Joba Chamberlain’s third start under the new spring-training-style Joba Rules didn’t start terribly well. Jason Bartlett led off by smacking a 2-1 pitch over the wall in left for a homer. (After the game Joba said it was the pitch he wanted to make and pointed out that Bartlett was having a great year; Joe Girardi said the pitch was “a mistake.”) Carl Crawford followed with a single, moved to second on a wild third-strike to Evan Longoria, stole third while Chamberlain was in the process of walking Ben Zobrist, then scored on a Pat Burrell single.
After that, the Yankee shortstop went to the mound and gave Chamberlain a quick verbal kick in the pants. Chamberlain struck out the next two batters on nine pitches and retired the side in order in the second and third innings. Because Chamberlain’s night ended there (due, I assume, to the 32 pitches he had thrown in the first), it’s difficult to say if that is likely to have been a meaningful turnaround in Joba’s performance going forward, but it was the most encouraging performance Chamberlain has had since his final start in July, which also came against the Rays.
Tampa Bay starter Jeff Niemann, a 6-foot-9 righty who bears a slight resemblance to the actor Jeff Daniels and is having a fine rookie season five years after being drafted fourth overall in the 2004 draft, made those two runs stand up for seven innings, stranding runners in every frame while striking out eight. Meanwhile, the Yankee bullpen matched Niemann by following Chamberlain with six hitless innings, including three from Alfredo Aceves and two from Jonathan Albaladejo.
Alex Rodriguez led off the bottom of the eighth by singling up the middle on Niemann’s 110th pitch, driving the tall 26-year-old from the game. Joe Maddon curiously chose righty Lance Cormier over lefty Brian Shouse to face Hideki Matsui. Matsui singled, sending Rodriguez to third, and Chris Richards threw Nick Swisher’s ensuing grounder into left field while attempting to start a 3-6-3 double play, sending Alex home and pinch-runner Jerry Hairston Jr. to third. Maddon then went to Shouse, who struck out Robinson Cano for the first out of the inning.
With one out, the tying run on third and the go-ahead run on first, Girardi sent Jorge Posada up to bat for Brett Gardner. Gardner made a spectacular, game-saving play in Monday’s day game, but has been struggling to rediscover his stroke since coming off the disabled list, going a combined 1-for-18 since starting his rehab assignment. Maddon countered with hard-throwing Aussie Grant Balfour, flipping Posada around to the left side. Posada worked the count full, fouling off the two strikes, then launched the next pitch into the seats in right for a game-changing three-run home run.
And that was that. Protecting a two-run lead, Brian Bruney typically walked the first man he faced in the ninth on four pitches, but got the next two out on three more tosses before yielding to Phil Coke, who got the final out and a cheap save. The 4-2 win was the 24th game the Yankees have won in their final at-bat this season, a total which leads the major leagues. On the season, the Yankees are averaging more than two runs scored per game in the final three innings and 1.2 runs score per game in extra innings, when one is usually enough to win it.
The win gave the Yankees an unexpected four-game sweep of the rival Rays, who are now a shocking 18.5 games out in the division, and ran the Yankees’ second-half record to 40-13, good for a .755 winning percentage. If they can keep that up through the final 20 games, it will stand as the third-best post-break mark since the All-Star Game began in 1933.
Oh, I almost forgot. Derek Jeter went 3-for-4, tying Lou Gehrig for the most hits in team history. It’s an impressive accomplishment that might have meant something to me had the YES Network not killed it to death by overhyping it beyond all reason. In fact, after watching the YES broadcast the opening of my recap looked like this:
Derek Jeter derekjeter derek jeter derekjeterderekjeter. Derek jeterderek Jeter derekjeter derek 2,721 jeter, Derek Jeter.
Then I checked the box score and realized there had been other players on the field.
At one point, YES seemed so obsessed with Jeter and all of their related graphics (the post-game graphic behind Bob Lorenz was a picture of Jeter swinging over a faded image of Gehrig’s number four with just the word “History” written underneath), that they seemed to have farmed out the rest of the broadcast to school children. The trivia question was a syntactical nightmare so severe that Michael Kay had to pause in the middle of reading it to get his bearings (“Who has the most games with hitting home runs from both sides of the plate in their career?”). They then cut to a shot of Alfredo Aceves warming up, but the camera framed Aceves so that he was hidden behind the graphic listing his season stats. The camera then readjusted with a few jerks during the live shot.
Typically YES does a fantastic job of broadcasting a game, but Wednesday night’s game was an embarrassment of FOX-like proportions. The network’s absolute murdering of Jeter’s pursuit of the all-time hit records for Yankee Stadium last year and the franchise this year have helped me understand why fans of other teams become enraged over what they feel is the outsized praise Jeter receives.
Still, for those in the ballpark, it did seem to be a genuine moment, as Jeter received a big ovation from the crowd and both dugouts, and seemed genuinely touched while tipping his helmet in response. It’s no small thing to have the most hits in the history of such an old and accomplished franchise, even if people tend to forget that, for all that the Yankees and their players have achieved over the years, long, durable careers have not really been a part of that.
It was also nice to hear Jeter speak at length and without obfuscation about the accomplishment and his emotions after the game, a rare glimpse behind the Jeter Curtain, albeit typically serious and humble. I also enjoyed hearing Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera reflect on their friendship with Jeter and their time together over the past decade and a half (though I found it telling that Posada focused more on Jeter eventually getting 3,000 hits than on catching Gehrig, while Mo wants Jeter to go after Pete Rose’s all-time record).
Unfortunately, that was marred a bit by the absurdity of some of Kim Jones’ questions (sample: “Jorge, to know that for 72 years Lou Gehrig held this record alone, and tonight he got some company, is that almost mind boggling, the accomplishment this is given those decades?” or “Can you take us through that moment, Andy, when he hits the ball to right field, he’s obviously headed to first, you guys come out of the dugout and are clapping?”). Jones does a solid job, but she has a habit of trying to put words into peoples mouths by asking yes/no questions (“did that ovation touch you?” etc.).
Getting back to Jeter. He broke an 0-for-12 slump with a bunt single on Niemann’s first pitch of the night, hit a ground-rule double to the warning track in center in this third at-bat, then singled to right for the record-tying hit. Jeter and Gehrig are now tied for 53rd on the all-time major league hit list, 22 behind Al Oliver.