The Yankees won last night’s game 7-6, but that’s kind of like saying the plot of The Sun Also Rises is “a guy watches some bullfights.” I really don’t know where to start with this particular thrill ride, which, around 10 PM, I thought the Yankees had absolutely no shot at winning. (I wasn’t far wrong). In fact, I didn’t really think they had a shot until they actually took the lead and put Mariano Rivera on the mound, and then right away the first batter he faced hit a triple and I still wasn’t so sure. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. They say when you don’t know where to start, you should start at the beginning.
The Yankees were facing Cliff Lee, who, in case you’d forgotten, is mind-bogglingly awesome. Since arriving in Texas he’s walked three batters – two of those intentionally. (Though why the hell Cliff Lee was intentionally walking anybody I can’t imagine). He’s allowed nine walks all season, which makes me think of Joe DiMaggio and that crazy 1941 season where he only struck out 13 times. I’ve had a platonic baseball-crush on Lee ever since he made that sick behind-the-back catch in Game 1 of last fall’s World Series and then shrugged it off with Steve-McQueen cool; I’ve also been looking at him as a bit superhuman, and so I didn’t expect much from the Yankees last night. Especially since Marcus Thames was batting third*.
And, against Cliff Lee, they indeed didn’t do much… except they had some good at-bats, and made him work (though of course not actually walk anybody), which is often really the only thing you can do when facing someone like Lee. The Rangers didn’t beat around the bush, starting their scoring in the 1st with a Michael Young homer, as Javier Vazquez continued to struggle with both his velocity and his location. The Yankees evened things up in the 4th, when Marcus Thames singled and A-Rod doubled him home and I thought, not for the first nor last time over a four-hour span, okay maybe I’ve been a little hard on Marcus Thames; but it didn’t take. The Rangers scored two more in the bottom of the inning (two-run Mitch Moreland single, off the glove of Lance “not Mark Teixeira” Berkman at first), and three more in the fifth (single, single, botched run-down, double, fielder’s choice, single), and when Javy slumped off the mound to make way for Sergio Mitre it was 6-1 and I was thinking about how I should frame the loss in the recap.
But Sergio Mitre was just fine, actually – 1.2 hitless, scoreless innings – and it turned out the Yankees were only mostly dead (“mostly dead is slightly alive!”). In the same way they used to have some success against aces like Pedro Martinez back in the day, they took a bunch of pitches, fouled others off, kept scuffling, and got Lee out of the game after 6.1 innings – which is, by Cliff Lee standards, quite early; as Michael Kay pointed out, Lee had pitched 8 innings or more in ten straight starts. The comeback trail began in the sixth, when Derek Jeter tripled - seems like it’s been a long time since I wrote that – and scored on a rare Cliff Lee wild pitch, but I don’t think the Rangers were exactly quaking in their boots at that point. The next inning, though, things started to get a little interesting: Robinson Cano doubled, and Austin Kearns singled, hard, and when Austin Kearns creams one like that it’s a pretty good sign that Cliff Lee is probably starting to get a little tired. (It was 100 degrees in Texas last night, which couldn’t have helped any). Lance Berkman hit a ground-rule double, and then Brett Gardner singled, and suddenly it was a decently close 6-4 game. The Texas bullpen is very good, though, and the Yankees were relying on Kerry Wood for two innings, so I remained unimpressed except in a vague, it’s-nice-they’re-showing-some-fight-however-futile sort of way.
Like Sergio Mitre before him, Kerry Wood exceeded my expectations, although he did add a little spice, in the form of two straight singles in the seventh before he induced a Nelson Cruz double play. But he kept things from getting any worse, and so when Marcus Thames led off the 8th inning with a sonic boom of a home run off Frank Francisco – huh, perhaps I really was a little hard on that guy – it was suddenly a one-run affair. Cano and Posada walked… but then Austin Kearns, who giveth and taketh away, ground into a DP of his own and you had to figure that was probably that.
In the top of the ninth inning, Lance Berkman walked and, being rather less swift than a puma these days, Curtis Granderson came on to run for him. And he drew a lot of attention from the hard-throwing Rangers reliever of the moment, Neftali Feliz, but he still hadn’t gotten anywhere when Brett Gardner singled him over. Derek Jeter was getting ready to bunt (grrrrr), but Feliz — perhaps overcome with admiration for Jeter’s selflessness in being willing to sacrifice himself for his team! — threw a wild pitch and both Granderson and Gardner advanced, no bunt necessary. Jeter then bent over, picked a four-leaf clover, and hit a sneaky seeing-eye hopper of a single that came within an inch of being caught by both the pitcher and the second baseman before trickling into the outfield. Tie game. Nick Swisher struck out, but that brought up Marcus Thames, who singled off of Alexi Ogando, scoring Gardner and giving the Yankees their first lead of the game.
You know, it’s possible I’ve been a little hard on Marcus Thames.
Anyway, the one-run lead meant Mariano Rivera for the bottom of the ninth. I’d say he was looking for redemption after the previous night’s rare blown save but, really, Mariano Rivera doesn’t need any redemption; he’s got redemption coming out of his ears. He did, however, give everyone a bit of a start by immediately giving up a whopping triple to Elvis Andrus.
Michael Young flew out, just not quiiiiite far enough to score the run.
Josh Hamilton grounded directly into Rivera’s glove.
Vlad Guerrero took one whole pitch before swinging from his heels and sending the ball to Alex Rodriguez, who made a nice play and tossed him out by several entire feet.
If the Yanks and Rangers meet down the road in October, it could be quite a series. In the interests of being prepared, I recommend you start discussing blood pressure medication with your doctor sooner rather than later.
*There’s no doubt that the Yankees miss Mark Teixeira – that lineup hasn’t been looking all that awe-inspiring the last few days. (Still, to the people who are actually upset that Teixeira is taking several days off to be with his newborn child and wife, I can only say: you’ll feel differently about this down the road, once you’ve matured a bit, and passed puberty.) Ken Singleton made the extremely good point that, as with the Bereavement List, when players leave for the birth of a child, their team should be able to call up a replacement. Teams would therefore feel less of a squeeze when a player like Teixeira does the right thing and spends a couple of days with his family, and there would be less pressure on the player himself to rush back immediately. Paternity leave: get on it, MLBPA.