I have to admit that for much of this weekend’s series in Toronto, I wasn’t at all convinced that the series was even happening. Sure, Michael Kay never crosses the border, but with Bob Lorenz in the booth, I was starting to imagine Capricorn One conspiracy theories. Were these games scripted by YES? Was I just watching a collage of highlight footage spackled together to look like an actual game? Did Bud Selig know what was going on? And the biggest question of all — if they really were scripting the action, why couldn’t they have at least written in a few hits for Mark Teixeira?
Ah, but I kid. Now to the game. For much of Sunday afternoon, the hitters were mere bystanders as Brandon Morrow and Javier Vazquez took turns making them look foolish. There was no scoring on either side for the first five innings, and the Blue Jays didn’t get their first base hit until Vernon Wells ended the drama (dramatically) with a no-doubt two-run home run to left, putting the Jays up 2-0.
As good as Vazquez was in the early going, Morrow was even better. He gave up only four hits and a walk, and at no point during the first seven innings did it ever look like the Yankees had a shot, mainly because of an unhittable fastball that was clocking between 95 and 97 all day long. I hate to bring this up, but Brandon Morrow is what Joba Chamberlain was supposed to be when he grew up. Projected as top of the rotation starters, both pitchers arrived in the majors in 2007 (Morrow was in Seattle back then) and brought their high octane stuff to the bullpen. Morrow had an extra year of experience, but he wasn’t nearly as effective as Joba. Since arriving in Toronto this year Morrow has worked exclusively as a starter, and if what we saw today is any indication, he’s in the right spot.
In the eighth inning, though, he was in the wrong spot. Even though he had thrown 104 pitches through those dominant seven innings, Morrow came out to start the eighth and plunked lead-off hitter Francisco Cervelli. Toronto manager Cito Gaston immediately replaced Morrow with Scott Downs, who then drilled Brett Gardner to put the tying runners on base with nobody out and the top of the order due up. As you might expect, this is when things got interesting.
With Derek Jeter facing a 1-1 count, Downs through a pitch which may or may not have tailed off the outside edge of the plate. Home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman called the pitch a strike, but Jeter disagreed as vigorously as he ever will. The field mikes at Rogers Centre were fairly sensitive all game long, so you could easily hear his disgust: “That was not a strike!” After pursuing the issue a while and repeating his opinion about the pitch, Jeter shook his head, stepped back into the box, and lined a double down the right field line, cutting the deficit in half.
Nick Swisher came up next and quickly found himself down in the count, 1-2. Desperately needing a strikeout, new pitcher Jason Frasor went for the kill on the next pitch, bouncing a splitter that Swisher couldn’t resist. Swisher started his swing, and replays clearly showed that the checked it, but Dreckman punched him out, ruling that he had swung at the pitch. (Somewhere in Cincinnati, Paul O’Neill put his shoe through the television screen.) For his part, Swisher was incredulous, immediately pointing down at third base to ask for an appeal that would never come. Joe Girardi had seen enough — enough of Dreckman, enough of the Blue Jays, maybe even enough of Canada — so he came out with the clear intention of getting kicked out. He even left his hat behind in the dugout, something I don’t remember ever seeing. What followed was the fastest ejection in history. Girardi pushed Swisher out of the way, asked Dreckman, “Are you shitting me?” and that was that. Showers.
So with one out and the tying and go-ahead runs on second and third and Alex Rodríguez in the on-deck circle, Cito Gaston, of course, decided to walk Mark Teixeira and his .211 batting average. (And by the way, isn’t it time to start thinking about dropping Teixeira in the order? I wouldn’t mind seeing Canó in the three hole with Teixeira hitting sixth. But I digress…) Gardner brought home the tying run on a wild pitch, and A-Rod struck out, failing for the first time in that situation, bringing Robinson Canó up with two on and two out and the score tied. Canó took one pitch then lined the next into left, scoring two for a 4-2 lead.
Joba Chamberlain came in to start the eighth inning, and even though the box score says he gave up two hits and a run, that’s a bit deceptive. José Molina led off with a double off Curtis Granderson’s glove, a drive that Gardner would’ve caught easily, and Fred Lewis’s RBI single was just a high-hopper that bounded through the middle of the infield. Joba recovered nicely enough to get Aaron Hill to ground into a double play, and his day was done. I’m doing my best to think positively about him.
There was a little drama as Mariano Rivera came in mistakenly (and was sent back) after that double play even though acting manager Tony Peña had asked for Damaso Marte, but he came back again in the ninth and used only five pitches to close out the 4-3 Yankee win. Oh, and in case you’re wondering about A-Rod, who was lifted for Ramiro Peña in ninth, he’s okay.
Next stop: Baltimore.