If you were to ask me what could be finer than the Yankees beating Curt Schilling in the ninth inning I would say, “Not much.” However, a close second would be the Yanks beating Francisco Rodriguez in the bottom of the ninth, which is exactly what happened this afternoon at Yankee Stadium. Hot Dog.
Shawn Chacon pitched admirably in his Yankee debut allowing just one run over six but the middle relief imploded in the seventh. In a comedy of errors, Felix Rodriguez, Alan Embree and Flash Gordon only allowed two hits but four runs scored as a humble 3-1 Yankee lead quickly turned into a 5-3 deficit. When former Bomber Juan Rivera cranked a two-run dinger off of Gordon in the top of the eighth it looked like yet another discouraging affair against the Angels.
With a four-run lead, Scot Shields remained in the pen and Johnny Peralta struck Alex Rodriguez out for the first out of the inning. He was replaced by the southpaw Jake Woods who gave up a single to Hideki Matsui and then fell behind Jason Giambi 3-1. Woods worked carefully to Giambi, who had been on base three times (two singles and walk). But he left a fastball over the heart of the plate and Giambi popped it over the right field fence for a homer.
Forget Shields, the Angels went directly to K-Rod who promptly got Jorge Posada to ground out to first and then retired Bernie Williams on strikes. Mariano Rivera came on to pitch the top of the ninth and he breezed through the meat of the Angels’ order. Daren Erstad took a couple of weak hacks at Rivera’s outside fastball and then swung through a cutter in on his hands. After throwing a strike to the slumping Vlad Guerrero, Rivera brushed the slugger off the plate with a high-and-tight fastball. Then a cutter for strike two and then another brush back pitch. This one spun Vlad around even though the pitch wasn’t that far off the plate at all. Guerrero took a stroll and then swung through a high heater for the second out. Rivera would spin Garet Anderson back too before he grounded out to first on a cut fastball to end the inning.
Tony Womack lead off the bottom of the ninth and walked. While Jeter worked the count full against Rodriguez, Womack stole second. Then Jeter too walked. What to do now? Well, Joe Torre elected to bunt. Cano bunted foul down the third base line twice and managed to work a full-count before whiffing on a fastball.
Rodriguez struggled locating his slider to Sheffield. Eventually one got away and the runners advanced to second and third. Sheffield worked the count full and walked to load the bases, but he had some help. A check-swing could have easily been called a strike, as could the payoff pitch, a beautiful back-door breaking ball on the inside corner. The pitch fooled Sheffield but he got the call that a young player like Robinson Cano would probably not have received. Sheffield+Yankee Stadium+poor control=Take Your Base.
Alex Rodriguez was 1-10 against Francisco Rodriguez in his career with five strikeouts. But K-Rod walked Alex on four straight pitches forcing home a run. It was the first time in K-Rod’s career that he had walked four men in one game. Matsui was next and he was sitting on a first-pitch fastball all the way. He got one, on the outside part of the plate and drove it into the left field gap for a game-winning double as the Yanks beat the Angels, 8-7.