Shawn Chacon pulled a Mussina last night, giving up eight runs combined in the second and third innings due to an alarming lack of control (three walks, a wild pitch, and twice hitting Seattle left fielder Mike Morse with a pitch in those two innings alone). Those eight runs would be all the Mariners would score, and all they would need, as 31-year-old rookie starter Jeff Harris, who entered the game with a 1.69 ERA, escaped a one-out bases loaded jam in the first and eventually settled down to hold the Yankees to three runs over 6 1/3 innings.
With Joe Torre having cashed in Aaron Small last night, the Yankee skipper was forced to stick with Chacon as he started the second by allowing a pair of singles, hitting a batter to load the bases, uncorking a run-scoring wild pitch, and walking a man to reload the bases, all before recording an out. The Mariners then scored another run on an RBI groundout by Yorvit Torrealba, and cashed in the rest on a three-run homer by Ichiro Suzuki to go up 5-0.
Suzuki’s homer was his second in the first two games of the current series, marking just the second time in his major league career that he has gone deep in consecutive games, the first such occasion since last August, and the first time he has homered on consecutive days as a Mariner (though he did hit two jacks in a single game against Cleveland on July 30 as well as on two other occasions earlier in his Mariner career).
As the folks over at U.S.S. Mariner have noted, Suzuki has been hitting for more power this year, but sacrificing his average as a result. Ichiro!’s two homers against the Yankees over the past two nights have been his 14th and 15th of the season, breaking his major league career best of 13 set in 2003, which, not coincidentally, was also the year that he posted his lowest major league batting average (.312). Suzuki hit exactly eight home runs in his other three seasons with the Mariners, a number he’s almost doubled in 2005. This year, Suzuki is also exceeding his typical and major league high isolated power numbers–.104 and .124 respectively, the latter also in 2003–with a .146 ISO (slugging minus average). Meanwhile, in the three at-bats in which he did not homer last night, Ichiro, whose game has always revolved hitting the ball on the ground and speeding to first, flied out and twice struck out, dropping his average to .299, which has in turn suppressed his slugging percentage to his typical .445 despite his increased isolated power.
Back to the game, the Yankees got a pair of runs back in the top of the third, but Chacon gave three right back in the bottom of the inning, thanks in small part to some adventurous outfield play by Matt Lawton, who was filling in in right as Gary Sheffield served a one-day suspension for bumping umpire C.B. Bucknor after being called out at first against the Mets on July 26.
And that was about all there was. Alex Rodriguez, starting at DH due to a sore groin, hit his 40th home run of the year to round out the score at 8-3 M’s. Taking Rodriguez’s place in the field, Mark Bellhorn went 0 for 4 with no walks or Ks and played eight innings at third without once touching the ball.
For his part, Chacon finished the night with three scoreless innings, ending his evening after throwing 113 pitches. This after throwing 119 and 127 pitches in each of his last two starts, a workload that might have something to do with his struggles last night (though Chacon is hardly a stranger to wildness as he entered this season with 4.82 BB/9 on his career and posted a dreadful 1.08 K/BB ratio while with the Rockies this year).
Bringing this full-circle to Mike Mussina, it was announced before yesterday’s game that Moose will skip his next start due to inflammation in his pitching elbow, the same elbow that landed him on the DL for more than a month last July. Aaron Small will take Mussina’s start this Saturday against Kirk Saarloos in Oakland. With an off day on Monday, the Yankees will then have the option of skipping Mussina’s turn entirely next week, though they might also have Chien-Ming Wang to add to the rotation by then, as he is due to make another rehab start in Columbus this Saturday and is in synch with Mussina’s spot in the rotation. For what it’s worth, Kim Jones reported before last night’s game that Ruben Sierra has rejoined the team from his own rehab assignment in Columbus (2 for 11, HR, 2 BB) in anticipation of being activated once rosters expand on Thursday and reports that Wang is throwing 92-93 miles per hour with the Clippers.
With the Red Sox winning, the Angels dropping a fantastic eleven-inning pitchers’ duel to the A’s, who extended their AL West lead, and the Indians getting rained out, the Yanks are now 2.5 back in the east and ½ game up on the Indians in the Wild Card race.
Having dropped last night’s contest unexpectedly, tonight’s contest between 41-year-old future Hall of Famer and former Mariner ace Randy Johnson and 19-year-old future Mariner ace “King Felix” Hernandez becomes more than just a thrilling pitching match-up, it becomes a must-win for the Yankees as they head into a rough 12-game stretch that starts in Oakland on Friday.