yankees need to get back into the winning swing of things regardless of what the Rays or anyone else does, and no better way to do that than to exact some revenge against the Baltimore Buck Showalters this weekend.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Dan Johnson beats Phil Hughes as Tampa leapfrogs the New York Stranded Baserunners and Compromised Lineup back into first
by Larry Koestler