Think the Yankees were pumped up to win this one? I know I was.
In arguably the most nerve-wracking Yankee game played all season, the Yankees were able to come away with a 4-3 victory in 10 innings over the Red Sox, staving off a rare three-game sweep at home (no one has accomplished that feat against the Yankees at the new Stadium) in a contest that featured incredible starting pitching on both sides as well as blown saves by both Mariano Rivera and Jonathan Papelbon.
The Yankees needed to win this game badly, and they couldn't have asked for much more out of Phil Hughes, who was brilliant in throwing 6+ innings of one-run ball on three hits in what may have been his most important start in pinstripes. Unfortunately for the Yankees, somewhere along the line Daisuke Matsuzaka apparently completely reinvented himself as a pitcher, trading in the nibbler who finds himself in deep count after deep count and walking the second-most batters per nine innings for a guy who pounded the strike zone with a lively fastball and power sinker and who hardly even got to three balls on any hitter. Matsuzaka threw eight innings of two-run ball and incredibly walked only one. Where on earth did this version of Dice-K come from? If this is indeed a new and improved version of Matsuzaka, the Red Sox are going to be in even better shape starting pitching-wise next season.
With the incredibly efficient manner in which Dice-K was dispatching of Yankee batters combined with the fact that the Yankees hadn't held a lead in a game for their last 28 innings, the 1-0 lead the Sox had built on a Bill Hall bloop double that was plated on a Victor Martinez single in the third felt like 1,000,000-0 by the seventh inning. After allowing the first two men of the inning to reach, Hughes was correctly lifted for David Robertson -- who hadn't pitched in nearly a week -- and D-Rob pulled a Houdini act, inducing a Bill Hall ground out and a Lars Anderson strikeout after a sac bunt had moved the runners to 2nd and 3rd to keep the deficit right there at one run.
In the bottom half of the inning, Mark Teixeira knocked an opposite field single with one out, part of a 3-4 night for Tex, to bring Alex Rodriguez to the plate. All night ESPN kept harping on the fact that Dice-K has owned Alex throughout his career, to which Alex said "screw small sample sizes!" and powered a go-ahead two-run homer that just cleared the seats in right-center. With the Yankees not having held a lead since Thursday evening, A-Rod helped make a lot of the agony of the last several days dissipate with one swing of the bat .
Kerry Wood picked up the first two outs of the eighth before Joe Girardi turned to Mariano Rivera with the bases loaded. Mo induced a weak groundout from Adrian Beltre to escape further damage. Unfortunately things came apart for Mo in a rainy top of the ninth -- after a deep flyout by Jed Lowrie for the first out, Ryan Kalish laced a single. Two pitches later he was on third base, having stolen two bases in a row. Bill Hall singled Kalish home to tie the game, and then promptly stole two bases himself to get over to third with one out, and Mike Lowell sacrificed Hall home to put the Sox ahead 3-2.
Of those four steals, only one even received an attempted throw by Jorge Posada. Now Posada's defensive shortcomings are quickly becoming the stuff of legend, but this had to represent a new low. The ESPN broadcast team kept harping about how vulnerable the Yankees would be in a hypothetical postseason game against the Rays with Mo on the mound and Posada behind the plate, givne the fact that Mo doesn't really hold anyone on and is slow to the plate, combined with Posada's general inability to throw anyone out, but after last night's debacle I'd have to imagine they'll do everything they can to prevent another half-inning like that one from unfolding. Plus, I know Girardi said he didn't think the rain had any affect on Posada's ability to throw any of the baserunners out, but I bet if you asked Posada he'd tell you otherwise. I wouldn't typically ascribe blame to the elements, but I'm sure Posada was reluctant to uncork a throw that could've gone into the outfield because he couldn't get a proper grip on the ball.
Mo worked out of further trouble, but the damage was done, and a game that felt like it should've been in the bag -- as we know, Mo on the bump with a one-run lead in the ninth is the surest thing in all of sports -- was now dangerously close to falling out of the Yankees' reach. As a side note, Mo has now blown the save in three of his last six appearance, but anyone who's followed the team with any regularity at all knows that Mo always hits a snag at some point every year before righting himself, and better it be now than in the postseason.
Thankfully for Mo (and my sanity) the Yankees weren't through just yet. After a Derek Jeter flyout, Nick Swisher and Tex hit back-to-back singles off Papelbon, bringing A-Rod up with a chance to send the Yankees home with a victory once again. Alex, in yet another vintage A-Rod at-bat, worked a walk, and Robinson Cano followed by lacing a 2-0 pitch last a diving Marco Scutaro to tie the game at three. Unfortunately Posada concluded his disastrous ninth by striking out and looking pretty bad in doing so and Lance Berkman flew out, bringing the game to extras.
Joba Chamberlain and Boone Logan took care of business in the top of the tenth, and the Yankees were able to get to Hideki Okajima in the bottom half, loading the bases with no outs and ultimately forcing the winning run across on a walk-off walk by Juan Miranda.
It was an incredibly exhausting game, but holy hell did the outcome make it much easier to sleep last night. Hughes gave the Yankees everything they could've asked for and more, and the offense -- though asleep for much of the game -- battled back with their backs against the wall to pull out an epic win. The victory halted their losing streak at four, and combined with the Tampa Bay loss earlier in the day brought the Yankees to a 1/2 game out of first.
But of course, most importantly of all, the win sliced the Magic Number down to one. Unless the Red Sox have a seven-game winning streak while the Yankees also have a six-game losing streak to close the season out, the Yankees can do no worse than clinch a tie for the Wild Card. While we've seen some crazy things happen in baseball, the above-mentioned scenario is about as unlikely as it gets, so the Yankees should be clinching that postseason berth sometime in the next few days, and can do it as soon as tonight with a win against their new arch-nemesis, the Toronto Extra Base Hits.
Monday, September 27, 2010
by Larry Koestler