Needing just one win to clinch a tie for the American League East, the Yankees went to Fenway Park last night and lost a game they could have won. The decisive play came with the bases full of Red Sox in the sixth inning, one man out, the score 3-1 in favor of Boston, and an 0-2 count on Jason Varitek. Varitek hit a weak grounder to Jason Giambi at first, who charged the ball and fired to Jorge Posada to force David Ortiz at home. But Giambi failed to set himself before making the throw, despite the fact that the lumbering Ortiz was the runner at third. His throw tailed down and to the foul side of home, bouncing short of Posada, who was unable to handle the hop. Ortiz scored safely and the Yankees failed to get an out. John Olerud, who started at first base, then flew out to Bernie Williams in center–the only one of the twenty outs Yankee starter Chein-Ming Wang recorded that came via a fly ball to the outfield. Olerud’s fly scored Manny Ramirez from third, pushing the score to 5-1. Had Giambi’s throw been on target, Olerud’s fly would have been the final out of the inning and the score would have held at 3-1, allowing Derek Jeter’s two-run homer in the seventh inning to tie the game. Instead, the Yankees lost 5-3.
That’s not to say that Giambi’s error was the only missed opportunity of the night.
After Boston starter David Wells struck out Derek Jeter on three pitches to start the game, Wells issued a pair of full-count walks to Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi. Rodriguez stole third on Wells’ first pitch to Gary Sheffield. Wells’ second pitch to Sheffield hit the Yankee right fielder in the back foot, loading the bases. Hideki Matsui then singled to center on Wells’ next offering, plating Rodriguez.
This was another situation in which Jason Giambi’s limitations cost the Yankees. Though Matsui’s single was hit very hard, a faster runner than Giambi would likely have scored from second on Johnny Damon’s Bernie Williams-like rag arm. That left the bases loaded for Jorge Posada with one out.
Wells started Posada off with a sweeping curve that Posada flailed at as it dove into the dirt. Posada then took a second breaking pitch that dove from shoulder height into the strike zone for strike two. Posada got a hold of Wells’ next pitch, pulling it just foul down the third base line, fouled off another pitch, then finally struckout on a sinking fastball in the dirt. Ruben Sierra, who has started at DH for four of the last five games, then flied out to right to leave the bases loaded and the score at 1-0 Yankees.
Staked to an early lead, Chien-Ming Wang showed an early case of nerves, throwing his first three pitches for balls before walking lead-off hitter Johnny Damon. As Wang was in the process of starting Edgar Renteria off with another 3-0 count, Damon stole second. After Renteria grounded out, David Ortiz grounded a 1-0 pitch into right center to plate Damon and tie the game at 1-1.
Wang, then settled down to strike out Manny Ramirez and Trot Nixon, but Jason Varitek lead of the second by blasting Wang’s first pitch into the far centerfield portion of the monster seats. From there Wang, who was leaving his pitches up early, likely due to over throwing, settled down, getting the next three men to ground out. From there Wang and Wells, who got through the top of the second on eight pitches, exchanged zeros until the sixth, when Damon again singled and stole second leading off the inning. Wang then struck out Renteria.
With Damon on second and one out, Joe Torre decided to have Wang intentionally walk David Ortiz, who picked up an RBI single in this situation in the first, and pitch to Manny Ramirez, whom Wang struck out following Ortiz’s RBI single. Unfortunately, Wang then walked Trot Nixon on five pitches, bringing Varitek to the plate with one out and the bases loaded. That’s when Giambi made his throwing error and Olerud hit his sac fly, running the score to 5-1.
The Yanks came right back in the top of the seventh when Derek Jeter followed a one-out Robinson Cano single by working a full count then lifting an opposite field homer into the Red Sox’s bullpen to push the score to 5-3.
But that was all they’d get. The Yanks had squandered another opportunity in the sixth when Giambi lead off with a single and, after a Sheffield fly out, Matsui doubled to deep right. Again, Giambi was unable to score on Matsui’s hit, holding at third where he was stranded by a Jorge Posada ground out and a Ruben Sierra fly out on a total of four pitches.
