Sometimes one wonders if it is not necessarily better to have rallied and lost than to have ever rallied at all.
The matchup between Roy Halladay and Chien-Ming Wang lived up to it’s billing last night as the two pitchers entered the seventh inning locked in a 0-0 tie. The Yankees managed to put five men on base over the first six innings, but Johnny Damon’s infield single to start the game was erased by a rare caught stealing by Gregg Zaun, rendering Derek Jeter’s subsequent double harmless, and Jeter, who was pushed to third by a Bobby Abreu groundout, was stranded when Alex Rodriguez flew out to deep center. Hideki Matsui reached on an error to start the second, but was quickly erased by a double play off the bat of Posada. In the fifth, Posada singled and moved to third on a Robinson Cano double, but, with one out, Doug Mientkiewicz hit a foul pop over the tarp in short right field. Posada, thinking Blue Jay first baseman Matt Stairs was going to make the catch, tagged up and broke for home on the play, only to be gunned out by second baseman Aaron Hill, who reached over Stairs to make the catch. Posada was out by at least ten feet.
Wang only allowed four runners over those first six frames. Hill led off the second with a double into the left field corner and went to third when Damon bobbled the carom, but Wang got Russ Adams to pop out behind the plate, Zaun to ground out to third, freezing Hill, and Adam Lind to ground out to first to strand Hill. His other three runners all reached first with one out, moved to second on groundouts, and were promptly stranded.
The Blue Jays finally broke the tie in the seventh when Hill and Adams lead off with a pair of singles and Hill, who moved to third on Adams base knock, scored on a groundout by Zaun. Lind then singled to right and Adams, who had moved to second on Zaun’s grounder, was sent home. Bobby Abreu fired a one-hop strike to Jorge Posada that easily beat Adams, but Posada didn’t glove it cleanly and, when the dust cleared, the ball was on the ground behind Jorge and Adams was safe with the second Blue Jay run. Wang got a double play from ninth-place hitter Rey Olmedo to end the inning, but that would end his night after one hundred pitches (67 strikes, 14 of his 21 outs coming on the ground and four others by strikeout).
The Jays added a pair of insurance runs in the eighth against Edwar Ramirez when Ramirez hit Reed Johnson with his second pitch to start the frame, then, after getting Stairs to groundout, gave up a two-run homer to Alex Rios. Ramirez has now allowed six homers in 18 2/3 major league innings, an alarming rate of 2.9 HR/9IP. He has also hit three batters and uncorked three wild pitches. Over his last four appearances, Ramirez has allowed four runs and eight baserunners in 2 1/3 innings.
Halladay, meanwhile, just kept on cruising, pitching around an Alex Rodriguez single in the seventh and entering the ninth inning having thrown just 90 pitches, 68 of them (an astonishing 76 percent) for strikes. Johnny Damon led of the ninth with a double to left. After Jeter grounded out to short, holding Damon at second, Abreu singled Damon to third. Rodriguez followed with another single to erase the shutout and push Abreu to second. With Hideki Matsui coming up as the tying run and lefty Scott Downs warm in the bullpen, Toronto manager John Gibbons came to the mound to talk things over with his ace, but returned to the dugout without making a change. It was the right call, as Halladay got both Matsui and Jorge Posada to ground to second.
But wait! Aaron Hill’s throw to defensive replacement Lyle Overbay on what should have been the game-ending groundout by Posada bounced in the dirt and, as Overbay juggled the scoop, Posada crossed the bag safe, allowing Abreu to score and Rodriguez to move to third. With the score now 4-2 and Halladay at 110 pitches, Gibbons called on Downs to face Robinson Cano and Jason Giambi (who had hit for Mientkiewicz in the eighth only to strike out looking on three pitches from Halladay). With Bronson Sardinha running for Posada representing the tying run, Robinson Cano pushed a broken bat grounder past Hill for an RBI single that sent Sardinha to third. Giambi then flared a single to left to bring Sardinha home and tie the game at 4-4 as Halladay sat staring from the dugout with a look that recalled Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining.
Unfortunately, that was the last run the Yankees would manage. Mariano Rivera, Joba Chamberlain (who struck out four in two innings with his father in attendence), and Luis Vizcaino got the game into the 14th inning, but the Yankees were unable to break through. They came closest against rookie Brian Wolfe in the 13th when Jeter led off with a single, but Bobby Abreu replaced him on the bases via a fielder’s choice, and Alex Rodriguez missed his pitch, hitting a mile-high pop-up to short. Lefty Joe Kennedy then came in to face Matsui and walked him, but with Posada out of the game and no third catcher on the roster due to the 40-man roster spaces doled out to Juan Miranda and Andrew Brackman, Jose Molina was forced to hit and struck out on three pitches. Brian Bruney came on in the 14th (Kyle Farnsworth was unavailable with a tight shoulder) and struck out the side, but he gave up a solo homer to Gregg Zaun in the middle of it and Kennedy and Jason Frasor sealed the 5-4 win in the bottom of the inning, striking out pinch-hitter Wilson Betemit to end the game, which was only two minutes longer than last Friday’s nine-inning affair in Boston.
In Tampa, Josh Beckett out-dueled Scott Kazmir and the Rays’ bullpen coughed up a wad of insurance runs, so the Yanks are 2.5 out in the East once again. The Tigers staged a mid-game comeback to beat the Royals, and the Mets survived a long rain delay, some late-inning runs by the Marlins, and a minor injury to Carlos Beltran to keep pace with the Phillies, who also won.
Today, Phil Hughes moves up in the rotation, due to Ian Kennedy’s tight back (he says he feels fine) and Roger Clemens tweaky hamstring, to face Shawn Marcum. Because the Yankees were in a six-man rotation and had an off-day on Thursday both Hughes and Mike Mussina, who moves up to tomorrow’s game, will be on regular rest. Hughes has a 2.55 ERA over his last three starts, including a solid six innings against the Blue Jays in Toronto (3 H, 2 R/1 ER), but his walks are up and his strikeouts are down, and he’s still getting too many of his outs in the air. Marcum, meanwhile, has a 7.94 ERA over his last six starts, including allowing eight runs in 4 1/3 innings while facing Hughes in Toronto last week. Marcum has given up seven homers in those last six starts, including shots by Posada and Giambi, both of whom are in the lineup again today. Damon is the odd man out. Meanwhile, Jose Veras and Ron Villone also worked out of the pen last night (both were perfect). Farnsworth is still unavailable. Joba’s out per the rules, and I’m sure Torre would prefer to stay away from Vizcaino, who threw 24 pitches in his one inning. Ross Ohlendorf was warming behind Bruney in the 14th last night. He may see some action this afternoon.