Sure, Shaun Marcum gave up Alex Rodriguez’s 600th home run in the bottom of the first inning Wednesday afternoon, but in the early innings of the game, he was pitching better than Phil Hughes, who didn’t give up a run until the fourth. Hughes, who later revealed he had a head cold on a muggy afternoon in the Bronx, just didn’t look sharp early on, and though he retired the first six men he faced, striking out three, he needed 28 pitches to do it and seemed to get away with a number of mistakes.
Hughes opened the third by walking Lyle Overbay, then gave up a single to Edwin Encarnacion, but despite Overbay reaching third base with one out after a fly to center field by John McDonald, Hughes wiggled out of the jam, getting Travis Snider to pop out and Aaron Hill to ground out to third.
Marcum, meanwhile, allowed three runs on five hits in the first three innings, but looked sharp and seemed to be making his pitches. Derek Jeter led off the first with a slow ground ball that just happened to find the hole between short and third. Marcum then struck out Nick Swisher on a perfectly placed cutter and got Mark Teixeira to pop out on two pitches. Marcum’s first two pitches to Rodriguez were off the plate inside, but his third was a hanging slider out over the outside half of the plate, and Rodriguez got his arms extended and lifted it into the netting over Monument Park just a few feet to the right of dead center field.
I was pleased to see that the game didn’t really stop the way it did when Derek Jeter passed Lou Gehrig for first place on the all-time Yankee hit list, and his teammates all came out of the dugout to congratulate him. The team did great Rodriguez in front of the dugout, but the hugs and congratulations weren’t extended, and his subsequent curtain call, while it was a full-on Reggie (both feet on the grass), also didn’t linger excessively.
In the second, Marcum got Jorge Posada to ground out on his first pitch, then struck out Lance Berkman before Curtis Granderson delivered a two-out single. Granderson stole second, almost breaking both ankles with a horrific slide less “into” and more “near” second base, but Marcum struck out Brett Gardner to end the threat.
In the third, Jeter shot a ground-ball double down the left field line, and with one out, Mark Teixeira went down and got a low outside curveball and yanked it into right field for an RBI double. Rodriguez and Robinson Cano then both ground out weakly to strand Teixeira at second.
Rodriguez’s homer didn’t break the damn of his recent slump. After that weak groundout, he popped out to short in the fifth and ground back to reliever Shawn Camp in the seventh, but you could see the relief and relaxation in his face during his post-game press conference, after which he gave the security guard who retrieved the ball from Monument Park a signed bat in exchange for the milestone rock.
The Yankees padded their lead in the fifth, with Marcum starting to look more the part of the losing pitcher. Gardner led off with a ground rule double to right that bounced off a fan’s shoulder and back onto the field (Mr. Wonderful Jose Bautista flipped the ball back to her). Jeter then dropped down a perfect bunt single up the third base line, moving Gardner to third. Nick Swisher walked, and Teixeira delivered a two-RBI single to set the eventual final score at 5-1.
The lone Toronto run came off Hughes in the fourth. That man Bautista led off with a single. With one out, Adam Lind walked, and with two outs, Lyle Overbay delivered an RBI double. Hughes then struck out Edwin Encarnacion to end the threat.
Hughes never really did settle down, but he never really got in much trouble either. He just sort of labored through his 5 1/3 innings. After Bautista led off the sixth with a rare single to right that he practically queued off the end of his bat while trying to pull the ball, Vernon Wells sent Hughes’ 100th pitch to the wall in the left-center-field gap on such a massive arch that Granderson had plenty of time to drift over and catch it with his shoulder pressed against the padding.
That was enough for Joe Girardi to get out the hook with an off-day coming on Thursday. The Yankee end-game got some nice warmup work for this weekend’s Red Sox series. Boone Logan got the last two outs of the sixth, striking out Jose Molina, whose one offensive skill is hitting lefties, and getting lefty Lyle Overbay to ground out. Joba Chamberlain worked around a ground ball single up the middle in the seventh. David Robertson recovered from a leadoff walk to Bautista by retiring the next three batters in the eighth, striking out Lind and Molina to end the frame. Then Mariano Rivera got some work in, hitting Encarnacion with a pitch but otherwise working a flawless inning to seal the win.
The Red Sox and Rays both lost, so the Yankees pulled back into a first-place tie in the East with the win and now lead Boston by 6.5 games. Both play again tomorrow, but the worst case scenario entering the weekend’s wrap-around four-game set against the Bosox would be a half-game deficit in the division and a comfy six-game lead on the visiting Crimson Hosers.
All in all, a good day for the home nine.