As expected, the Yankees and Mariners snapped their respective winning and losing streaks last night, the Yanks failing for the fifth time this season to win their sixth straight. To be fair, they played the M’s hard despite having every reason to come out flat in the first game of their west coast swing after their marathon series in Boston.
Rookie Jeffrey Karstens pitched well considering the fact that he was making his major league debut, but exhibited an alarming fly ball tendency that staked the Mariners to a 2-0 lead in the first when Adrian Beltre followed a one-out walk to Chris Snelling with the first of his two home runs on the night. The Yanks got that back plus one in the top of the third when, with two outs, Johnny Damon doubled, Derek Jeter walked and Bobby Abreu took Mariner rookie Cha Seung Baek out to left center for his second Yankee home run, but Richie Sexson tied the score with bomb to the upper deck in left of Karstens in the bottom of the inning.
With the game tied 3-3 the Yankees appeared to take control. Karstens retired the next ten batters he faced and with a man on in the sixth, Alex Rodriguez crushed a 1-2 pitch from lefty reliever Eric O’Flaherty to give the Yankees a 5-3 lead. Rodriguez’s shot was a monster, arching straight into one of the upper deck exits in left just beyond where Sexson’s shot landed.
With two outs in the bottom of the sixth, Karstens surrendered a single to Jose Lopez, his first baserunner since Sexson’s homer, then fell behind lefty Ben Broussard 2-0, the second ball being a wild pitch that sent Lopez to second base. With that, Joe Torre hooked the rookie, who threw 66 percent of 92 pitches for strikes, and brought in Mike Myers only to have Mike Hargrove counter with Broussard’s former Cleveland platoon-mate, Eduardo Perez.
Stuck with a LOOGY against a lefty-killer, Torre had Myers issue two intentional balls to complete the walk, then pulled him for Jaret Wright, working out of the pen on this throw day. It was a managerial blunder by Torre, who should have realized that Hargrove would counter his move. Given his desire to rest his pen, Torre should have either stuck with Karstens or had the rookie issue the IBB and gone straight to Wright, thus avoiding wasting Myers.
Wright escaped the inning with one pitch to Yuniesky Betancourt, but ran into trouble in the seventh. With one out in the seventh, Ichiro Suzuki singled, Chris Snelling doubled, and Adrian Beltre worked a five-pitch walk from Wright. Richie Sexson then hit a grounder to short, but a hard slide form Adrian Beltre swept Nick Green’s legs out from under him as he tried to make the pivot, preventing the double play. Suzuki scored on the play to pull the M’s within one, and, having burned Myers, Joe Torre was forced to turn to Ron Villone to face lefty Raul Ibañez. The overworked Villone’s first three pitches were out of the zone and, after a gimme 3-0 strike, Ibañez singled Snelling home to tie the game. Villone then fell behind Lopez 2-0, but got the Mariner second baseman to fly out to end the inning.
The Yankees looked to get one of those runs back in the top of the eight when Bernie Williams greeted Rafael Soriano by drawing a four-pitch walk, but Melky Cabrera failed to force Soriano to throw a strike, instead bunting a 1-0 pitch right back to the mound for a fielder’s choice. After pinch-hitter Robinson Cano similarly flied out on a 2-0 count, Soriano, after finally throwing a pair of strikes to Johnny Damon, picked Cabrera off first to end the inning.
The Yankees had blown an even better opportunity in the previous inning when, with one out and the bases loaded, Jorge Posada swung at the first pitch he saw and grounded into an inning-ending double play. Again in the ninth, the Yankees had men on first and second for Alex Rodriguez, but eventual winner Julio Mateo struck out the Yankee third baseman on four pitches to end the inning. Adrian Beltre then lead off the bottom of the ninth by shooting a chest-high pitch from Ron Villone just over the right field wall to give the Mariners a 6-5 win.
Down in Anaheim, the Sox also lost a one-run game, so the Yankees 6.5 game lead holds. No harm, no foul, even if this was a game the Yankees should have won.