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Still Fighting

Posted By Cliff Corcoran On July 17, 2007 @ 8:35 pm In Bronx Banter | Comments Disabled

Andy Pettitte and Roy Halladay both entered yesterday’s game trying to get on track after a series of ugly outings. After the first inning, it looked like this just wasn’t going to be their night. Pettitte threw 25 pitches in the top of the first, allowed a run on a single, a walk, and a Frank Thomas double, and was fortunate to strand runners on second and third. Halladay threw 28 pitches in the bottom of the first starting with a five-pitch walk to Johnny Damon, who moved to third on a pair of groundouts. With two outs, Alex Rodriguez drove Damon home with a single and the Yankees proceeded to load the bases only to strand all three men when Robinson Cano grounded out.

To recap, that’s 53 pitches, seven base runners, and a 1-1 score after a single frame.

Pettitte threw another 23 pitches in the top of the second, but avoided giving up a run when Reed Johnson’s two-out double near the line in left bound into the stands, forcing Royce Clayton, who had singled, to hold up at third. Pettitte then struck out Alex Rios to preserve the 1-1 tie.

Then everything changed. Halladay retired the Yankees in order in the second. Pettitte did the same to the Blue Jays in the third on just nine pitches, including a three-pitch strikeout of Thomas. Suddenly it was the top of the eighth and the scoreboard still read 1-1.

Halladay and Pettitte matched each other almost exactly:

Halladay – 7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 6 K, 112 pitches
Pettitte – 7 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 7 K, 116 pitches

With Pettitte staring down 120 pitches, however, Joe Torre needed to bring in someone else to pitch the eighth. Luis Vizcaino would have been the obvious choice based on recent performance, but he had pitched in each of the last two games and in four of the last five. Scott Proctor pitched two innings on Monday and has allowed eight base runners in his last 2 2/3 innings. Ron Villone’s last outing was a blown save. Edwar Ramirez hadn’t pitched since before the All-Star break and remains an unknown quantity. Mariano Rivera, having closed each of the last three games and four of the last five, was not a candidate to go two innings. Mike Myers is a specialty guy whom Torre is now refusing to use even for that purpose (more on that below). That left supposed “eighth-inning guy” Kyle Farnsworth and Brian Bruney, both of whom were fully rested. Torre chose the wrong guy.

I doubt there was a Yankee fan watching who didn’t assume the Blue Jays would take the lead when they saw Farnsworth taking his warmups in the top of the eighth. Indeed, Frank Thomas led off with a single. Toronto manager John Gibbons pinch-ran with Howie Clark, and Aaron Hill doubled Clark home to give Toronto a 2-1 lead.

It was actually a bit more interesting than that. Farnsworth, who made a wild throw to first in the 11th inning of a 1-1 game against the Angels just before the All-Star Break, yanked a pickoff throw past Andy Phillips to send Clark to second base. The best part is that Clark was standing on first base when Farnsworth threw over; he hadn’t even taken his lead yet. Curiously, Lyle Overbay then lined out directly to Phillips, who was playing back because he didn’t have to hold on Clark, but it was all rendered meaningless by Hill’s RBI double.

The Yankees staged another two-out rally in the eighth against lefty reliever Scott Downs. Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada both singled to put the tying run on second base with two outs, but Downs threw Robinson Cano six straight looping curve balls, and Robinson missed badly at the first two and the last to end the inning.

Having burned through Farnsworth, Joe Torre then called on Brian Bruney in the ninth. Bruney retired the heart of the Blue Jay order (Alex Rios, Vernon Wells, and Troy Glaus) in order on 11 pitches, seven of them strikes. Here’s hoping Joe noticed.

Andy Phillips, who had the game-winning hit in each of the previous two games, lead off the bottom of the ninth with a single against Jays closer Jeremy Accardo. Torre then pinch-ran for Phillips with Miguel Cairo, and Cairo stole second on a 1-0 count to Melky Cabrera to put the tying run in scoring position. Melky then attempted to bunt Cairo to third (as he should have), but bunted foul for strike two (he had purposely swung through the pitch on which Cairo stole second). Melky then followed that failed bunt attempt with a single through the hole into right field. Larry Bowa sent Cairo home as Alex Rios fired to the plate. Cairo slid to the outside of the plate as Gregg Zaun lept for Rios’s throw. As Zaun came down with the ball, he collided with Cairo, who was reaching in for the bag. Having received a hip-check to the head, Cairo was stopped cold and tagged out. Had Cairo headed directly for the plate, he would have been safe easily, but there was no way for him to anticipate that the play would unfold as it did.

