I’m fairly certain that it’s been twenty years or more since the last time I scored a baseball game, so on Thursday night I printed out a couple blank score sheets, grabbed a clipboard and a pencil, put on the game, and sat on the couch next to my daughter to teach her how to score a game. Now, I don’t mean to sound like a cranky old man, but you lose something when you follow a game on your cell phone or “watch” via ESPN’s Gamecast. Sure, it’s convenient and easy, and any statistic you could ever want is only a mouse-click away, but you can never really get a feel for the game. It turns out there’s no app for that.
So as Alison and I watched the Yankees and Mariners trade zeros through the first few innings, we noticed several things we otherwise wouldn’t have. First of all, even though Andy Pettitte and Jason Vargas seemed to be matching each other pitch for pitch through the early going, they were actually pitching very different games. Pettitte was cruising, facing just two over the minimum over five innings, but Vargas was walking a tightrope.
The Yanks put runners on in every inning, but Vargas was able to wiggle out of trouble each time, thanks mainly to a ground-ball-inducing changeup that bothered the right-handed hitters all night long. (Jeter, Teixeira, and Posada totalled seven ground balls to the left side of the infield.)
Pettitte’s relatively easy first five innings paid dividends in the sixth, when he had to dig deep to avoid disaster. The frame opened with consecutive singles by the eight and nine hitters, bringing Ichiro to the plate. Just as I was explaining to my daughter how dangerous the situation was, Ichiro dropped a bunt in front of the mound. Pettitte scrambled down the hill towards the third base line to field the ball and promptly fired it down the first base line, allowing the first run of the game to score as Josh Wilson scampered home from second base. (By the way, I’d love it if someone could explain why this run was earned.) It was Pettitte’s third throwing error in the past month, and he was visibly disgusted. After the game, he explained: “I just panicked. It’s terrible. I just grabbed it and turned and looked over there, and I’m not even focusing on where I need to throw. I just kinda threw it over there to a group of people… I gotta stop doing that.” I’d agree.
Down a run with men on second and third and nobody out, Pettitte somehow managed to limit the damage right there. He convinced Chone Figgins to ground out to third, freezing the runners, then followed an intentional walk by striking out Russell Branyan and José Lopez. He scolded himself as he walked off the mound, but the reality is that he had just saved the game when he could’ve lost it.
Vargas finally ran out of gas in the eighth, as he walked A-Rod on four pitches and followed that by allowing a single to Robinson Canó. Brian Sweeney relieved, then promptly uncorked a wild pitch that moved A-Rod to third, from where he’d score as Jorge Posada grounded into a double play, and finally the game was tied at one.
Managing by the book, Don Wakamatsu brought in his closer, Dan Aardsma, to pitch the top of the ninth, but it didn’t turn out the way he hoped. After fanning Kevin Russo for the first out, Aardsma walked Jeter on four pitches and then gave up a double to All-Star Nick Swisher, who suddenly can’t do anything wrong. Swashbuckling Swish was four for four on the night with two doubles and a walk, plus a nifty sliding catch in the field. With the go-ahead run waiting patiently on third and only one out, Teixeira fouled out to the catcher, bringing the game to Alex Rodríguez.
I dwelled on Teixeira’s failure to get that run in as I explained to Alison that it would be much more difficult to get the run in with two outs. With the optimism of a ten-year-old, she looked down at her scorecard and told me that Alex Rodríguez was up next. “He hits a lot of home runs, Daddy.” He didn’t hit a home run this time, just a base hit to right field, but it was good enough to score two runs and pass the game on to Mariano Rivera. Alison was right; I needn’t have worried. Oh, and here’s an interesting stat that I don’t believe but can’t possibly verify. After the game Ken Singleton told us that of the last 18 times the Yankees have scored a tying or go-ahead run in the ninth inning, Alex Rodríguez has been responsible all 18 times. Believe it or not.
Rivera, of course, worked a hitless ninth inning, saving an Andy Pettitte victory for the 68th time, possibly my favorite statistic ever. Yankees 3, Mariners 1.