It often seems like the Yankees just can’t hit rookie pitchers they’ve never faced before (a phenomenon I once dubbed getting “URPed” by an Unfamiliar Rookie Pitcher). That’s more perception than reality. As recently as Tuesday night, they touched up 20-year-old Tigers rookie Rick Porcello for six runs in 3 2/3 innings. At the conclusion of their last homestand, they scored five runs in 5 1/3 innings against 21-year-old A’s prospect Brett Anderson. They also scored four runs in five innings against Orioles rookie Alfredo Simon in the last game of their season-opening series in Baltimore. Such performances tend not to stick in our memories because they conform to our expectations; we expect the Yankees to beat up on the fresh-faced kids straight out of the minors, which is exactly why it really eats us up when they don’t.
Angels starter Matt Palmer is no fresh-faced kid at 30-years-old, nor is he a highly-touted prospect like Porcello or Anderson, but he is a rookie, and one the Yankees had never faced before this afternoon’s game. He’s also one the Yankees didn’t hit.
Palmer doesn’t have great stuff, but he was able to mix up his speeds and locations enough this afternoon to keep the hot Yankee bats off balance. He snapped Robinson Cano’s 18-game hitting streak and held the Yanks to one run on three hits and two walks over 6 1/3 innings, compensating for his dearth of strikeouts (two) with a fair number of groundballs (10).
The Yanks looked like they were going to get to Palmer early. Palmer’s second pitch sailed inside and hit Derek Jeter on the elbow in nearly the same exact spot that Nick Swisher was hit the night before. Jeter stayed in the game and stole second after a Johnny Damon pop out, but the steal was no less painful. Mike Napoli’s throw skipped off the back of Jeter’s batting helmet and hit Erick Aybar in the face, bloodying Aybar’s mouth, swelling his lip, and knocking him out of the game. Because the impact of the ball distracted Aybar, he didn’t jump out of the way of Jeter’s head-first slide and Jeter took Aybar’s knee in the right side of his neck. Despite being hit by the ball twice, it was the knee to the neck that seemed to cause Jeter the most discomfort, as he could be seen stretching his neck throughout the rest of the game (though he, of course, stayed in and said he’d be back out there tomorrow).
With Jeter on second with one out, Mark Teixera walked, and Hideki Matsui yanked a 2-0 pitch into right to score Jeter. Palmer was on the ropes with a man in, runners on the corner, just one out, and Cano up, but Palmer needed just three more pitches to get Cano and Melky Cabrera to ground out to end the inning without another run scoring.
CC Sabathia made that run hold up for five innings, but Palmer also kept the Yankees from adding to it, and the Angels scratched out a tally to tie the game in the sixth. Howie Kendrick led off that inning with a single and was replaced at first by Torii Hunter via a fielders choice. Hunter moved to second when Mike Napoli reached on a Derek Jeter throwing error that pulled Mark Teixeira off first base. Hunter and Napoli then pulled off a double steal, and Hunter scored on Kendry Morales’s subsequent groundout.
The seventh started with Sabathia at 99 pitches having held the Angels to that one run and four hits over the six previous frames. In retrospect, he should have called it a day there. Brandon Wood and Maicer Izturis (Aybar’s replacement at shortstop) led off the seventh with singles and were sacrificed to third and second by Chone Figgins. Sabathia then struck out Gary Matthews on four pitches, the last a 98 mile-per-hour fastball, for the second out, but Howie Kendrick, who was 5-for-6 against Sabathia entering the game, hit a bounding single up the middle past CC to plate Wood with the tie-breaking run.
With CC at 113 pitches, Joe Girardi repeated the mistake he made in Sabathia’s last home start by leaving his lefty ace in to face a veteran right-handed slugger despite a high pitch count. Then it was Matt Holliday, who singled on Sabathia’s 112th pitch to tie that game. Today, it was Torii Hunter, who doubled on Sabathia’s 119th pitch to plate both runners and break the game open.
Only then did Girardi go to the bullpen, though the reason for his hesitation quickly became apparent. Mike Napoli singled on Jonathan Alabaldejo’s first pitch to push the Angels’ lead to 5-1. A Morales homer off Jose Veras in the eighth made it 6-1, and a Juan Rivera single plated two David Robertson walks in the ninth to make it 8-1. The never-say-die Yanks picked up three runs in the ninth on a two-run Jorge Posada homer and a three-base Gary Matthews error (Matthews lost a ball in the sun and was also hit in the face, though less painfully than Aybar). Those runs came against a rookie pitcher, Fernando Rodriguez making his major league debut, that didn’t seem to stymie the Yankees at all, but all they did was change the Angels margin of victory. Final score 8-4.
Don’t be sad. Two out of three ain’t bad, and tomorrow the Yankees will try to make it three out of four.