The Yankees jumped out to an early lead on Edwin Jackson and the Rays last night. After four innings, the score stood at 6-3 Yankees, but the next four frames went by without another tally. With two outs in the top of the ninth, Bobby Abreu worked Troy Percival for a 12-pitch walk, fouling of six full-count offerings before taking ball four. Abreu then stole second on Percival’s 0-2 pitch to Alex Rodriguez, which was a ball. Rodriguez fouled off the 1-2 pitch, took ball two, then crushed a pitch down the left-field line that sailed over the foul pole.
The ball was ruled a home run, but Rays catcher Dioner Navarro animatedly disagreed, and his manager, Joe Maddon, convinced the umpires to use instant replay for the first time in major league history. Three of the four umpires, including crew chief Charlie Reliford retreated through the visitor’s dugout to the replay area and emerged two minutes and 15 seconds later to uphold their call. Reliford emerged first from the dugout and twirled his left index finger over his head to affirm third-base umpire Brian Runge’s original call on the field.
Watching the replays shown on YES, the ball appeared to sail over the left-field foul pole, then hook foul behind hit, clanging off a catwalk near the back wall of the stadium. Still, there remained some confusion due to the fact that there was a yellow foul pole extension attached to that catwalk, despite the fact that it was set significantly back beyond the outfield wall. The ball clearly hit the catwalk to the left (foul) of that yellow indicator, but only after sailing over the actual foul pole when leaving the field of play, which is exactly how all four umpires saw it both live and in the replays.
Said Reliford after the game, “We all believed it was a home run, but since the technology is in place we made the decision to use the technology and go look at the replays. . . . If there had been no argument, obviously we wouldn’t have because all four of us believed the call was correct on the field. Because [Maddon] disputed it, and it was very close, and now the technology is in place, we used it.”
Rodriguez’s double-checked homer gave the Yankees an 8-3 lead, bounced Percival from the game, and pushed Rodriguez past Mike Schmidt on the career home runs list. The Rays picked up run in the bottom of the inning off Jose Veras to set the final score at 8-4 Yanks.
Carl Pavano lasted just four innings, but Edwar Ramirez, Phil Coke, and Brian Bruney combined for four scoreless innings in relief. Ramirez replaced Pavano with men on first and second and none out in the fourth. The first two batters he faced hit line drives toward second base. The first skipped off the tip of Robinson Cano’s glove and sailed into right field for a bases-loading single. Cano caught the second and turned it into an unassisted double play by doubling Carlos Peña off second base. Ramirez then got Erik Hinske to pop out to end the inning and was given the win for his efforts. Coke pitched two perfect frames, but only because Johnny Damon made a perfectly timed catch at the wall on a drive by Peña to end the seventh.
Talking to the media after the game, Coke came across as humble and determined, a fresh-faced 26-year-old kid who, after being drafted 786th overall and spending six seasons in the minor leagues, five of them in rookie or A-ball, is finally living the dream and determined to make the most of the opportunity he’s being given. Coke let out a few Joba-like fist-pumping screams when Damon made that catch to end the seventh, then spent the rest of the game in the dugout rather than going back to the clubhouse to shower. Asked about staying in the dougout, Coke told the YES Network’s Kim Jones:
“I couldn’t leave. I couldn’t leave. I wanted to see it through to the end, regardless if I had threw or not. It didn’t matter. I just wanted to be out there with everybody and assure them as much as I can to let them know that I’m not going anywhere if I can help it. I’m gonna stick around as long as I can. . . . I’m just trying to follow along with Pudge and stay with him and not doubt anything that he put down. There was one point where I shook, but it was more of a, ‘I can’t believe I’m standing here on this mound in this game right now.’ And he went to put something else down and I was like [anxiously] ‘no no no no!’ I stepped back off and was like, “okay, okay, I’m good.’”
Discussing his repertoire (fastball, slider, changeup), Coke said that it was erroneously reported that he threw a curveball (he dropped the pitch earlier in his career). When Jones replied that it didn’t look like he needed one, Coke looked genuinely surprised and pleased by the compliment, smiling and shaking his head again in disbelief, replying, “well, thank you, I appreciate that a lot.”
Coke appears to have already earned his manager’s confidence (which comes a lot easier than that of the last Yankee skipper), and with his mix of confidence on the mound and humility in the clubhouse, he’s going to become a very popular member of this team very quickly.