"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

The Best Laid Plans . . .

The Yankees and Orioles combined to hit nine home runs through the first five innings of last night’s game. By the time the smoke cleared, both starting pitchers were gone (though the Yankees’ Ian Kennedy left due to a strained latissimus dorsi muscle after a scoreless inning) and the game was tied at 8-8. Seven relievers then combined to push the game past a one-hour rain delay and into the 11th inning with the score unchanged.

Facing Matt Albers in the Oriole hurler’s second inning of work, Johnny Damon led off the top of the 11th with a walk. Derek Jeter followed Damon and reached base when Baltimore third baesman Melvin Mora picked up a bunt that might have run foul. When Mora threw that ball to first base only to discover that Brian Roberts wasn’t covering the bag, Jeter and Damon moved up to second and third. Baltimore manager Dave Trembley then had Albers walk Bobby Abreu to set up the force at every base despite the fact that it would bring Alex Rodriguez to the plate with the bases loaded and no outs. The gamble paid off as Rodriguez took a ball, then hit a screaming one-hopper at the drawn-in Roberts. Roberts dropped to a knee and snagged the ball as it skipped over his head, then started a 4-2-5 double-play that erased Damon at home and Jeter by an eyelash at third base. Still, with men on first and second, Hideki Matsui delivered a two-out RBI single right through Albers’ legs to give the Yankees a 9-8 lead heading into the bottom of the 11th.

To that point, Joe Girardi had done what I’ve long admonished Yankee managers to do, that is use Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning of a tied game on the road. The first part of the plan worked perfectly. Rivera pitched two scoreless innings, extending the game to the point at which the Yankees were able to take a lead in the top of the 11th. Unfortunately, because of Kennedy’s injury, by that point Giardi had also used both Edwar Ramirez and Kyle Farnsworth for 1 1/3 scoreless innings each and Ross Ohlendorf for 2 1/3 innings of long relief, leaving just LaTroy Hawkins and Jose Veras in his bullpen.

Both Hawkins and Veras had pitched and pitched poorly the night before with nearly identical pitch totals. Girardi chose Hawkins, who had thrown 12 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings prior to Monday, over Veras, who had allowed four runs over his last 4 1/3 innings, all four runs being scored by the Orioles on home runs by Aubrey Huff and Luke Scott, who were the third and fourth hitters due up in the bottom of the 11th. It was the right choice, but Girardi got the wrong result.

Hawkins gave up a leadoff single to Melvin Mora, then, after a fly out, a game-tying double into the left field gap by Huff. The relay home from defensive replacement Melky Cabrera to Jeter to catcher Jose Molina was just a bit late and offline and allowed Huff to advance to third. Girardi then intentionally walked Scott and Kevin Millar, who had two of those nine early-game homers, to set up the force at every base in the hope of an inning-ending double play, or at the very least a force out at home. Instead, Alex Cintron, who had pinch-run earlier in the game, hit the first pitch he saw from Hawkins to deep right field. It might have been the second out, but it was deep enough to plate Huff with the winning run even if it was. Bobby Abreu chased it briefly but ultimately let it fall as the Orioles began to celebrate their 10-9 win.

It was an ugly, sloppy game that saw the teams combine to make five errors, and the Yankees blow a pair of four-run leads (one by Kennedy, one by Ohlendorf), but Joe Girardi gave his team its best chance to walk away the victors. The best laid plans of mice and men go oft awry and leave us not but grief and pain for promised joy.

As for Ian Kennedy, he might have solved the Yankees’ rotation crunch by landing on the DL with that lat strain. He’ll also allow the Yankees to bring up a reliever today to stock the overtaxed bullpen. Joba Chamberlain’s scheduled outing tonight should also help give the pen some needed rest. The Yankees won’t be able to speculate about Joba’s ability to take Kenendy’s next start until they see the former’s performance tonight, however.

For all of you cursing LaTroy Hawkins’ name last night, but who missed his post-game interview, Hawkins was at least as hard on himself as you were on him. Sounding like he was trying to keep from screaming or crying, Hawkins appeared to have the weight of the entire 11-inning game on his shoulders and had this to say for himself:

LH: After the long hard game that the boys played, and the rain delay, and every time we gave up the lead they came back and took it back, it was just . . . not good.

Kim Jones: The pitch to Huff, was it just too good a pitch for him?

LH: Heh. It was a bad pitch on my part. Just not getting the ball down. Ball up, you’re going to get hit. Just bad pitches . . . terrible pitches.

KJ: You seem . . . are you pretty upset with yourself right now?

LH: Yeah because, you know, the guys, they played they butt off tonight, and I came in and just let it go just . . . just like that. Just like that. You know? I usually don’t get too upset, but, you know, a game like this you wanna come in and, after we scored, and shut them down from scoring, and I didn’t do that. . . . Just bad. I just didn’t do the job, just plain and simple. I mean, I’m embarassed ’cause, you know, the guys, they played they butt off, they played they butt off and to go out there and give up the lead like that . . . say if I made good pitches, but I didn’t make no good pitches, I made all terrible pitches. . . . When I make good pitches and get beat it’s fine, but when I make terrible pitches I’m pretty upset at myself. I can make better pitches than that and I should make better pitches than the ones I was making.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver