The Yankees are such a giving ballclub. The Giants had lost seven in a row entering last weekend’s series with the Yankees. “Don’t be glum, chums,” said the benevolent Yanks, “have two of three from us, please.” The Giants gladly accepted.
The Orioles had won three of five prior to last night, but had been in a freefall before that, going 2-14 with their big, mean owner firing their poor, defenseless manager. “Do not dispair, friends,” said the compassionate Yankees, “if you’re not ahead come your final at bat, we’ll find a way to get you a walkoff win that will lift your spirits.” The Orioles soon found that the Yankees were men of their word.
Tonight the Yankees look to continue their philanthropic tour of the gloomy gusses of baseball. Roger Clemens will make his fourth start of the season coming off an inefficient dud of an outing in Colorado (4 1/3 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 2 HR, 90 pitches) and a dispiriting relief outing in San Francisco (allowing an seventh-inning insurance run in what had been a 3-1 game).
There’s reason for hope, however. Clemens has thus far posted a career-best strikeout rate (11.21 K/9) and near-best K/BB ratio (4.40), but has been undone by a staggering .370 opponents’ batting average on balls in play. His distribution of singles and extra base hits has actually been very good (15 of his 20 hits allowed have been singles, that’s 75 percent compared to roughly 72 percent for both Andy Pettitte and Chien-Ming Wang, the team’s two best starters, who also happen to be groundballers). That means Clemens is not getting hit hard, he’s just been unlucky. His luck should even out as his performance is buoyed further by the fact that he’s still rounding into midseason form. The only real concern is that Roger has been remarkably inefficient, throwing a career-high 4.19 pitches per plate appearance, which means he’s pitching like a man facing an endless string of Jason Giambis and Bobby Abreus, just without all those pesky walks. Something has to give here somewhere.
Complicating matters is Clemens’ opponent tonight, 28-year-old lefty Erik Bedard. Bedard, the Oriole ace, hasn’t allowed more than three runs in a game since April, has failed to go six full innings just once since April 23, and hasn’t been knocked out before the fifth yet this year. In May and June combined, Bedard has a 2.32 ERA and has struck out 79 in 66 innings and has struck out seven or more men in eight of his last ten games. That strikeout rate, which he’s extended over the full season, marks a significant improvement in Bedard’s game. He’s always been a solid strikeout pitcher, K-ing about 7.9 men per nine innings in each of the last three seasons, but his rate is a staggering 10.89 K/9 this year, while his walk rate continues to decrease. More bad news: Bedard beat the Yanks in April, holding them to three runs on five hits and no walks over seven innings. Last year he posted a 2.25 ERA against the Bombers, striking out 14 of them in 12 innings while allowing just nine hits. None of this is encouraging for a team that has scored three or fewer runs in five of it’s last seven games.