A little over three weeks ago, on Sunday May 15 in Oakland, the Yankees put together a two run seventh inning rally against A’s reliever Ricardo Rincon to beat the Athletics 6-4. The victory was their sixth straight win and pulled their record even for the first time in more than a month. The Yankees then went on to win their next four and ten of their next twelve to push their record a full six games over .500.
The last of those games, a 6-3 Friday night victory at home against the rival Red Sox, also involved a late game rally, when the Yanks touched up Tim Wakefield and Alan Embree for five runs in the sixth inning. Basking in the glow of that victory and the 16-2 run that it capped, pushing the Yankees six games over .500, I claimed that the Yankees had “passed the test” by taking two of three from the Mets, sweeping the Tigers, and rallying to defeat the Red Sox. Since then, the Yankees have gone 1-8 against the Sox, Royals, Twins and now Brewers. Clearly my declaration was premature. With last night’s loss, the Yankees, now seven games behind the Orioles in fourth place in the east, have dipped below .500 once again.
One thing that those two games as well as last night’s 4-3 loss to the Brewers had in common was that Randy Johnson started all three. Distressingly, all three required late-game rallies because of early runs allowed by Johnson. What was different about last night’s game was that the rally never came.
Well, there was one rally, but it wasn’t enough. Down 3-0 in the fourth, Alex Rodriguez drew a full count walk with one out. Jorge Posada and Jason Giambi singled to plate Rodriguez. Bernie walked to load the bases. Robinson Cano grounded to first to score Posada on a play in which all hands were safe. Giambi then scored on a wild pitch with Johnson at the plate to tie the game. But that was it. Johnson struck out and Derek Jeter did the same, leaving runners on second and third.
In the fifth, the Yankees loaded the bases with no outs when Doug Davis’s first eight pitches were taken for balls by Matsui and Sheffield and Alex Rodriguez battled for a 12-pitch pass. But Jorge Posada started his at-bat by waving at a ball up in his eyes, eventually striking out on four pitches, and Jason Giambi worked the count full only to ground into an inning-ending double play.
And that was that. As per their final two games in Kansas City, the Yankees threatened to tie the game in the ninth but failed to score. Bernie Williams reached second with no outs via a walk and a wild pitch by Milwaukee closer Derrick “The Goon” Turnbow, but Robinson Cano, after fouling off four high heaters, missed the fifth to strike out, and pinch-hitter Ruben Sierra ground out to third to freeze pinch-runner Tony Womack at second. Derek Jeter, who had two of the mere four Yankee hits on the night after coming back from missing the final two games in Minnesota with a “deep chest cold,” then laced the first pitch he saw from Turnbow toward the line in deep right only to watch as Geoff Jenkins, positioned perfectly, stretched out to catch the liner on a full run to end the game.
The Yankees have now scored more than three runs just once in their last nine games. The exception being the four runs they scored on Saturday to beat the Twins, their lone victory of the stretch. To make it worse, Joe Torre played the right line-up last night, regardless of his reasons (lefty on the mound): no Womack, no Sierra (both used in their intended pinch roles), no bench players filling in at the top of the order, not even the ice-cold Tino Martinez (2 for his last 25, 5 for 42 since the ninth game of the west coast winning streak), still just three runs.
Fret about Randy Johnson all you want (despite hitting 98 on the gun, Johnson was very hittable, the difference in the game being a solo homer he surrendered to Junior Spivey on, in Randy’s words, “a fastball, not a hanging slider this time”), but until this offense can reliably produce more than three runs per game (the Yankees are averaging 2.4 runs during the current nine-game slump), the Yankees will not see the sunny side of .500.