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Russell Martin, Carlos Pena

Russell Martin absorbed heavy contact and kept the Yankees ahead. (Photo Credit / Getty Images)

Former Marlins teammates AJ Burnett and Ryan Dempster squared off in the middle game of the marquee interleague series of the weekend, at Wrigley Field. There was potential for a pitchers’ duel, if the “Good AJ” showed up, and if Dempster maintained the good control he’s shown at home thus far (almost a 4-to-1 K/BB ratio in 52 1/3 innings pitched at Wrigley this season).

That wasn’t to be, though. The game was tight and low-scoring, but more because both teams missed opportunities, rather than Burnett and Dempster dominating. Both pitchers followed the “bend but don’t break” M.O. Burnett allowed two runs, struck out eight and walked three in 5 1/3 innings pitched, while Dempster allowed only three runs while walking a season-high six batters, and struck out six.

The Yankees had their chances. They had base runners every inning, but were only able to push runners across in the third and sixth innings. In the third, Curtis Granderson led off with a single — doesn’t it seem like when the Yankees score, he’s in the middle of the rally? — and later scored on Robinson Canó’s double. Nick Swisher followed with a sacrifice fly to bring in Alex Rodriguez, who singled and advanced to third on the Canó double.

The Cubs tied the game in the fourth, making Burnett pay for issuing a leadoff walk to Blake DeWitt. Two batters later, Carlos Peña hit a laser into the right-field seats.

Sometimes, the most important moment in a game isn’t a timely hit, it’s a baserunning mistake. Following a one-out walk to Kosuke Fukudome, Starlin Castro lined a single to center. On that hit, Fukudome was running on the pitch but did not advance to third. On the FOX broadcast, Tim McCarver said there was “no excuse for Fukudome to not be on third base with one out, or at least get thrown out trying.” The next batter, DeWitt, who figured in the Cubs’ first rally, bounced into a 4-6-3, inning-ending double play.

Eduardo Nuñez carried the positive vibes from the solid turn of the double play into the top of the sixth, lining a single up the middle on an 0-2 count and later scoring on a Granderson sac fly to give the Yankees the lead. (The Granderson RBI was off lefty James Russell. Granderson, versus lefties this season: .277/.341/.651, 20 RBI.) In the ninth, Nuñez drove in what would be the go-ahead run with a double.

Mariano Rivera made things interesting, yielding a leadoff home run to Reed Johnson and a single to Alfonso Soriano. But he needed just four more pitches to record three outs, inducing Geovany Soto to ground into a double play and striking out Jeff Baker.

That would be the high-level overview of the game. Two plays in particular preserved this victory for the Yankees: the first was the double play that ended the fifth. The second came in the sixth inning. Canó missed an easy catch on a force attempt that turned a potential first-and-third, two-out situation into a bases-loaded, one-out scenario. On a full count, Soto lined to left. Brett Gardner made up for his base running gaffe in the top of the sixth by making a nice catch on the liner and firing a one-hop strike to home. A huge collision ensued between Peña and catcher Russell Martin. Martin hung onto the ball, showed it to both Peña and home plate umpire Sam Holbrook.

Sometimes over the course of a season, winning teams win games despite an odd boxscore. Saturday, the Yankees walked 10 times and only scored four runs. They got 11 hits and went 4-for-13 with runners in scoring position yet left 13 men stranded. They committed two errors and ran themselves out of an inning.

Yet in the end, the formula that usually leads to a victory — timely hitting, a few key defensive plays, above average starting pitching and a capable bullpen effort — put a W up for the Yankees. By all accounts, they should have beaten the Cubs about 11-3 in this game. But as the better team, being able to hang on and win the close game is encouraging and should serve them well as the season wears on.


1 cult of basebaal   ~  Jun 19, 2011 1:13 am

Seriously, they should show video of the Gardner throw to every Yankees minor leaguer, "Clockwork Orange" style.

Over and over and over, until it burns into their sub-conscious.

It's not about your arm and how "AWESOME" you think it is, it's about making an accurate throw to the intended base.

Gardner doesn't have a GREAT arm, but he always tries for ACCURACY, and an ACCURATE throw is FAR MORE effective than the HARDEST throw, 9 times out of 10.

2 Mr OK Jazz Tokyo   ~  Jun 19, 2011 6:40 am

[1] I'm going to look for that as I turn on the replay! But Gardner needs some Ludovico technique regarding his base"running", no?

3 OldYanksFan   ~  Jun 19, 2011 7:57 am

I'm beginning to really love Gritner. No, he's not a great player. Yes, he is flawed, even when trying to use his greatest weapon... speed. But still, his great defense, accurate throws and long, patient ABs are worth admiring.

I can't help but think of Melky when thinking of Gritner. Two years ago, I think 9 out of 10 would say Melky has more potential. But Melky was undisiplined and sometimes plain dumb. While Gardner is smart and tries to make the best use of his talents, Melky seemed to always just 'wing it', from headfirst slides into 1st base, to just throwing the ball as hard as he could.

And this has some similarities to Nunez V. Jeter. Jeter is very smart and focused, where Nunez seems to be just winging it.... especially when he is throwing. Like Melky, I don't think Nunez will ever be a great player, but the guy can hit, has some pop, and has a very strong arm. His real issues are lack of maturity, focus and smarts.

There is a lot of Nunez hate here, and it's certainly warrented at times. But Man... wasn't it nice watching a SS drive a ball into the gap last night? I still hold out hope that, unlike Melky, Nunez realizes he is PLAYING ON THE FUCKING NEW YORK YANKEES!!!!!!!!!!!! and rededicates himself to being a smarter player.

And Man... I hate these runnung blocks runners put on the Catcher on plays at the plate. I understand the nature of the play might call for contact, but why is a player allowed to use his upper body??? A hard slide is one thing, but this ain't football I fucking HATE IT! There must be some way to make plays at the plate look like baseball, instead of Hockey of Football.

4 monkeypants   ~  Jun 19, 2011 8:42 am

[3] I don't think Nunez will ever be a great player, but the guy can hit, has some pop, and has a very strong arm.

What in Nuñez's MiL or ML trackrecord suggests he can hit?

BTW, I agree entirely about the crash-into-the-cather play. And last night was especially egregious. Peña was out by twenty feet. martin was standing there waiting for him. This was not a bang-bang play. Moreover, Peña clearly made no mov for the plate. He simply amed for Martin Nd tried to dislodge the ball. How can it be legal for a a baserunner to crunch into a fielder who is standing here waiting with the ball already secured? Why does MLB allow this to continue, especially with their sudden deep concern for playwr safety vis-a-vis concussions? Why do fans like this play?

5 Mr OK Jazz Tokyo   ~  Jun 19, 2011 9:07 am

[1] What a great throw! (But, um..who was that pitching in a tight spot again? Is my JoSoMo t-shirt already obsolete?)

And watching a game at Wrigley, even on tv, is great, just a beautiful park and sadly seems the complete opposite of NYS..

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