I don’t care that the Yankees lost last night’s game 2-0, or that the loss established just their second three-game streak of any kind this year (both losing streaks, the other a four-gamer two weeks ago). Last night’s game was a classic. Randy Johnson and Roy Halladay both pitched complete games, baffling the opposing hitters with high heat and wicked sliders (in Johnson’s case) and sharp curves and changing speeds (in Halladay’s).
Both starters also benefited from excellent defense. Bernie Williams made a key running grab at the wall in the right field gap in the first inning. Johnson himself stabbed a pair of comebackers with his back to the plate, one with his glove and one barehanded, and Tino Martinez made a series of less flashy but equally excellent plays at first, from the throw that nailed Alexis Rios at second on a pick-off play, to the pop-up he caught while running over the pitchers mound, to a series of scoops and tags at first to convert questionable throws into easy outs. For the Blue Jays it was their middle infielders who were putting on the show, particularly Orlando Hudson’s Jeter-style stretch to his right jump and throw move and John McDonald’s tremendous leap to stab a line drive well over his head, which was followed by a stylish roll.
The difference in the game was a seventh-inning slider from Johnson to Eric Hinske that didn’t slide far enough and landed in the right field seats for a two-run home run (Gregg Zaun preceded Hinske with a walk), just the 22nd home run hit by a lefty off Johnson in his 18 seasons in the majors.
As Alex noted in the comments below, the end result of last night’s contest was strongly reminiscent of the May 28, 2000 duel at the Stadium between Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez. That game, a Sunday night ESPN game, was the first time the two future Hall of Famers had met after Clemens’ disastrous outing in Game 3 of the 1999 ALCS. That game was a scoreless tie in the top of the ninth when Jeff Frye singled off Clemens and Trot Nixon followed with a two-run homer into the right field seats.
The primary difference between the two contests–with the obvious exceptions of the history behind and importance given to the Clemens-Martinez match-up and the drama of Nixon’s two run homer coming two innings later than Hinske’s–was that if you took away Nixon’s homer, Clemens actually outpitched Martinez (13 K, 0 BB to 9 K, 1 BB, both allowed four hits, Nixon’s homer was the fifth Clemens allowed). Last night, however, Halladay was clearly the better pitcher, even if the margin was small:
Halladay: 9 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 9 K, 65 percent strikes
Johnson: 9 IP, 7 H, 3 BB, 9 K, 65 percent strikes
The difference was that Johnson had brief spells in which his control escaped him, thus the five pitch walk that preceded Hinske’s home run (which came with one out on an 0-2 count).
Would I have preferred that the Yankees won last night’s game? Of course, but I feel privileged to have seen such a well pitched and well played game. With the exception of the result, it was an absolute delight.
Today Chien-Ming Wang makes his long awaited debut as the dueling aces are replaced by the dueling number fives. Here’s hoping this is the start of something good for both Wang and the Yankees.