Roger Clemens did not have his famous out-pitch, the split-finger fastball, working tonight. He did not have good control in general, issuing five walks in six innings. His face looked heavy and drawn. You could see him willing his old body through it tonight. How many more innings does he have left with all the wear-and-tear he’s endured through the years? Regardless, in a case of substance over style, Clemens did not allow a hit through the first five innings (he also did not have to deal with Manny Ramirez who sat out with an oblique injury). David Ortiz deposited a flat-splitter high into the upper deck for Boston’s first hit in the sixth.
Josh Beckett, on the other hand, was tougher than his numbers suggest. He used a sharp curve ball to record five of his six strikeouts, and looked decent, despite giving up a career-high thirteen hits. The Yankees scored three runs with two men out in the second—dinky, ground ball, RBI hits by Melky Cabrera and Johnny Damon, but otherwise found themselves stymied by Beckett, who got big outs when he needed them most. The Bombers didn’t help themselves either (Alex Rodriguez ran himself into an out after hitting a single to start the third), swinging at too many first pitches with runners on; with two men on, one out, and Beckett on the ropes in the sixth, Robinson Cano skied out to left on the first pitch. Johnny Damon eventually tapped out to first with the bases loaded to end the inning.
Beckett came back in the seventh and quickly retired Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu. He baffled Abreu, throwing him four curve balls in five pitches. But then he left a curve over the plate to Rodriguez—it wasn’t exactly a “hanger,” but it was flat. The Yankee third baseman hooked it, and muscled the ball on a line over the wall in left field, good for his 44th homer of the season. It was an insurance run that had eluded the team inning after inning, and, as it turns out, it would be the difference in the game.
Cut to: Kyle Farnsworth. Do I need to get into it? Doesn’t the name say it all? Well, after retiring Ortiz on a fly ball, Cooter gave up a single to Mike Lowell and then Kevin Youkilis drove the first pitch he saw from Farmadooke into the left field seats (it was a harder version of Rodriguez’s dinger). J.D. Drew struck out next but then Farnsworth walked Jason Varitek and the reliever’s night on the mound was over.
Enter Sandman. Mariano Rivera got Coco Crisp to tap a ground ball back to the mound to finish the eighth. After Mike Timlin retired the Yankees, Rivera threw a strike one fastball to Eric Hinske and then got a generous call on another fastball, this one on the outside corner. Rivera threw the following pitch to the same spot but did not get the call. So he threw it again—not one cutter in the sequence—and Hinske made like Coco and tapped out to Rivera. Julio Lugo hit a 1-0 pitch on one-hop to Rodriguez at third; though it took a tricky hop, A Rod made the play look easy for the second out. Finally, Dustin Pedroia—Only the Angels have Dirty Faces, right?—fell behind 0-2, fouled a pitch off, took a cutter outside for a ball, and then hit a nubber up the third base line. Rivera made the play, Andy Phillips—who replaced Jason Giambi in the sixth—made a nice catch, and Ortiz was left in the on-deck circle. Hot Dog.
The win moves the Yankees to within six of the Red Sox. More importantly, it ties them with the Mariners for the wildcard lead (though Seattle is still up a game in the loss column). Both starting pitchers were quietly impressive tonight. Neither was great, but they both displayed how tough they are.
Yanks go for the sweep tomorrow afternoon when Chien-Ming Wang faces Curt Schilling.