If the Yankees won the Saturday’s night cap despite the performance of their starting pitcher, they were inversely swept in Sunday’s split-double header despite the fine performances of their starters. Jaret Wright and Mike Mussina combined to hold the Red Sox to four runs on eleven hits over twelve innings, walking four and striking out nine. The bulk of the hits and strikeouts were Mussina’s, the bulk of the walks were Wrights, the runs and innings they split evenly.
In both cases the Yankees came up short due to shoddy relief pitching and Joe Torre’s ultimately wise decision to play these games as if the division had already been clinched. Torre did not run out his full starting line up in any of the four games this weekend, resting Posada in Saturday’s day game, Damon, Matsui and Cano in Saturday’s nightcap, Abreu, Giambi, Jeter and Posada in yesterday’s opener, and Damon, Rodriguez, and Matsui in the finale. As a result, the Yankee offense scuffled despite facing the likes of Kyle Snyder and Kevin Jarvis.
In yesterday’s day game, Nick Green and Sal Fasano went a combined 0 for 6 with three strikeouts. Indeed, it was Green and Fasano who made the first two outs of the fourth inning after Hideki Matsui, Aaron Guiel and Chris Wilson had loaded the bases to start the inning. That, plus a Johnny Damon strikeout for the third out, killed that rally and ultimately cost the Yankees the game. It also helps explain how Kyle Snyder was able to hold the Yankees to two runs over five innings while striking out seven.
Game one was tied 2-2 after six, when Joe Torre turned to Ron Villone. Things started innocently enough. Eric Hinske flied out on Villone’s first pitch. Villone then walked Doug Mirabelli on five pitches, but rallied to strike out Alex Gonzales for the second out, keeping pinch-runner Coco Crisp at first base. With Mark Loretta at the plate, hitting for rookie David Murphy, Villone appeared to pick Crisp off first base. Crisp, fooled by Villone’s move, took two quick steps toward second and Craig Wilson received the throw at first. Crisp then froze and, as Wilson charged down the baseline toward him, Crisp danced around him to the outfield side of the baseline and jogged back to the bag untagged. Wilson and Joe Torre argued that Crisp should have been called out for running out of the baseline, but rookie first base umpire Mike Estabrook and veteran crew chief Jerry Crawford, who was umpiring second, ruled Crisp safe and the inning continued.
Loretta worked Villone over for a ten-pitch walk, then rookie Dustin Pedroia double Crisp home and Loretta to third. Villone the intentionally walked David Ortiz only to surrender a bases-clearing double to Kevin Youkilis to run the score to 6-2. The Yanks got one back in the bottom of the inning on an Alex Rodriguez sac fly, but that was all they’d get. 6-3 Sox.
In the nightcap, the two teams again found themselves knotted at 2-2 in the middle innings, but this time the Yankees surged ahead. Derek Jeter, hitless to that point after sitting out the first game, lead off the inning with a groundball to short, but Dustin Pedroia’s throw pulled Carlos Peña off the bag and Jeter reached on the error. Bobby Abreu then singled Jeter to third and after Jason Giambi struck out, Jorge Posada flared a double toward the foul line in left that bounded past diving left fielder David Murphy and plated both men, putting the Yankees ahead 4-2.
Unfortunately, it wouldn’t hold. After Scott Proctor, in his only appearance of the series, allowed a lead-off single in the eighth, Joe Torre brought in Mike Myers to face David Ortiz, who was 0 for 2 with a pair of strikeouts against Mike Mussina in his first two at-bats. Myers proceeded to walk Ortiz on four pitches. Still, having burned Villone in the first game, Proctor in this one, Bruney with a pair of appearances on Saturday, and saving Kyle Farnsworth for the ninth, Torre opted to stay with Myers to face righty Mike Lowell, rather than turn to his remaining righty relievers Dotel, Beam or Veras, in part because the on-deck hitter was lefty Trot Nixon.
