The 2010 versions of Javier Vazquez and the Baltimore Orioles: on their own, neither suggests a well-pitched game, but in combination they produced exactly that Tuesday night. Vazquez and the O’s highly-regarded rookie left-hander Brian Matusz opened this week’s three-game set in the Bronx by not allowing a hit in the first two innings, not allowing a run in the first four, and taking a 1-1 tie into the seventh.
Both runs scored on solo homers. Curtis Granderson led off the fifth by homering to right on a full count. Corey Patterson answered that shot with two outs and a 1-2 count in the top of the sixth. Both pitches were fastballs up and out to lefties who reached out and pulled them over the fence. Granderson’s went into the box seats in the right-field gap. Patterson’s was hooked into the second deck close to the foul pole.
The game was ultimately decided in the seventh inning. Vazquez got into trouble in the top of the frame when Nick Markakis singled and Luke Scott doubled to put men on second and third with one out. It was the first time in the game that Vazquez allowed multiple baserunners in an inning and the first time other than Patterson’s homer than an Oriole had gotten past second base against him.
With first base open, Joe Girardi had Vazquez walk switch-hitter Matt Wieters and go after righties Adam Jones and Julio Lugo. Vazquez rose to the challenge, striking out Jones on four pitches then getting Lugo to ground out on one.
The bottom of the seventh saw Derek Jeter single and Nick Swisher draw a four pitch walk to put men on first and second with one out. A Juan Miranda groundout move them up to second and third presenting Orioles manager Dave Trembley with the option of walking Alex Rodriguez to have his young lefty face Robinson Cano with two outs and the bases loaded.
Trembley opted to bring in a righty, deposed starter David Hernandez, to face Rodriguez, a tribute to the MVP-quality season Cano is having. Rodriguez hit the first pitch hard to third base, but right at Miguel Tejada who, ignored Jeter at third in an effort to get the out at first. Tejada’s throw was in time, but it was short, hitting the wet grass in front of first base and skipping under the glove of first baseman Ty Wigginton, who has spent most of the season playing second base. Rodriguez was safe, as was Jeter, who scored the go-ahead run, and Swisher came around to score as well as the ball trickled up the firstbase line past Rodriguez, who walked casually back to the bag.
The play was ruled an error on Tejada (both runs unearned, no RBI), but the only scoring that counted was the 3-1 tally, which the Yankees promptly nailed down via a perfect eight-pitch inning from Joba Chamberlain and a scoreless ninth from Mariano Rivera.
One can certainly give some credit to the quality of his competition, but Javier Vaquez has now been sharp and effective in three of his last four starts, tallying this line against the Tigers, Mets, and Orioles: 20 IP, 10 H, 3 R, 1 HR, 5 BB, 20 K. Even with his one stinker against the Twins factored back in, he’s posted a 2.81 ERA and 1.01 WHIP over his last four starts.
In those three strong starts he first pitched on long rest, then faced a National League lineup, also on long rest, then faced the worst offense in the American League after a poor start on regular rest, so there’s still more proving to do, but you can’t deny that Vazquez has looked sharper of late. On Tuesday night, Vazquez had his fastball up to 91 and was hitting his spots. Save for the Patterson home run, he had the fastball velocity and command the absence of which seemed to be his big problem early in the year. He’ll get a bit more of a test against the homer-happy Blue Jays on Sunday, but one thing the Yankees needed to happen in this soft part of their schedule was for Javy Vazquez to rebuild his confidence and get back on the horse. He’s doing that.
With Vazquez and Chamberlain both looking sharp, and Granderson hitting his first homer since the season-opening series against the Red Sox, and doing so off a lefty to boot, the only negative to Tuesday night’s game was that Mark Teixeira had to leave the game in the fourth inning after fouling a pitch off his left foot in his first at-bat. Fortunately, x-rays were negative and he could be back in the lineup as soon as Wednesday.
In other injury news, Jorge Posada is eligible to return from the disabled list and says he’s ready. Now if only Girardi will make him the every-day DH and leave Cervelli behind the plate . . .