Some games bother me more than others. This one bothered me a lot. It all started well, with Bartolo Colón dispelling fears of his demise with the type of outing we had become accustomed to during the first few months of the season. Once again featuring fastballs, fastballs, and more fastballs, Colón demonstrated how a 92-MPH pitch on the corner can be much more effective than a 96-MPH heater down the middle. He struck out at least one batter in each frame and pitched into the seventh inning with his only trouble coming in the fifth when he yielded a booming triple to Sam Fuld (from… Stanford University!) and an RBI single to Reid Brignac. He would finish with an impressive line: 6.1 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 9 K.
Colón’s opponent on this day was young Jeremy Hellickson. According to everything I’ve heard about Hellickson, he’s one of the best young pitchers in baseball, and he did nothing on Tuesday to make me think otherwise. Like Colón, Hellickson was dominant all night long, and like Colón, he had only one troublesome inning. His was the third, when Mark Teixeira laced a two-out double down the line in right, and Robinson Canó followed with an extra large home run just to the left of center field.
Through the middle innings, as Colón was rocking back and firing darts to one corner of the plate or the other, the game seemed to be unfolding perfectly. In the sixth my youngest daughter looked up from her Polly Pockets, noticed the score (“We’re winning, Daddy!”) and innocently asked me which team I thought would win. Was there any doubt? Colón would finish the seventh, David Robertson would take the eighth, and He Who Need Not Be Named would close the windows and lock the doors in the ninth.
But then things got crazy. If you didn’t watch the game, you might have scanned the play-by-play and figured that Joe Girardi waited too long to pull the trigger and pull Colón, and then foolishly chose Boone Logan to replace him. That’s not the way it happened.
Let me tell you the story of the most ridiculous inning of baseball I’ve ever seen. First, B.J. Upton struck out. That’s not ridiculous, that’s just what B.J. Upton does. Next Robinson Chirinos pulled a grounder deep into the hole at short and beat Derek Jeter’s jump throw by an eyelash. When Sean Rodríguez rifled a single to right, Girardi went to Logan.
The next line on the play-by-play says “J Ruggiano singled to center, R Chirinos to third, S Rodríguez to second.” In your head that probably paints an image of a line drive hit directly to Curtis Granderson with such pace that Chirinos had no choice but to stay at third. Not so. Justin Ruggiano (pinch hitting for Fuld) lofted a lazy fly to straightaway center field, and as Granderson moved a few steps towards the ball it looked like Logan was an out away from squelching the rally. But then Granderson’s arms suddenly flew out from his sides in the universal gesture for “I can’t believe we’re playing baseball in this ridiculous stadium.” A second later the ball fell at his feet and the bases were loaded.
Rays skipper Joe Maddon smelled blood in the water, so he immediately played his ace in the hole, the fearsome Elliot Johnson. Johnson pounded a simple one-hopper back to Logan, a picture-perfect double play ball that would end the inning, preserve the lead, and usher in Robertson and the Great One. But the ball skipped off the top of Logan’s glove for an error, Chirinos scored, and the game was tied at two.
According to the play-by-play, Johnny Damon came up next and hit a sacrifice fly to center. You might picture a blast to the warning track, but that’s not quite what happened. Logan jammed Damon on an 0-1 pitch, breaking his bat. The ball floated out towards no-man’s land behind second base, but Granderson was able to race in to make a sliding catch not more than ten or twenty yards behind the bag. Since he had to leave his feet, though, Rodríguez was able to tag up and score from third and the Rays were up to stay. Final score: Rays 3, Yankees 2.
Oh, one other note for those clamoring for the return of Ivan Nova: we probably won’t see him for a while. He left his start in Scranton on Tuesday night with an ankle issue.
But don’t worry. Everything will be okay. I promise.
[Photo Credit: Mike Carlson/Associated Press]