Nothing tests a team like a one run game. The slim lead is in danger on every pitch. The fielders have to be primed on every play and there’s no tolerance for error. I happen to think that even that heightened intensity is kicked up a notch when it’s a 1-0 game. There’s just something so fine about that score. Blink and it’s gone.
Last night, Bartolo Colon authored such a game for eight innings. But even though Colon was throwing gas in the eighth and had only 87 pitches under his belt, Girardi called on Mariano Rivera to close it out and he failed. Two hard-hit, one-out singles in the ninth set up Vlad Guererro to tie the game with a fly ball.
Should Colon have gone out for the ninth? No. The pitcher who was out of baseball last year should not have been chosen to throw his ninth inning and 90th pitch in favor of the greatest relief pitcher in history. Girardi made the right decision and it blew up on him. Reminds me of 2008.
What I remember about 2008 was bad starting pitching, an offense not living up to expectations, and Rivera having great stats but really lousy timing. He only blew one save that year, but he had his worst outings in tie games and lost five of them. It seemed like whenever the team was about to start something, he’d lose one and they couldn’t gain any traction to climb out of the hole they had dug. Not that he should have been perfect, just that in 2008, they needed him to be perfect.
After Colon struck out Weiters on three pitches to start the eighth, Ken Singleton said, “He couldn’t have walked it up there any better and dropped it right into Cervelli’s glove.” His pitches were as precise as you’ll see from a starting pitcher. He threw 61 of his 87 pitches for strikes. And the 16 that missed didn’t miss by much.
For eight innings Colon mixed two types of fastballs on the edges of the zone. The four-seamer was hard and dead straight, reaching 97 mph in his last inning. He also lowered his arm angle and added side-spin to a version of the fastball which dragged it back over the outside corner to righties. They gave up on it early, and then watched helplessly as it drifted back to the black. Cervelli was at his devious best framing pitches and Colon’s absurd accuracy earned him the close calls late in the game.
The Yankee offense didn’t show and the same lame relief pitchers who gave it up to Boston a few nights ago mowed down the Yankees like grass. It would be nice if they picked up Rivera and saved the game for him like has so many times for them. But as soon as the run scored off Rivera, I felt the game would end whenever Baltimore scored next. It could go on another ten innings, the Yanks looked broken. They’re not in a place right now where they pick each other up, I thought, They’re too focused on figuring it out individually to play like a team.
Just look at the top of the thirteenth. With first and third and nobody out, Alex Rodriguez could have given the Yankees the lead back with almost any kind of contact. Instead, he’s too concerned with whatever mechanical bullshit he thinks is screwing up his swing. His lower half or whatever. Hit the ball, win the game. He overswung at a hittable pitch to start the at bat, fouling back the potential game winner, and let another hittable pitch sail past for strike three. Was it low? Maybe, but it was certainly close and I’d seen other pitches like that called all night strikes all night long. He wasn’t beat on the pitch; he just thought it was a little low, so he didn’t swing. The point is that if he dropped the bat on it, the Yankees probably would have won it right there.
They didn’t. Then again, the O’s didn’t score against Hector Noesi (making his major league debut) either. Felix Pie sent one to the wall in the bottom of the fourteenth, a scare, but it was not to be.
Cut to the fifteenth inning when the Yanks proved me wrong. Mark Teixeira led off with a single and Rodriguez fell behind 0-2 but was quick enough to turn an inside fastball into a base hit up the middle. Mike Gonzalez, the last remaining pitcher in the O’s pen, came in to face Robinson Cano and served up a fastball–straight as a string–right down the middle. Cano lined it into the right center field gap, good for a two-run triple. Gonzalez then plunked Chris Dickerson–who replaced Nick Swisher earlier–in the bill of the helmet and was immediately thrown out of the game. It didn’t seem like Gonzalez was trying to hit him, why would he? Still, it was a scary moment.
So Gonzalez was finished and Girardi lifted Dickerson, replacing him with a pinch-runner–A.J. Burnett. Jeremy Guthrie, a starter, came in for the O’s and got Brett Gardner on a line drive to right, but it was deep enough to score Cano. He retired the next two hitters but the Yanks had a three-run lead.
Jeter, the DH, came in to play short and Eduardo Nunez moved to right. Just as Michael Kay was set to wrap a bow on a Yankee victory, Nick Markakis singled, Brandon Snyder walked and Noesi looked gassed. Larry Rothschild came out to talk to the rookie while David Robertson got ready in a hurry out in the Yankee bullpen. Luke Scott slashed a line drive to left but it was right at Brett Gardner. One out. Then, a little bit of luck, as Matt Wieters hit a ground ball between first and second. It seemed destined for the outfield but took a funny hop and hit Snyder in the ankle. Two out. J.J. Hardy, the tying run, popped out to Nunez in right and the Yanks had the unlikely win.
Noesi was the hero, coming up with four big innings in relief, especially when he worked out of a bases loaded jam in the 12th.
What looked like a sour defeat turned into a sweet win.
Final Score: Yanks 4, Orioles 1.