In his series preview, Cliff pointed out the peculiarity that is the 2010 Blue Jays, a team that abhors smallball, and lives and dies by the homer. Coming into today’s game, the Jays were leading the majors in homers . . . by a whopping 17 over the Red Sox (94 to 77). Their gaudy, majors-leading .476 slugging percentage was tempered by a 23rd-best .248 team batting average. Their resulting ISO (isolated slugging; the difference between batting average and slugging percentage) of .228 would be the highest season total in at least 20 years. They are also dead last in GB/FB ratio, at .63. The edict in Toronto seems to be “we are Jays . . . everything we do must involve flying”.
Furthermore, they’ve executed exactly two sacrifice bunts and attempted only 29 stolen bases all year. Smallball is apparently not spoken in Canada anymore.
Andy Pettitte looked to stem the Gashouse Gorillas conga line of homers today as he faced off against Ricky Romero. Pettitte worked both corners well throughout the game, striking out a season-high ten, all of them swinging.
Meanwhile, Romero, when he wasn’t toying with Mark Teixeira like Teix was a frenzied kitten, was inducing many groundballs with a solid changeup. The Yankees best early threat came in the top of the second, as Alex Rodriguez singled, and two outs later, Francisco Cervelli and Brett Gardner each walked. On his already-40th pitch of the game, Romero got Kevin Russo to ground out to short.
Leading off the bottom of the second, Vernon Wells took a Pettitte fastball up in the zone out beyond the RF fence. Two outs later, Lyle Overbay hit a one-hop double to the RF wall. But Andy got John Buck to foul out to Francisco Cervelli to end the inning.
After a couple more well-struck pitches in the third, including a ground-rule double leading off the inning, Pettitte really settled down, as there were no more pitches left up in the zone. From that double through the end of the sixth, he allowed but two walks and one single. In a one-run game seemingly dominated by the pitchers, for each of those three baserunner opportunities, Jays manager Cito Gaston eschewed trying to build a run through a sacrifice, hit-and-run or stolen base attempt.
Meanwhile Gardner led off the Yankee 5th with a double down the RF line, and then Derek Jeter capitalized on a rare Romero mistake, a changeup left up and outside, to collect his 6th homer of the season, giving the Bombers a 2-1 lead.
The Yanks had a rare, but golden opportunity to extend the lead in the 7th. Cervelli led off with a hard-hit grounder to Edwin Encanarcion which knocked him down, allowing Cervelli to beat the throw to first. Gardner walked again, and then Russo complied with General Joe Girardi’s smallball order, executing a nice 1-3 sac bunt to put runners at 2nd and 3rd with one out.
With the infield a few steps in all around, Jeter then lined a ball right at second baseman Aaron Hill. Hill caught it, then dropped it on the transfer to his throwing hand. Cervelli made the mistake of not watching the ball to see if it got out of the infield, and took off for home on contact. Hill easily doubled Cervelli off third, as Jeter wondered what had happened. Your not-so-basic 4-5 double play.
Meanwhile, the top three hitters in the Jays lineup had gone 0-10 against Pettitte as he took the mound in the bottom of the 7th. Unfortunately the cosmic laws inherent in the Yanks missing a scoring opportunity bit Pettitte, as #6 hitter Alex Gonzalez led off with a homer on an 0-1 pitch, knotting the game at two.
Soon after, the game turned into a battle of the bullpens. Girardi had relieved Pettitte after 107 pitches with 2 outs in the eighth, while Romero had completed eight innings, finishing by inducing a double play grounder from Alex Rodriguez.
Joba Chamberlain relieved Pettitte and promptly gave up a single to Wells. But once again, Gaston didn’t put any wheels in motion, and Jose Bautista struck out looking on a nasty curve.
Chamberlain was still pitching in the ninth when he yielded a one-out single to Lyle Overbay. Surely this would be the time for a pinch-runner for the sluggish Overbay? Nope. Instead John Buck popped up to Cano and Encanarcion struck out.
The Yanks mounted a 2-out rally in the 10th against Kevin Gregg on a Jeter single and an eight-pitch walk by Swisher, but Teixeira struck out swinging for the fourth consecutive time, on his way to his own hellish version of a 5K.
Against David Robertson, Bautista led off the bottom of the 11th with a full-count walk, and again . . . the Jays did not play for one run . . . in a tie game in extra innings. Gonzalez promptly banged into a 6-4-3 DP. Even after Overbay immediately singled, there was no pinch-runner, and Buck flew out to deep left.
The Yanks did try to make something happen with their limited opportunities in extras. Gardner singled with one out in the 12th, and one out later, stole his 20th base of the season. But Jeter ended the threat grounding out to third.
In the bottom of the 12th, Chan Ho Park came on and walked the sub-.200 hitting Hill with two outs, but Gaston sat on his hands as Lind K’ed. Park was still pitching in the 13th when Gonzalez placed a two-out single down the LF corner and Overbay walked. But Buck buckled under the pressure, grounding to short.
In the top of the 14th, the Yanks tried to show Gaston about this smallball thing one more time, as Posada laced a long one-out single, and pinch-runner Ramiro Pena came on. Pena couldn’t get a good lead on new pitcher Casey Janssen and somewhat curiously, Cervelli wasn’t asked to bunt. Cervelli eventually struck out. Pena did manage to steal second with Gardner up, but was left stranded when Gardner flied to Bautista.
Finally, in the bottom of the 14th, Gaston finally seemed to have the smallball impetus, and the absolute best players to employ it. It also helped that they were now facing Chad Gaudin. Encanarcion walked on four pitches leading off, and then Lewis executed a nice little 5-3 sacrifice. Girardi elected to have Gaudin pitch to Hill, rather than setting up the force/DP by walking him and facing the lefty Lind. Hill promptly ripped a hanging slider to plate the winning run in an excruciating 3-2 game.
(photo credit: RoyalsReview.com)