Bottom of the ninth. Yanks trailing by one, 6-5. Newly minted 24-year-old closer Chris Ray on the mound for the Orioles against the top of the Yankee order.
After Johnny Damon pops out, Derek Jeter walks on five pitches. Gary Sheffield follows with a line-drive single to center that almost decapitates the second base umpire. Alex Rodriguez then takes a strike, fouls off a slider low and away, swings through a 96 mile-per-hour fastball in on his hands, takes another further up and in to even the count at 2-2, then swings through yet another which is perfectly placed on the upper inside corner. Jason Giambi follows and on a 1-0 count, Jeter and Sheffield pull off a double steal that is ruled defensive indifference despite the fact that it puts the winning run in scoring position. Ray’s 1-0 pitch was a ball and with first base open he walks Giambi on two more tosses.
That passes the baton to Hideki Matsui. Two outs, bottom of the ninth, tying run on third, winning run on second. Ray has thrown 21 pitches and walked two already, though Giambi was semi-intentional. Ray’s first pitch to Matsui is a ball. His second is below the knee on the outside corner but is ruled a strike. His next pitch is ball two. The 2-1 pitch is almost a foot outside but ruled strike two. Matsui then checks his swing on ball three to run the count full. Ray then delivers the same pitch that was called strike two, it’s nearly a foot outside and Matsui watches it go by thinking he’s just tied the game with a walk, but home plate ump Phil Cuzzi rings him up. Game over. O’s win 6-5.
That wasn’t the only call that cost the Yankees the win last night. Chien-Ming Wang set the first seven Orioles down in order (six on ground balls) but fell apart in the third after a Kevin Millar double. He got Corey Patterson to ground out for the second out of the inning, but then walked Brian Roberts and rookie Nick Markakis on five pitches each to load the bases. Wang then threw three straight balls to Melvin Mora before coming back to get two called strikes to run the count full. Mora then hits a grounder to Jeter, who flips to Andy Phillips at first as Mora dives head first into the bag. Replays showed that Mora was should have been the third out of the inning, but he was called safe by first-base ump Jerry Crawford. Two runs scored on the play and Miguel Tejada followed with an RBI single before Wang finally got Jay Gibbons to ground out to end the inning.
I don’t like to blame umpires for losses, but in this case there’s no getting around it. They wuz robbed.
Incidentally, Wang had another rough inning in the sixth and was pulled in favor of Scott Proctor, who walked in a run (which is impressive as it took him two walks to do it) before getting out of it. Andy Phillips went 0 for 2, popping out on the first pitch in his first at-bat, then working Kris Benson for six pitches in his second only to strike-out looking on a full count. He was then pinch-hit for by Bernie Williams in the sixth with the tying runs on base and two outs. Bernie worked a walk to load the bases, but Johnny Damon grounded out to end the threat. Miguel Cario then took over at first and grounded out to strand the tying run on second in the eighth. Jason Giambi, whose right forearm just above the wrist is considerably swollen from being hit by a pitch on Thursday, went 0 for 4 as the DH with the walk desribed above. Finally, Tanyon Sturtze got three outs, two by strikout, without allowing a baserunner.
This afternoon, Shawn Chacon makes just his third start of the young season, this coming off a pair of dreadful relief appearances during the bast week. Here’s hoping Chacon learned something by watching Mike Mussina’s slow, slower, slowest routine on Thursday. Chacon’s mound opponent will be Daniel Cabrera. Everyone’s breakout candidate this winter, Cabrera walked 16 men over 6 1/3 innings in his first two starts, but just one in seven innings in his last outing. In that last start, against the Angels, he lasted seven innings allowing one unearned run on five hits and striking out ten. Uh oh.