Mariano Rivera entered a tie game in the ninth and fell behind the first four batters he faced. Alberto Callaspo started 2-0 and ended up with jam-shot liner into shallow right. Erick Aybar bunted a 1-0 pitch and Rivera made a beautiful spin and throw to nail Callaspo at second. Howie Kendrick started 1-0, but then fell behind as Aybar swiped second. Kendrick grounded out. Rivera was almost out of trouble, but he fell behind 2-0 to Bobby Abreu and evenutally sat a 3-1 pitch towards the middle of the plate. Abreu smacked it over the right field fence for a two-run homer.
If you look at Gameday, almost every one of Mariano’s pitches nipped the corner of the zone. But the ump wasn’t giving him the edges. Close calls, could be balls, but lately Mariano has been enjoying the “legend zone” and gets a lot of strikes even off the corners. It was the difference tonight as he finally threw a very hittable pitch and Abreu got all of it.
The Yanks went into the ninth against rookie Jordan Walden, a real flamethrower. I got a chance to see him live in Dodger Stadium where his stuff was overpowering even viewed from the upper deck. But he was all over the park. It was much the same story tonight. I don’t know if could have thrown enough strikes to get three outs on his own before walking in two runs. But Brett Gardner gave him an out swinging at ball four in the opposite batters’ box. At least he had two strikes when he swung. Curtis Granderson swung at two borderline balls while ahead in the count. Even if they were strikes, they were 98, low and away. What did expect to do with that pitch? His weak grounder was almost a double play.
Granderson wasn’t done giving outs away though. With Teixeira up representing the winning run, Granderson was caught stealing by the old fake-to-third move. He was trying to get into scoring position. But with Teixeira batting lefty, what are the chances of a single? It’s short-porch city or die trying. It was the third time Walden employed the fake-to-third move in the at-bat – I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before. Terrible end to a terrible night as the Angels won 6-4.
And look at that, Walden got just about every close call according to Gameday and a few that were really bad. With Teixeira sitting 1-1, Walden fired well outside and the ump saw it a strike. That put Teixeira down to his last strike and possibly triggered Granderson’s try for second. Mariano threw two clear balls in the inning and got the squeeze. Walden threw several pitches Nuke LaLoosh would be ashamed of and was given the black and beyond.
Before the flood in the ninth, A.J. Burnett had a start seemingly designed to enrage Yankee fans everywhere. I believe we can handle him getting ripped early. I believe we can handle him getting nicked here and there in what adds up to a bad start. But what we can’t handle is five innings of control, confidence and precision followed by a sixth of complete pus. Asking A.J. Burnett to intentionally walk someone in the midst of an inning like that is like asking a broken stock trader standing on the window ledge if he can repay the $10 you gave him for lunch yesterday.
A.J.’s collapse, Abreu’s homer and the silly ending buried the sweet Yankee rally in the seventh. Dan Haren had been cruising through the game and was two outs deep in the seventh when the Yankees put together three runs, the last two coming courtesy of a Derek Jeter single off reliever Fernando Rodney.
Haren’s line looks much the same as Burnett’s tonight, but that didn’t stop me from feeling my usual pang of regret every time I see him pitch. Of all the top pitchers the Yanks have been linked to lately, I thought his reported price tag was the most reasonable. I would have been thrilled to make that deal at the time, and knowing now that the Yankee organization had decided Joba was a middle-reliever by the end of 2009, it hurts even more.
The Yankees were in first place days ago, and I’m already back to checking the Wild Card standings. Thanks to tonight’s victory, the Angels are now only six games behind. If the Yanks can bounce back and take the series, or even just a game, it won’t be so bad. But if they get swept, I’m going to write some poorly reasoned shit on Thursday.