Where’s a Four-Hour Slugfest When You Need One?
by Hank Waddles
To be honest, I felt like a kid in a candy store. Brett Tomko and I were called up to the big leagues to spot start on the same day, Tomko to pitch for the struggling A’s, and me to write the game recap, allowing the usual Bronx Banter scribes to get to bed at a decent time. When I saw that I’d be doing Tomko’s game, I was sure it would be cake. I’d run down the list of Yankee offensive heroes, make a clever comment about Tomko and a woodshed, and wrap it all up by mentioning Jorgé Posada’s birthday. Really, it was a column that would write itself. Not a bad way to get my feet wet.
And then the game started. Do you remember Brett Tomko? All he did last night was shut down the best team in baseball after struggling to put down Triple-A hitters for the past couple weeks. How stunning is this? I’ll let you be the judge. This was Tomko’s longest outing of the year, topping the three innings he threw against Texas on June 3rd. In his stint with the Yankees he retired the opposing team without allowing a run in only eleven separate innings; he strung together five zeroes against his former team on Monday night. Finally, he hadn’t pitched this deep and this successfully since throwing seven scoreless innings for the Royals against the Angels on May 5, 2008.
But as good as the box score might look, Tomko wasn’t exactly Bob Gibson. Yankee hitters, particularly Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon, seemed to be pounding the ball all night, and when Ramiro Peña and Jeter each singled to open the third, it seemed like Tomko would certainly melt. He survived a blast to right from Damon that might have scraped over the wall in the Bronx, but then walked Teixeira to load the bases for Alex Rodríguez.
If for some reason you only had time to watch one at bat of this game, I hope this was the one you chose. Before popping out in the first, A-Rod had faced Tomko nine times, and the results were impressive: two doubles, two homeruns, and a walk. As Tomko stared in to get the sign, the rest of the game played out in my mind’s eye: Alex would work the count before lacing a double to right center; Posada or Canó would take advantage of a rattled Tomko and drive in a couple more; Melky might even get a hit. Eventually A’s skipper Bob Geren would have to lift Tomko and cobble together five or six innings with his bullpen, leaving a weakened staff for the rest of the series.
But it didn’t happen that way. A-Rod jumped on Tomko’s first pitch and tapped a roller back to the mound for an inning-ending 1-2-3 double play. Tomko hopped off the mound with a Joba-like fist pump, and the Yankee bats didn’t make much noise for the rest of the night.
On the other side of things, A.J. Burnett presented a microcosm of his career in 99 pitches. He was absolutely dominant for much of the night, shutting out the A’s over seven innings, allowing just two hits and a walk while striking out four. During those seven innings, he looked like the $82.5 million man, maybe the best #2 starter in the league. The problem, though, was the fourth inning. I’ve got no issue with the double by Rajai Davis, and I can even forgive his subsequent steal of third without a throw. But after that steal, A.J. the Headcase showed up. His next pitch was returned back through the middle to drive in Davis, and his next pitch after that resulted in another base hit.
Two batters later the A’s had runners on second and third and things got really crazy. Working from the stretch, Burnett rocked and prepared to fire… but then decided to hold on to the ball for a balk, allowing a run to score. Watching live, it seemed like he must’ve gotten a cleat caught in the dirt, but subsequent replays showed nothing. After the game Burnett admitted there had been confusion between him and Posada, but that doesn’t fly. Let’s say Burnett was thinking fastball, but then noticed in mid-windup that Posada had slid to the outside edge of the plate in anticipation of a breaking pitch. Burnett couldn’t have thrown the fastball anyway? If he were worried about hitting Posada in the face or having his pitch sail to the backstop, couldn’t he have lobbed a pitchout? Instead he risked injury and ushered in Oakland’s second run by aborting his delivery and holding the ball. Inexcusable.
Burnett recovered nicely, facing one batter over the minimum over the final four innings, but the damage was done. A’s 3, Yanks 0. No worries, though. CC goes tonight, and he should be pretty amped to pitch in front of friends and family. Plus, if I had told you two months ago that the Yanks would have the best record in baseball and a seven game lead on the Red Sox when you woke up on August 18th, wouldn’t you have taken it? Sure, you would’ve.