For a month and a half the Yankees sat atop the American League East, and even though their lead never looked insurmountable, I admit that I’m a bit surprised that they suddenly find themselves in second place after Tuesday night’s loss to the free-swinging Toronto Blue Jays.
It all started well enough. Dustin Moseley (much more on him later) set down the Jays in the top of the first on six pitches, bringing the home side to bat. Derek Jeter led off with a walk, Nick Swisher was retired on a blistering line drive to short, and Mark “How Ya Like Me Now” Teixeira launched a large home run into the back bleacher section in left field. Sure, Agent 599 struck out and Robinson Canó grounded out to end the inning, but it really felt like a good night. Really.
What happened next was that Toronto starter Ricky Romero turned out the lights. He set down the side in order in the second, third, and fourth innings, then had his string snapped by a Marcus Thames infield single to lead off the fifth. Hope! But Romero responded to this blip by blitzing through the next fifteen Yankee batters to wrap up a dominant complete game victory. To sum up, here’s how the Yankee hitters did against Romero:
Jeter walk. Out. Teixeira home run. Eleven outs. Thames single. Fifteen outs. Drive home safely.
So Ricky Romero was clearly the story of the game, but I’ll leave that for someone else to write. What you won’t find in the box score is that Dustin Moseley pitched a great game. Seriously. The Blue Jay hitters were aggressive all evening, swinging early and often at Moseley’s assortment of fastballs, cutters, and curves, and if a few things had gone differently, well, Moseley still would’ve lost, but it might’ve been closer.
The Jays scored two runs in the second inning on a double and a single, but Moseley still seemed to be in control as he cruised through the third, using just thirty pitches to record nine outs. The game turned in the top of the fourth. A lead-off single by Vernon Wells was almost immediately erased by a 5-4-3 double play, complete with an unconventional underhanded flip from third to second as Agent 599 relived his days as a shortstop. But before he could relax (or perhaps because he relaxed), Moseley plunked Aaron Hill and gave up a double to John Buck — and then an interesting thing happened. Newcomer Austin Kearns did a decent job of tracking down Buck’s double in the left field corner and got the ball in to Jeter quickly enough that Hill should’ve been out easily at the plate. I’ve never seen another shortstop better at handling relay throws, and two plays are etched in my memory as evidence: Jeter jumping towards the third base line to snag an errant throw from David Justice, then somehow contorting his body into position to throw out Timo Pérez at the plate to end the sixth inning in Game 1 of the 2000 World Series; leaping high to grab a sailing throw from Bernie Williams, then beginning his throwing motion before hitting the ground and firing a strike to third base to nail Danny Bautista trying to stretch a double into a triple in the sixth inning of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series.
This play on Tuesday night was a walk in the park compared to those two plays, and Jeter almost seemed surprised that Hill was trying to score. He double pumped, then pulled his throw about six feet wide of the plate. What should’ve been the third out of the inning turned into the second Toronto run, and the game was tied at two — but not for long. Travis Snider reached across the plate to lunge at the first pitch he saw and still managed to pull a lazy fly ball towards right center. It drifted lazily into the visitors’ bullpen as Moseley stood on the mound with arms outstretched and palms turned upwards in the universal symbol of disbelief.
To his credit, Moseley recovered nicely over the next few innings and became the first Yankee starter to record an out in the eighth inning of a game since July 8th. His team was down 5-2 as he walked off the mound, but neither that fact nor Moseley’s stat line in the morning paper tell the true story. He deserved better. After Moseley left the scene the Jays tacked on three more runs courtesy of one home run each off of Kerry Wood and Sergio Mitre. Final score: Blue Jays 8, Yankees 2. (And by the way, what if I had told you back in April that José Bautista would have more than twice as many home runs as our Agent 599 on August 4th?)
So if the Yankees are to avoid a sweep, Phil Hughes will have to find a way to keep the ball in the park on Wednesday afternoon. Sweet Baby Jesus.