Lowell hit what looked like a flair single to shallow right that dropped just between second baseman Miguel Cairo and right fielder Bobby Abreu, but because he thought it might be caught, David Ortiz held up two-thirds of the way to second and actually started retreating to first before Abreu, charging toward second from his position, fielded the ball on a hop and fired to Jeter at second to force out Ortiz and turn Lowell’s single into a fielder’s choice as Loretta took third.
Terry Francona then pinch-hit righty Gabe Kapler for Nixon, but Torre stuck with Myers, who got Kapler to foul out to Posada. With two-outs and men on the corners and Dotel and Veras warming in the pen, Torre remained in the dugout as Myers pitched to Jason Varitek, who sent the second pitch he saw back up the middle for an RBI single to pull the Sox within one.
With the lefty Murphy due up, Torre again stuck with Myers, and again remained in the dugout when Francona sent righty Doug Mirabelli to the plate in Murphy’s place. Myers plunked Mirabelli in the back of his front shoulder with a 1-2 pitch, loading the bases, but Torre remained in the dugout as Myers pitched to righty Dustin Pedroia and lost control of another 1-2 pitch, skipping it past Posada to the backstop, allowing Lowell to score the tying run.
Myers eventually got Pedroia to ground out to end the inning, and Jason Giambi lead off the bottom of the eighth by singling to the left side of second base, but then that man named Crisp struck again. Jorge Posada sent a 1-0 pitch from side-arming lefty reliever Javier Lopez deep into the September night, a booming shot to dead center field, that was about to clear the fence by the Yomiuri ad near the 399 foot mark when Coco Crisp lept and caught the ball a full arm’s length over the wall for the first out. It was a picture perfect catch, as it took a two-run homer, what would have been Posada’s 20th dinger of the season, off the board. While the catch left most of us in the belachers relatively speechless, one determined creacher did manage to belt out, “Hey, Fruity Pepples! Nice Catch!” What else could you say?
That catch was the turning point. Robinson Cano hit into a double play to end the inning and Kyle Farnsworth surrendered the lead on three pitches, a lead-off double by former Yankee farmhand Carlos Peña, a sac bunt turned E1 as Coco Crisp again got the better of Jorge Posada, and a sac fly by Mark Loretta that plated pinch-runner Alex Cora. For good measure, Crisp stole second and went to third on a wild pitch, but was stranded there. Not that it helped. The Yankees stranded a one-out pinch-hit single by Johnny Damon in the bottom of the ninth and lost the second game of the double header 5-4.
Adding insult to injury, Derek Jeter’s hit streak ended at 25 games as he went 0 for 4 in the nightcap. He grounded out in his last at-bat in the seventh inning and was the on-deck hitter when Melky Cabrera flew out to end the game. Then again, there wasn’t much injury here. The Yankees magic number stands at four and they still have a one-game lead over the Tigers for the best record in the American League. The Red Sox’s off-day today prevents the Yanks from clinching until Wednesday at the earliest, but the clinch will come soon enough. Meanwhile, Torre got his team through back-to-back doubleheaders without tiring it out. That’s a job well done in my book. For these final two weeks winning is a secondary concern to making sure the team is ready for the postseason. To that end, check the pitching probables on the side-bar. That Tampa Bay series looks like what we can expect to see in the ALDS in terms of Yankee starting pitching. Indeed, here’s how the rest of the season should shape up in terms of Yankee pitching probables:
Toronto 9/18-9/20: Rasner, Karstens, Henn
TB 9/22: Wang
TB 9/23: Johnson
TB 9/24: Mussina
TB 9/25: Wright
Bal 9/26: Lidle
Bal 9/27: Wang
Bal 9/28: Johnson
Tor 9/29: Mussina
Tor 9/30: Wright
Tor 10/1: Lidle
ALDS beginning 10/3: Wang, Johnson, Mussina, Wright/Lidle
The key, of course, is getting Wang, who’s ERA is 1.80 runs better at home into one of the first two games. It appears Joe Torre has already done that. As for the fourth spot, Lidle’s being skipped in Toronto due to tendonitis in the index finger of his pitching hand and has struggled in three of his last four starts. Jaret Wright, meanwhile, has turned in three quality starts in a row. He’ll get two more chances to do so, but it looks like that fourth spot is Wright’s to lose.