Wells threw 70 of 101 pitches for strikes through seven innings, then yielded to Chad Bradford and Mike Myers who retired Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui respectively in the eight, and Mike Timlin, who recorded the final four outs and the save. Robinson Cano did single with two outs in the ninth to bring the tying run to the plate in the body of Derek Jeter, but Jeter grounded out to Renteria to end the game and even the AL East Standings with two games left to play.
HEROES AND GOATS:
Red Sox Heroes
David Wells Despite a shaky first inning and Jeter’s home run, he got the job done: 7 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 1 HR, 2 BB, 5 K, 69 percent of 101 pitches for strikes.
Johnny Damon Despite a baserunning blunder in the third, he reached base twice in four trips (actually three times, the third on a grounder Bucknered by Alex Rodriguez, erased by that poor baserunning play) on a walk and a single, stealing second and scoring both times.
David Ortiz His single in the first evened the game after the Yanks got out to an early lead. The threat of a big hit prompted the Yankees to intentionally walk him in the sixth leading to the big inning that won the game for the Sox.
Bradford, Myers and Timlin Bradford and Myers neutralized the Yankees two best clutch hitters in the eighth and Timlin retired four of the five batters he faced to seal the deal.
Hideki Matsui 3 for 4, with a bases loaded single in the first to give the Yankees their only lead of the game. If Giambi could run he would have had three RBIs.
Derek Jeter Despite making the 27th out, Jeter’s homer in the seventh drove in two of the Yanks’ three runs and was one of just two extra-base hits off Wells (the other being Matsui’s double).
Scott Proctor Featured his curve to retire all four batters he faced, throwing 69 percent of 16 pitches for strikes
Red Sox Goats
Jason Giambi His throwing error in the sixth cost the Yankees two runs, the difference in the game. The same can be said of his baserunning. Combined he swung the score from what could have been 5-3 Yankees to the actual 5-3 Red Sox victory. In his defense, Giambi also made a pair of nice defensive plays in the third, including a cross-diamond throw to capitalize on Damon’s baserunning mistake. He also reached base twice in his four trips to the plate. That’s the Giambian Bargain. The Yankees wouldn’t be here without his bat and his bat isn’t as productive when he’s not in the field. In order to get that production, the Yankees have to agree to sacrifice a little bit of defense and a little bit of speed on the bases. Unfortunately, that bill came due at the worst (or perhaps third-worst) possible time.
Jorge Posada 0 for 4 with two strikeouts. Made two huge outs with a runner at third and one-out, failing to plate a run in either case. He also failed to glove Giambi’s wild throw, which he very well could have done, retiring Ortiz and keeping the game 3-1. Falls just a hair short of Giambi as the goat of the game.
Ruben Sierra Sierra shouldn’t be starting, but since he is, it would help if he didn’t go 0 for 4 with two strikeouts, twice making the third out with a runner on third. He and Posada stranded the same six runners, accounting for all but one of the Yankee runners left on base (the last being Cano in the ninth).
Al Leiter Brought in to retire David Ortiz in the seventh. Walked him on four pitches.
The Yankees have no idea what, if anything they’ll get from Mike Mussina on Sunday. As a result, they have to win today’s match-up between Tim Wakefield and Randy Johnson. Johnson beat Wakefield in a stirring 1-0 game on Sunday September 11 and the Yankees are bringing in retired Yankee knuckleballer Joe Ausanio to pitch batting practice in the hope that they it will help their approach to Wakefield’s flutterball. That smacks of desperation, but now is the time for desperate measures.
The good news is that the Indians lost 3-2 in extra innings last night, increasing the chances of the second place team in the AL East winning the Wild Card. If the Indians lose again today, the loser of the series in Boston is guaranteed to at least play a one-game playoff for the Wild Card on Monday. Thus the Yankees can clinch a one-game playoff game with an Indian loss or a win of their own today.
My appearance on Open Source radio on Thursday night has been archived here. The program, which discusses this weekend’s series and baseball blogging in general, also includes guest appearances from The Futility Infielder‘s Jay Jaffe and Ryan Toohil of The House That Dewey Built.