The Yankees are in the middle of a tough stretch. Bad breaks. Horrid weather. Stupid travel. And waiting for them after a long flight to the west coast, Jered Weaver and the still-kicking Angels. After wining at 2:15 am on Wednesday morning to keep a 2.5 game lead over the Red Sox, they’ve lost three in a row…and still have a 2.5 game lead over the Red Sox. So things could be a lot better, but they could also be a lot worse.
Jered Weaver’s stats sparkle. And that’s even considering he allowed six homers and 21 runs in three recent games – over a third of his season total in both categories. Before that, they were really special. It seems like he was thrown off track by some irregular rest. First he had too much, as he served a suspension and returned to a rout by the Jays. And then too little, as Mike Scioscia juggled the rotation so he could face the Rangers on short rest. He got drilled in Texas and still wasn’t sharp when he beat Minnesota.
He’s caught up on regular rest now, though, and chewed up the Yankee lineup with his sneaky fast 90 MPH heater and 12-to-6 deuce. Weaver threw eight innings of three-hit ball, striking out eleven. There weren’t many comfortable swings and few hard hit balls. Jesus Montero might have had all of them. Batting eighth, the rookie DH was able to snap the bat head out to meet a two-strike fast ball on the inside corner. Live, it looked like he was jammed. But slow motion showed him pull his hands in so he could get the barrel on the ball. He struck like lightening and sent the ball to the back of the bullpen in left. He also tagged one straight to the right fielder and made a bid for extra bases down the third base line but was foiled by Alberto Callaspo’s hockey-goalie reflexes.
Bartolo Colon was not as impressive as Jered Weaver, but he still made short work of a weak lineup. He only allowed six hits in seven innings, and two of those were bunts. Colon’s going to be in the post season rotation and a game like this show why. He went toe-to-toe with one of the best pitchers in the league, on the road, and was very good. In fact, he might he beaten Weaver if his defense didn’t let him down in the fifth.
Speedster supreme Peter Bourjos bunted for a single. Alex Rodriguez wasn’t playing too deep, broke quickly and fielded cleanly, but still didn’t even bother to make the throw. If this guy puts down a credible bunt, it’s a hit. Next, Derek Jeter botched the throw on a fairly routine play. Bourjos was in motion, forcing Jeter to go to first, but his errant heave looked amateurish at best – like he was expecting to make the play on 60 foot bases, and then looked up and realized he was playing on the big field. Colon got another grounder, but the Yankees couldn’t turn two. Howie Kendrick’s two-out single seemed inevitable.
In the bottom of the seventh, the Angels got their second bunt hit of the game. Erick Aybar showed bunt a hair early, got Arod to commit to charge from third, and then bunted hard right past him into left field. If Jeter didn’t get to the ball quickly, it would have been a bunt double. Impeccable bat control. How often do we see that play? Once a decade?
The Angels have 38 bunt hits. They are carrying the scars of one of the worst transactions in recent memory, in which they gave up Mike Napoli for the chance to play Vernon Wells and Jeff Mathis in the same lineup. Their rest of the offense is not exactly compensating for their struggles. And yet here they are, a few games out of the division lead behind everybody’s darlings, the Texas Rangers (who figured out how to put Mike Napoli in their lineup everyday). Mike Scioscia does it a different way. 38 bunt hits.
The starters gave way to the Plan A relievers. David Robertson hammered through his customary 1-2-3 inning. Jordan Walden, a stranger to the strike zone every time I’ve ever seen him throw, walked Alex Rodriguez with one out. Joe Girardi pinch ran for Arod with Eduardo Nunez. Scioscia called the pitch out when Girardi called the steal, and Mathis gunned down Nunez.
So let’s see, cleanup hitter, owner of 628 Major League home runs, taken out of a tie game. Good fielding third baseman, owner of several good plays tonight, taken out of a tie game. Pinch runner, thrown out stealing, killing the ninth inning of a tie game. New third baseman, Ramiro Pena, immediately tested in the bottom of ninth in the tie game, can’t make the play and the winning run is one base with no outs.
Joe Girardi threw a hand grenade into this game in the ninth inning. And that’s without even mentioning that he chose Aaron Laffey and Luis Ayala to pitch the ninth inning. After Callaspo singled past Pena, Scioscia called for a hit and run, and Vernon Wells singled past Pena. (I don’t know if Arod could have come any closer to making those plays. Pena was hugging the line to prevent doubles, maybe Arod would have positioned himself differently. They were both catchable for a third baseman at normal depth.)
The Angels were set up at first and third and nobody out and it was just a matter of choosing the weapon and the room of the mansion at that point. It went defensive indifference, HBP, and a sac fly by pinch hitter Macier Izturis with the bat in the library. Angels 2, Yanks 1.
Bartolo Colon pitched well and that’s good looking ahead. Jesus Montero was all over Jered Weaver, on a night when the rest of the team couldn’t sniff him. That’s great news looking ahead. Joe Girardi keeps pinch running for his best players and choosing crappy relievers over Mariano Rivera (though I don’t know who was available after the recent craziness), that sucks.