"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

What Do You See?

I’ll tell you what I see.  Sure, the Yankees dropped a tough game — and a tough series — to the Tampa Bay Rays, and will spend at least two days in second place, but things aren’t as bad as some people might have you believe.

Let’s take a look at Wednesday night’s game.  With Phil Hughes taking the mound in the deciding game of a three-game set, I can’t say that I clicked on the TV with an overwhelming sense of confidence.  Hughes hadn’t started a game in more than a week, and it’s been months since people were talking about him as a Cy Young candidate, but even with his recent struggles he still entered the night with a respectable sixteen wins.

For most of the night the Rays got the Phil Hughes from April, not August.  After the game he spoke about the importance of using all his pitches, and indeed only half of his 106 pitches were fastballs.  He mixed in curves, change-ups, and even a handful of cutters to keep the Rays in check as he retired the first twelve batters to start the game.

Trouble arose in the fifth, just about two seconds after I caught myself wondering how Joe Girardi might weigh an elevated pitch count versus a potential no-hitter.  The thought shattered as quickly as it crystallized when Evan Longoria ended the mini-drama with a single to center.  Two batters later a guy named Dan Johnson deposited a rope into the stands in right, giving the Rays a 2-1 lead.

That single Yankee run had come in the first inning, but it shoulda been woulda been coulda been so much more.  The suddenly-frisky Derek Jeter led off the inning with a single and stole second base as Curtis Granderson fanned for the first out.  After a Mark Teixeira single and an Alex Rodríguez walk loaded the bases, Robinson Canó started the Score Truck rolling with a single to left.  Rays starter James Shield was struggling, the vultures were circling, and it looked for all the world that the Yankees would get off to a good start… and then Lance Berkman bounced into a double play.

The Yankees would put runners on in every other inning save the fifth for the rest of the way, and Shields always looked on the verge of destruction, but somehow he wasn’t pulled until the seventh inning and the Yankees weren’t able to score again until he left.  Chad Qualls entered the game with one and out and the bases empty in that seventh inning and lined up against Jeter.  Jeter spun away from Qualls’s first pitch, but he wasn’t quite quick enough, as the pitch appeared to have ricocheted off his left hand.  I was on the phone with Alex at the time, and our conversation screeched to a halt as we both visualized a playoff run with Ramiro Peña playing shortstop.  As Jeter was tended to at the plate, we were treated to a replay of the hit by pitch — except there was no hit by pitch.  Just as Jeter had dropped his lead hand from the handle in order to spin away from contact, the ball had hit the bat and bounced harmlessly away.  The shrewd Captain somehow thought to instantly grimace and grab his arm, convincing home plate umpire Lance Barksdale that he had been hit.

As if all that weren’t good enough, the replay caught a moment that was pure Jeter.  As he was spinning and grimacing, eyes squeezed tight to shut out the pain, he opened one eye and peeked from beneath the brim of his helmet to notice that Barksdale was awarding him first base.  You know what they say about Jeter.  He’s got an edge.  (Grandpa Maddon, by the way, was too busy getting kicked out of the game to appreciate any of these theatrics.  As it turned out, the ball had dribbled into fair territory after striking the bat, and after instructing one of his players to field the ball and throw it to first, Maddon expected an out to be called.  He was disappointed and eventually removed from the game.  I’d have loved to have been down the tunnel with him to catch his reaction to what happened next.)  What happened next was that Granderson popped a home run to right, scoring Sir Derek Olivier and giving the Yanks a 3-2 lead and a view to a one-and-a-half-game lead in the division.  (When asked after the game where the pitch had gotten him, Jeter honestly replied, “In the bat.  But the umpire told me to go to first.  What am I supposed to do, say no?”  All that, and honest too?)

You’ll find the bottom of the seventh cross-listed under J for Johnson and K for karma.  Hughes was still cruising, having retired six of seven hitters since the Johnson home run in the fifth, before yielding a two-out single to Matt Joyce.  That Man Johnson came up again and caught a 2-1 fastball that drifted a bit and yanked it out to put his club in front for good.  Sure, the Yanks would mount a decent rally in the eighth, and even manage to get A-Rod up in the ninth as the potential go-ahead run, but Rafael Soriano took care of things nicely and the game was over.  Rays 4, Yankees 3.

