Mike Mussina avoided his fifth inning struggles last night by getting himself pulled from the game in the fourth, but Aaron Small pitched four innings of one-hit ball in relief and Jason Giambi hit another pair of homers to give the Yankees a lead and, eventually, a win to open their series against the Mariners.
After the game, Mussina said that in the fifth inning of his last start and throughout this game he was having trouble throwing strikes and hinted that he’s going through a dead-arm period. Indeed, Mussina had nothing last night, as was clear from his first two pitches to Ichiro Suzuki. The first was a ball. The second landed in the right-field seats for a lead-off home run. Moose then went full on Willie Bloomquist before getting him to ground out. Raul Ibanez followed by creaming a pitch to deep right center, but got himself thrown out trying to stretch it into a triple (Bernie to Cano to Rodriguez). Richie Sexson followed by scorching a ball into Cano’s glove for the third out.
All Moose yielded in the second was a one-out Greg Dobbs double, making it his best inning of the night. In the third, a pair of singles by Miguel Ojeda and Ichiro! were followed by a Bloomquist sac bunt and four-pitch walks to Ibanez and Sexson, the latter forcing in the Mariners’ second run. Moose then threw ball one to both of the next two batters but got Adrian Beltre to pop out on a fastball down the middle and Dobbs to fly out to deep left.
Then came the fourth, which Moose started with a five-pitch walk to Yuniesky Betancourt. Mussina then fell behind 3-0 on Jeremy Reed, who, after a called strike, caught Alex Rodriguez off guard with a bunt to third that Rodriguez was unable to pick out of the grass. Moose then walked Ojeda after getting ahead of him 1-2, the final pitch being a breaking ball that was nowhere near the strike zone. That was all Joe Torre had to see, as he wisely pulled Mussina before he could do any further damage.
Brought into an ugly bases-loaded, no-outs situation, Aaron Small induced a pair of double play balls to second from Suzuki and Bloomquist, but Ichiro was able to beat out the first and first base ump Tim Tschida blew the call on Bloomquist, so Small only got two outs to show for it as the Mariners increased their lead to 4-0. Small then walked Ibanez, but got Sexson to fly out for the final out of the inning.
As all of this was going on, the Yankees were scuffling against Ryan Franklin. The second was the only inning among the first four in which the Yankees got a runner on base, as Alex Rodriguez lead off with an infield single and was followed by a Giambi walk. They then promptly ran themselves into a strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play with Bernie Williams swinging through a pitch and Alex Rodriguez getting thrown out by several feet at third on a failed hit and run.
After Small came in to clean-up Mussina’s mess, however, things turned around. Jason Giambi led off the fifth with a mammoth homer off the restaurant in right field (just below the neon “Hit It Here” target). Then, after the Yankees ran into another double play via the hit and run (this time with Bernie on the bases and Lawton at the plate), Posada doubled, moved to third on a wild pitch, and was singled home by Cano to cut the Mariner lead in half.
In the sixth, after a first-pitch Matsui groundout, Sheffield and Rodriguez walked (the former on four pitches), driving Franklin from the game at 93 pitches. Mike Hargrove then called on lefty Matt Thornton, who went to 1-1 on Giambi before Jason crushed yet another home run, his fourth in the last two games, this one a three-run job that gave the Yankees a lead they would not relinquish.
Small cruised through the fifth, sixth and seventh, scattering a Greg Dobbs double and two more walks, and in the top of the eighth Alex Rodriguez and Matt Lawton added solo homers to cushion the Yankee lead. Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera finished it off with perfect eighth and ninth innings.
In my opinion, the story of the game was Aaron Small, who picked up the win and is now 5-0 with a 3.03 ERA as a Yankee, but the story of the past two games has clearly been Jason Giambi. Giambi now has four homers and eleven RBIs over his last two games after hitting just two taters and driving in just seven runs in the previous twenty-five games in August.
According to Giambi, the difference in the past two games has been a cortisone injection he got last week to relieve the pain from tendonitis in his left elbow, which makes more sense than pointing to the fact that the acquisition of Matt Lawton has pushed him back into the field (though I suspect the latter hasn’t hurt his focus at the plate as the association between Giambi’s success at the plate and playing time at first base is downright eerie).
Giambi’s comeback this season continues to astound as he has set personal bests for homers in a single month (14 in July) and multi-homer games (now seven). The latter total accounts for more than 23 percent of his career multi-homer games (now 30), which is stunning considering the fact that Giambi had 281 career homers entering this season and was the best hitter in the American League, if not the majors, for several seasons around the turn of the millennium.