The Cleveland Indians, stuck in last place in the AL Central, one game behind the Kansas City Royals, inspire such excitement that the following exchange took place during the YES telecast in the top of the fifth inning:
KEN SINGLETON (To John Flaherty): “Take a look a the light towers here. … Look at ‘em! Don’t they look like toothbrushes?”
FLAHERTY (after a long pause): “You know, I see it more looking at the shot on TV. I was looking out there and I didn’t get that feel.”
Oh yeah, exciting stuff. Never mind the fact Singleton had a point: the light towers at Progressive Field do resemble the shape of a flat-headed toothbrush.
Amid the stimulating intellectual chatter, a baseball game did occur, albeit a largely nondescript one save for the eighth inning. In the top half, with the Yankees trailing 2-1 and making Jake Westbrook look like he should be pitching for a contending team before the end of the week, Jorge Posada led off, battling back from an 0-2 count and singled to left. It was only the Yankees’ third hit of the night. Curtis Granderson followed by drilling a sinker that didn’t sink deep into the right-field seats to put the Yankees on top. The 8, 9 and 1 hitters — Francisco Cervelli, Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter — went quietly to hand the lead to Javier Vazquez.
Vazquez had pitched reasonably well through seven innings. Yes, Vazquez benefited from an impatient Indians lineup that swung at anything near the strike zone, which kept his pitch count low, but he threw strikes and when he put runners on base, he did a fine job pitching out of jams and minimizing damage. It was one of those outings that had “hard luck loser” written all over it until the Granderson bomb. Vazquez faltered when handed the lead, though, walking leadoff man Michael Brantley. The hiccup prompted Joe Girardi to bring in David Robertson, who succeeded in his audition for “the 8th inning guy.” Robertson threw a first-pitch ball to Asdrubal Cabrera, but overpowered him with fastballs thereafter. On the fifth pitch of the at-bat, Cabrera bounced one to short that seemed to handcuff Jeter, who uncomfortably backhanded the ball but quickly fired to Robinson Canó at second. Canó’s quick turn and rocket toss to Mark Teixeira completed the double play and eased tensions. That was until Joe Girardi emerged from the dugout to take the ball from Robertson and hand it to Boone LOOGY. LOOGY did his job, though, striking out Shin Soo Choo to set up the inevitable with Mariano Rivera.
As Yankee fans, we truly are spoiled. Even when Rivera allows a leadoff hit and that runner advances to scoring position, rarely is there a doubt that he’ll pitch out of the jam. Three broken-bat groundouts later, game over.
The Yankees needed this one because Rays won’t go away. They blanked the Detroit Tigers 5-0 paced by Matt Garza finally putting Tampa on the correct side of a no-hitter. The lead is still three games and hasn’t wavered from that number since July 18, when the Yankees took two of three in the Bronx. The Yankees and Rays are the only two teams in MLB with 60 wins and run differentials of more than 100 (the Yanks are at +129, the Rays are +120). Clearly, they’re the two best teams in the game and they’re both treating games at the end of July as if they were being played in mid-September with a playoff spot and seeding on the line.
THE UMPIRES STRIKE BACK
On June 2, Jim Joyce gave Jason Donald a gift call in Detroit and in the process, took a perfect game away from Armando Galarraga. Tonight, second-base umpire Dale Scott gifted two calls to the Indians in consecutive innings. In the top of the fourth, with one out and Mark Teixeira on first base, Alex Rodriguez hit a sinking liner to left field that Trevor Crowe appeared to have trapped. It was ruled a catch, he quickly threw the ball to the infield, where Donald promptly tagged Teixeira to complete the double play. Teixeira, A-Rod, and Joe Girardi protested the call. In real speed, it looked like a trap, and the slow-motion replay confirmed it. The biggest clue was that Crowe slowed up as the ball continued to sink, and then squared up to field the ball like an infielder. If Crowe intended to catch that ball on the fly, he’d have charged it.
In the top of the fifth, with one out and Posada on first, Granderson hit a long line drive to right that caromed off the top of the wall. Choo played the ricochet perfectly, barehanding the ball off the wall and hurling a seed to second base. The throw beat Granderson by about a step, but Granderson’s slide looked to have beaten the tag from the shortstop, Cabrera. Maybe it’s me, but I don’t believe the thought that if the throw beats the runner, the runner will automatically be out.
At least neither blown call changed the complexion of the game.