So some will have you believe that the Yankees are limping out of town a beaten bunch.  Girardi is inept, the Rays are simply too good, the Red Sox are charging, and even the Minnesota Twins are in the hunt for the best overall record.  Everything, it seems, is falling apart.

Really?  As difficult as this series was, don’t forget that the Yankees played these games without Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner and used the second game — the only game they won — to give Ivan Nova his fifth career major league start.  Even so, the Yankees could easily have swept this series given a little luck.  The fact that the Rays could also have swept tells us not that the Rays are going in the opposite direction but that these are the two best teams in the game.

This glass is half full.  Relax and have a drink.

Categories:  Bronx Banter  Game Recap  Yankees

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1 RIYank   ~  Sep 16, 2010 7:27 am

Very nice, Hank.
Last night I would have growled and probably emptied the glass over your head. This morning, I have to agree with you.

By the way: if A-Rod pulled the trick that Jeter did, this morning's papers would be full of quotes from nobodies insisting that "you just don't do that", it's one of the "unwritten rules", etc.

2 ms october   ~  Sep 16, 2010 7:52 am

good stuff hank.
i agree too. the yankees were right there this series with 2/3 of the outfield being putrid.
hughes did look more like beginning of the season hughes - if he can build on this start that will be huge.
i also keep holding out hope that jeter is putting something together when he puts together a few good swings, so i also have some water in that glass.

3 williamnyy23   ~  Sep 16, 2010 8:23 am

You can spin the state of the Yankees just about anyway you want, but the fact remains that losing two winnable games has put this team at a disadvantage when you consider each team's relative schedule. I am probably in the minority on this one, but in addition to believing that it sets the team up better in the post season, I also see inherent value in winning the division. To me, it is a significant accomplishment. As someone who lives and dies with the team over 162 games, the division title is a reward for that dedication. The idea that it really isn’t important in the grand scheme of things really bothers me. If true, it makes me wonder, why am I paying so much attention to these games? That’s the way the Yankees have made me feel this week.

4 The Hawk   ~  Sep 16, 2010 9:14 am

Definitively, that glass is half empty. When the page loaded, the image for a moment was just the top half. So, the internet and/or my computer have solved this question for everyone.

5 Alex Belth   ~  Sep 16, 2010 9:15 am

1) Yeah, I wonder if Jason Turbow, the author of The Baseball Codes will have a post about Jeter's ethics today.

6 Alex Belth   ~  Sep 16, 2010 9:17 am

Glass is half full, half full!

7 The Hawk   ~  Sep 16, 2010 9:17 am

[1] For once, a legitimate if-A Rod-did-what-Jeter-did-or-vice-versa observation

8 Chyll Will   ~  Sep 16, 2010 9:20 am

All I wanna know is where's the chocolate milk???

9 RIYank   ~  Sep 16, 2010 9:22 am

[5] Wow, I had never seen that site before. He's kind of nuts, but in a way I admire Turbow.

I agree, William, that there is inherent value in winning the Division. But the postseason matters more.

The reason I agree with Hank is that although the result isn't good, the signs in last night's game were pretty good -- at least not bad. Hughes made a couple of mistakes, but on the whole his pitching was excellent. And the Yankees failed to cash in boatloads of opportunities, which is a frustrating result but it does mean they're doing very well at creating those opportunities, and they're very likely to cash in their share down the stretch.

A week ago, we were probably most worried about (a) starting pitching, and (b) Jeter's hitting. Both of those elements of the Yanks' game are looking up. Maybe not brilliant, but definitely better than a week ago.

10 The Hawk   ~  Sep 16, 2010 9:43 am

I also wonder if Jeter would have pulled that stunt if he was hitting .300+

11 rbj   ~  Sep 16, 2010 9:48 am

Your job, especially leading off an inning, is to get on base. Yankee haters are just going to use this as an excuse to bash Jeter. But get on base and worry about the baseball gods later (who did take care of business, sad to say.)

As for the picture, I can only say "where the hell is the bourbon."

12 williamnyy23   ~  Sep 16, 2010 9:56 am

The only thing that makes the Jeter incident "special" is how well he acted, how obvious it was that it hit the bat and his priceless expression.

Otherwise, it is no different from countless other acts in baseball, like framing pitching, dekeing runners, selling traps, etc.

13 Diane Firstman   ~  Sep 16, 2010 10:05 am

After getting "hit" ... Jeter should have charged the mound ... and then just walked on it on his way to first.

14 boslaw   ~  Sep 16, 2010 11:07 am

I was watching the Ray's feed via the cable baseball package last night. The Rays announcers called the bat as soon as it happened, and then replayed it over and over. They zoomed in on Maddon during the argument, and Maddon kept saying to the up "how is it possible for the ball to do that if it hit his hand?!" The Rays announcers also kept harping on the sound the ball made when it hit the bat ("if it made that sound by hitting his hand, he'd have a broken hand!")

I was actually kind of disappointed in Jeter's theatrics. He did sell it - I doubt the umps would have quickly called hit batsman if Jeter hadn't started acting immediately. It's the one aspect of pro soccer that I hate - all that play acting and falling. I agree that if ARod had done the same, he would have been plastered all over the newspapers, and not in a good way. If the umps call it that way, then fine, but don't play act to sell it.

15 Mattpat11   ~  Sep 16, 2010 11:14 am

I saw a bunch of old men that are either hurt or declining, a team without anything resembling a number two starter (Phil Hughes blew it. Again.) and a manager without a clue.

Eye of the beholder I suppose.

16 Bama Yankee   ~  Sep 16, 2010 11:27 am

I loved the Jeter "stunt". Jeter is an honest guy (as evidenced by his post game comment), but he didn't think twice about trying to "sell" the fact that he was hit by a pitch that totally missed him. It's part of the game (as william mentions in [12]) and therefore, I never understood why people gave Arod a hard time for his attempts to do the same thing (vs Boston on the "slappy" play and vs. Toronto on the "HA" play).

This same mindset of "trying to get away with something" or "only out if the ump calls you out" is also why I never really worried that much about the PED issue. I'm not saying what Jeter did last night is the same as what Bonds (and others) have done with PED use, but I am saying I understand the mentality that could "justify" the use of PED's...or "greenies"...or pine tar on a pitcher's hand...or cork in a bat...or anything else that might give you and your team and "edge" (and I'm not talking about the Ford vehicle. lol).

Again, don't get me wrong, faking a HBP is not the same as taking a PED (and I'm not trying to defend those who used PED's, just trying to understand them). But, at the same time, Andy Pettitte's use of PED's is not the same as Barry Bonds'...but he gets thrown into the same category. Taking a "greenie" to gain an advantage is apparently not the same as taking other things to gain an advantage. Faking a HBP to get on base is apparently not as "bush league" as slapping the ball out of someone's glove to get on first.

So, I guess baseball has its share of "gray" areas (unlike golf which seems more "black and white" when it comes to rules...players even disqualify themselves) when it comes to "gaining an advantage" and since a book of "unwritten" rules is hard for a player to study, it is not surprising that some have ended up crossing over a "line" that has long ago been kicked away like the back line of the batter's box.

17 williamnyy23   ~  Sep 16, 2010 12:37 pm

[14] [16] I didn't have a problem with what Arod, but it should be noted that distracting a fielder is actually against the rules, so there is a distinction. It's one thing to try and get away with an infraction and another to simply sell a favorable call.

18 mhoward120   ~  Sep 16, 2010 1:17 pm

I think Kearns struck out three more times since the game ended last night.

19 Bama Yankee   ~  Sep 16, 2010 1:47 pm

[17] I agree with you on the distinction, but there are other things that are "against the rules" but players do all the time (standing out of the batter's box, deceiving the runner, blocking the plate without the ball, doctoring the ball or adding a foreign substance to get a better grip in bad weather). Either way, the point is the same...players do LOTS of things to try to gain an advantage. Some violate the written rules of baseball other violate the unwritten rules...others don't violate any rules (such as the Jeter play), but would certainly violate a "code of ethics" that some people might ascribe to (was Jeter being 100% honest when he grabbed his arm to sell the call?).
My main point was that, even though I don't agree with the PED use, I understand how some players might have fallen into the trap that "gaining an advantage" is part of the game...or maybe they said "it's only cheating if you get caught"...or "it's not even against the rules". So, while I don't agree with their decision to use the stuff, I understand their mindset.

20 williamnyy23   ~  Sep 16, 2010 2:37 pm

[19] Agree...especially when you consider that tacit approval that seems to have existed.

21 Shaun P.   ~  Sep 16, 2010 5:31 pm

Half full, for sure, but my first response was, "I see a red bird looking at me. Red bird, red bird, what do you see?"

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver