Kicking off the biggest series of the year thus far for the Yankees, Al Leiter faced ten batters and retired just two of them before being removed from last night’s game down 6-0 with runners on second and third. Never mind that lead-off hitter Jason Kendell, who was hit with a 2-2 pitch to start the game, appeared to be thrown out stealing second but was called safe. Or that when Mark Ellis followed Kendell’s stolen steal by hitting a payoff pitch over Hideki Matsui’s head in left that Matsui misplayed badly, Hideki recovered to throw out Ellis trying to stretch it into a triple only to have Ellis called safe as well. Such quibles are minor in the face of the 12-0 thrashing the Yankees took at the hands of the A’s last night.
Leiter had nothing, resulting in the shortest non-injury start of his career. According to Joe Torre after the game, Leiter, notorious for his refusal to throw strikes, was simply catching too much of the plate. Though Leiter’s 50/50 ball to strike split would suggest otherwise, Leiter did say that, as a result of watching video on the A’s, he expected the Oakland to take more pitches and thus tried to get away with a few gimme strikes. What he failed to realize was that the A’s take balls and swing at strikes, particullarly big juicy ones over the heart of the plate.
With Mike Mussina out indefinitely and Aaron Small insterted in his place in the rotation, Joe Torre called on Jorge DePaula to stop the bleeding and soak up inings. Armed with an 86-mile-per-hour fastball, the 26-year-old DePaula, who has spent the season in Columbus working his way back from Tommy John surgery, was only up to half the task. DePaula got the final out of the first on three pitches, but then gave up four more runs in the second and single runs in the third and sixth. Still, credit Brian Cashman (as Torre did after the game) with realizing that the Yankees might need an innings sponge such as DePaula with Leiter and Small starting on consecutive days. DePaula and Wayne Franklin, who pitched two perfect frames against Oakland’s subs to finish the job, prevented Torre from having to use any of his more valuable relievers.
On the other side of the ball, the Yankees stranded runners in scoring position with less than two outs in the second, third and fourth innings against Danny Haren, also stranding a lead-off walk by Jeter in the first. After it took Haren just 18 pitches to get through the the Yankee’s three through eight hitters in the fifth and sixth, Joe Torre put in his B-squad:
1B – John Flaherty
SS – Mark Bellhorn (now with high sox and double-flap helmet)
3B – Andy Phillips (who hit the only pitch he saw to the warning track in left in the eighth, causing my heart to skip a beat)
C – Wil Nieves
LF – Matt Lawton (2 for 2, the only Yankee with a multi-hit night)
CF – Tony Womack
RF – Bubba Crosby
Shockingly, Womack and Flaherty got themselves on first and third in the eigth only to be stranded by Nieves, otherwise Lawton’s two hits were all the subs had to offer.
Elsewhere, the Red Sox lost, thus failing to increase their 3.5 game lead in the East, but the Angels and Indians won. As a result, the Yankees have fallen into a second place tie with the Indians in the Wild Card race, a game behind the A’s and Angels, who remain tied for first.
Today’s game starts at 4:05 and it couldn’t come soon enough. Last night’s game was far too reminiscent of Game Seven of last year’s ALCS and I’m desperate for a brand new ballgame to erase those awful memories (not to mention put the Yankees back in a tie for the Wild Card). Aaron Small, show your old team what you can do.