Fortunately, Melky moved to second on the play, so, after all of that, the Yankees still had the tying run in scoring position with one out. With a 2-1 count on Johnny Damon, Cabrera stole third as Accardo appeared to have forgotten about him. Accardo then walked Damon and, as Cabrera and Damon danced of third and first respectively, Accardo came set, bent his back knee, and stepped off the rubber, balking home the tying run. Suddenly the Yankees had the winning run on second with one out, but Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu, who were a combined 0-for-10 in the game, both grounded out to push the game into extra innings.

Called in for emergency duty, Luis Vizcaino, despite missing a few miles per hour off his fastball, pitched around a one-out single to send the 2-2 tie to the bottom of the tenth. Casey Janssen, in for Accardo, opened the inning by plunking Alex Rodriguez on the elbow pad with a 0-1 pitch. Janssen then threw a 2-2 pitch to Hideki Matsui in the dirt and Rodriguez alertly moved to second as the ball squirted into fair territory and Zaun stumbled attempting to corral it. Earlier in that at-bat, Matsui missed a game-winning home run by mere feet, pulling a ball about three seats foul into the front row of the upper deck in left. Janssen rallied to strike out Matsui on a bad pitch up in the zone that was such a miss that it fooled Matsui completely. With first base open, the Gibbons then walked Jorge Posada to pitch to Robinson Cano, who had twice failed to deliver the hit that could have made the difference in the game, leaving five men on base in the process. This time, Cano laced Janssen’s first pitch into the corner in deep left, plating Rodriguez and winning the game, 3-2 [1] in ten innings.

It was a great win for the Yankees, and puts them in a great position as most had assumed that with Kei Igawa starting for the Yankees on Monday and Roy Halladay starting for the Blue Jays last night, the Yankees would lose at least one of those games. The game also comes with a lesson.

After Farnsworth allowed the go-ahead run in the eighth, Gibbons pinch-hit with lefty Matt Stairs. Rather than countering with LOOGY Mike Myers, Torre elected to intentionally walk Stairs with first base open and two outs. The move worked. It was also the second time in two days that Torre opted not to bring in Myers to face Stairs with a man in scoring position and two outs, preferring instead to stick with a righty pitcher who had already allowed a run in that game. It worked both times, in fact. With that, Mike Myers, against whom lefties are hitting .327/.406/.473 this season, has officially become dead weight. With Farnsworth and Proctor struggling and Torre threatening to pitch Vizcaino’s arm off as he appeared to have done in April, the Yankees need to cut Myers loose (just as they did Mike Stanton and Paul Quantrill two years ago), and bring up Chris Britton, who has allowed just two base runners in his five major league innings this year, had a 3.35 ERA in 52 major league games last year, and has posted the following line in triple-A this year: 2.45 ERA, 44 IP, 40 H, 2 HR, 12 BB, 48 K, 3-1, 8 SV.

At the very least, Myers, not Edwar Ramirez, should be the pitcher taken off the roster when Matt DeSalvo is called up for his spot start on Saturday. Ramirez, meanwhile, should be given a chance to contribute and, if he struggles, should be replaced by Britton. Myers is cheap (he’s making $1.25 million this season, which means the Yankees owe him less than a million bucks over the remainder of the season) and, in addition to Ron Villone, the Yankees have lefties Sean Henn, Ben Kozlowski, and Charlie Manning all pitching well in relief for Scranton should they feel the need for a specialist. The Yankees need better relief pitching, but they have the talent on hand to improve their pen. The problem is that the best relievers in the system aren’t necessarily the men in the major league pen. Deleting Myers and shifting responsibility from Farnsworth and Proctor to Vizcaino (which seemingly has been done), Bruney, and possibly either Britton or Ramirez could completely change the Yankees late-inning outlook for the better.


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[1] 3-2: http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/boxscore?gameId=270717110

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