Despite the 9-7 final score, Saturday afternoon’s game between the Rays and Yankees actually started out as the pitchers’ duel everyone expected given the starting matchup of lefties CC Sabathia and David Price.
Through four innings, each starter had allowed just one hit, and the Yankees held a slim 2-0 lead. The Bombers’ one hit was an Alex Rodriguez home run that bounced off the top of the right-center field wall and into the waiting hands of bullpen coach Mike Harkey. Their other run came when Rodriguez led off the bottom of the fourth with a walk, stole second, moved to third on catcher Dioner Navaro’s throwing error on the steal attempt, and scored by taking a chance on a grounder in on the grass at third off the bat of Robinson Cano.
Ben Zobrist tied the game in the fifth by parking a 1-2 cutter in the left field box seats. Joe Dillon then hit a shot down the left field line that Johnny Damon collected in time to hold Dillon to a single only to airmail his throw over the entire infield, allowing Dillon to reach third base with no outs. A subsequent sac fly by Navarro tied the game.
The Yankees took the lead back in the bottom of the inning when Melky Cabrera led off with a double, was bunted to third by Francisco Cervelli, and scored when Navarro tried to pick him off and threw the ball past third baseman Willy Aybar. The error was Navarro’s third of the game, and the second that led to a Yankee run.
So it was 3-2 heading into the sixth. The Rays had three hits, the Yankees two. Then Sabathia walked B.J. Upton to start the sixth, and gave up a well-placed single to left by Carl Crawford on his next pitch. His very next pitch was a changeup to Willy Aybar, that Aybar deposited in the visiting bullpen for what appeared to be a game-breaking three-run homer.
Of course, these are the Comeback Kids. No game is ever over ’til it’s over, not even with David Price on the mound. The Yankees ran Price’s pitch count up quickly, working five walks and bouncing him after 107 pitches in 5 2/3 innings. With Grant Balfour on the mound in the eighth, Mark Teixeira led off with a booming home run that grazed the suite level in deep right field to bring the Yankees within one run. After an Alex Rodriguez fly out, Jorge Posada walked and Joe Maddon brought in lefty J.P. Howell to face Robinson Cano. Cano singled, Nick Swisher walked, and that man again, Melky Cabrera, tied the game by beating out a double-play ball to plate Posada.
Of course, it wasn’t quite that clear cut. Ball four from Balfour to Posada came on a full count and could have rightly been called a strike as it was at most a pitch off the inside corner, and a frame-by-frame replay on Melky showed that he was actually out by a few inches at first base. In other words, the Rays wuz robbed. Really.
Veteran crew chief Tim McClelland must have noticed this, because with the go-ahead run on third and two outs, he called pinch-hitter Hideki Matusi out on a checked swing that was clearly checked. Nonetheless, the Yankees had tied the game and, after a 29-pitch inning that included a pitching change, Joe Girardi decided to relieve CC Sabathia, who had thrown 101 pitches over the first eight frames, and give the ball to Mariano Rivera in the ninth.
Being the huge Sabathia fan that I am, and given his 112-pitch average over his last six starts, I wanted to see CC throw the ninth, but I never expected what followed: Rivera blew it, big time.
Ben Zobrist led off the ninth by splitting the left-field gap for a triple. Rivera then fell behind 2-0 on Joe Dillon before giving up a single that gave the Rays the lead once again. After that, Rivera got a groundout and a fly out, but with two out and major league RBI leader Evan Longoria pinch-hitting, Joe Girardi ordered Rivera to put Longoria on and pitch to B.J. Upton instead. Upton singled home Dillon to make it 7-5, and Rivera was out of the game after 21 pitches, just ten of them strikes.
Phil Coke came on and gave up two more runs, both charged to Rivera, one of which scored on a ball that skipped off the heal of Alex Rodriguez’s glove and was ruled an error. It was those last two runs that would be the difference in the game.
Facing Dan Wheeler, Derek Jeter led off the bottom of the ninth with a single. Johnny Damon followed with a double over B.J. Upton’s head in center that pushed Jeter to third. Mark Teixeira then hit an 0-2 pitch for a double to right that scored both men and brought Alex Rodriguez to the plate as the potential tying run with no outs, but despite working a seven-pitch at-bat, Rodriguez grounded out to third, freezing Teixeira. Jorge Posada followed with an eight-pitch at-bat that culminated in a fly out right at Upton, who was by then playing very deep. Maddon then called sidewinding lefty and former Yankee Randy Choate to pitch to Robinson Cano. Cano got ahead 3-1, fouled off a pitch, then drove one to the warning track in center, but Upton was again playing deep after being caught short on Damon’s double, and made a leaping catch at the wall to end the game.
I’ll do this one Alex-style and end with a song: