The Yankees and Orioles offered up an interesting game to fill an Easter afternoon on Sunday, but things got really interesting in the bottom of the ninth. Joba Chamberlain had stumbled a bit in the seventh, giving up a two-run home run to Mark Reynolds to narrow the Yankee lead to 3-2, but that one-run lead certainly seemed sufficient after Mariano Rivera came on with two outs in the eighth and (with help from a sparkling grab by Brett Gardner in left) doused a fire started by David Robertson.
Once Rivera got to the bottom of the ninth with that 3-2 lead, the outcome seemed certain. Even after Adam Jones worked a lead-off walk, any feelings of doubt were quickly assuaged as first Reynolds and then Matt Weiters were set down on strikes.
But then things got a bit slippery when Jake Fox singled to right, pushing the tying run into scoring position and bringing up Brian Roberts, who rocketed Mariano’s 33rd pitch of the afternoon into the right field corner, easily scoring Jones and giving pinch runner Robert Andino a better than average shot at plating the winning run. But Nick Swisher did a good job of digging the ball out and hitting the cutoff man, and Robinson Canó was able to nail Andino at home, preserving the tie and sending the game into extra innings.
Derek Jeter led off the tenth with a single, was pushed to second when Curtis Granderson walked (it was Granderson’s two-run homer in the first that had opened the scoring for the Yanks), and took third on a Mark Teixeira sac fly. When Alex Rodríguez lofted the first pitch he saw from Jeremy Accardo into medium center field, it seemed for a moment that it might be enough to get the run in, but Jones fired a bullet from center, Wieters expertly blocked Jeter off the plate, and the inning was over. (Jeter, by the way, had an eventful day, picking up four base hits (all ground balls, if your glass is half-empty), raising his average from .221 to .257 and jumping past Frank Robinson into 30th on the all-time hit list.)
Boone Logan retired the Birds quickly in the bottom of the tenth, allowing the Yanks to strike just as quickly in the top of the eleventh. Canó, the Camden Crusher, battled through a ten-pitch at bat (and a forty-five minute rain delay) before smoking a double to right to lead things off and put Baltimore in a bind. The box score then says that he stole third base, which would’ve been a ridiculously foolish thing to try, but what really happened makes much more sense. After Accardo’s second pitch to Swisher, Wieters fired a pick-off attempt down to second. Canó had strayed much too far off the bag, so he had no choice but to take off for the next base, and when Wieters’s throw pulled shortstop Andino to the first base side of second, it gave Canó just enough time to beat Andino’s eventual throw to third.
Swisher struck out for the first out, and pinch hitter Eric Chávez was intentionally walked to set up a possible double play, but then all hell broke loose for the Orioles. Andino made a diving stop of a Russell Martin ground ball, but when he fired the ball to second to start an inning-ending double play, his throw sailed into right field, allowing Canó to score as Chávez raced to third. Gardner followed with his fourth strike out of the day, probably because he’s such a HUGE fan of The Office that he actually wants to be in Scranton on Thursday night for Michael Scott’s last day on the job. It just might happen. But I digress.
Jeter was next, and he pounded a ball into the grass towards third, leaving Reynolds with one of those do-or-die plays that don’t often end well for big lumbering third basemen who strike out three hundred times a year. Reynolds reached the ball, but then fired it down the first base line, allowing Chávez to score. Granderson followed with the third infield single of the inning, scoring Martin and pushing the score to its final margin: Yankees 6, Orioles 3.
All of this drama almost overshadowed the biggest story of the game, the stellar start of Freddy García. Back when Brian Cashman was handing out minor league contracts like candy on Halloween, the names all flowed together like so many b-list baseball celebrities. Bartolo Millwood? Freddy Colón? Kevin García? I didn’t pay attention to any of it because none of it mattered.
But with Phil Hughes on the disabled list and Ivan Nova scuffling, Freddy García is suddenly an important member of the rotation, and he’s taking advantage of his new role. He dazzled for six strong innings on Sunday, limiting the O’s to only two hits and two walks while striking out seven on an assortment of breaking pitches and sneaky fastballs, the fastest of which touched 91 on the gun. His only trouble came in the second inning, but it was David Cone type trouble, in the sense that he created it himself knowing he could get out of it. After striking out Vlad Guerrero to start things off, he gave up a single to Luke Scott and walked Adam Jones. He recorded a second out, but then walked Wieters on four pitches, probably because it’s hard to hit your target when you’re staring at Cesar Izturis in the on deck circle. It didn’t matter if the bases were loaded, what mattered was that Izturis was the man García wanted to face. He threw three pitches, Izturis swung and missed three times, and the inning was over. He cruised from there, and finished by retiring his final eight batters, four of them on strikes.
It’s only been two starts, but it’s been a good two starts. Here’s the combined line: 12.0 IP/4 H/3 BB/8 K/0.00 ERA/0.58 WHIP. Sign me up for a hundred and forty innings like that.