I’ve always had this image of Yankees’ radio announcer John Sterling working on his game during the off-season. He’s sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee, a copy of the latest roster, and a shaky understanding of what listeners might find clever or cool.
“Teixeira… Teixeira… Mark Teixeira… Hmm, what about this? On your Mark, get set… Go Teixeira! No, that’s not gonna work. C’mon, big John! Wait — I got it! You’re on the Mark, Teixeira! That’s gold, baby, gold!”
Some of Sterling’s catch phrases are simply awful, but others are, admittedly, a bit catchy. I’ve always liked the line he usually drops when Curtis Granderson goes deep. “Who can do it? The Grandyman can!” Sure, it’s easy, but I like it.
It’s my guess that Sterling never thought he’d have to go to the well three times in one game for Granderson, so I’ll forgive him his regrettable call of Grandy’s third home run on Thursday night. (Yes, you read that correctly, the Grandyman went deep three times, and I have to believe Sterling is still kicking himself for not coming up with this line instead: “Curtis, you’re once, twice, three tiiiiiimes a Grandy!”)
Ah, but there was a game, so we should get to that.
Aside from Granderson’s historic night, I felt like I had seen this game before. First, a Yankee regular was given half a day off at DH, and Eduardo Núñez was inserted into the lineup. I can understand the urge to rest veterans like Alex Rodríguez and Derek Jeter, but Robinson Canó?
It took only three batters for this decision to blow up. With one out and a runner on first base, Joe Mauer pounded a routine ground ball out to second. Núñez fielded the ball cleanly, but then threw the ball high and wide to first. Teixeira was able to snag the errant toss, but he was pulled away from the bag and Mauer was safe.
Phil Hughes was on the mound, and he responded by striking out Josh Willingham for the second out, then proved he’d been paying attention during the first three game of the series by walking Justin Morneau on four pitches. Hughes could’ve gotten the next batter and no one would’ve thought about Núñez’s error again, but he didn’t. Ryan Doumit singled to left to score two runs, then Danny Valencia followed with a double to score two more, and the Yankees were down 4-0.
There’s a strong temptation to point out that all four of those runs were unearned and lay all the blame at the feet of Mr. Núñez, but Hughes has to shoulder at least half of the responsibility. Games often turn on a single at bat when the pitcher either makes his pitch or doesn’t. Hughes didn’t make his pitch, but as it turned out those mistakes to Doumit and Valencia didn’t determine the game.
Granderson started the climb back with a one-out solo home run in the top of the first, and three batters later Teixeira launched a two-run shot to bring the Yanks to within 4-3. Then a funny thing happened — Hughes started making his pitches.
For a four inning stretch from the second to the fifth inning, Hughes allowed just two hits and never felt much pressure from the Twins.
Meanwhile, the Yankees kept clawing their way back. Núñez did his best to make up for his earlier error by doubling with two outs in the second, then scored when Jeter rifled a single into right field, the 3,110th base hit of Jeter’s career, tying him with his boyhood idol, Dave Winfield. Just as we were digesting this and thinking about all the Hall of Famers Jeter’s likely to pass on the hits list in the next month, Granderson struck again, belting his second homer of the game to grab a 6-4 lead. Two innings later he’d hit his third of the game, another solo shot, and the score was 7-4.
The weight of Hughes’s long first inning finally took its toll in the sixth. After wisely walking Morneau to lead off the inning, Hughes floated a change up to Doumit. Doumit rubbed his eyes in disbelief, licked his chops, and dispatched the ball deep into the night. The lead had shrunk to 7-6 and manager Joe Girardi had no choice but to lift his starter, but it didn’t matter. The bullpen was coming in, so the game was over. Boone Logan, Rafael Soriano, David Robertson, and Mariano Rivera (or, LoSo-RoMo) came in and turned out the lights: 3.2 IP, 4 H, 4 K, zero hope.
Much has been made of the ineffectiveness of the Yankee starters and their paltry total of three quality starts, but the bullpen has been the yin to that yang. If we award starting pitchers a quality start for lasting six or more innings and yielding three or fewer runs, why not give an entire bullpen a Quality Finish for an equally effective closing? (For all I know, this statistic might already exist, but please allow me to continue thinking that I made it up.)
Let’s say that a team will get a quality finish when a game is closed in one of two ways: two innings or less with no runs allowed or three or more innings with one run allowed. Using that definition the bullpen has notched ten quality finishes. The folks at Elias will have to tell you how that compares to the rest of the league. I can tell you that the bullpen ERA sits at 1.83, which is pretty good.
Before we go, here’s an interesting note about Jeter. He’s currently riding a ten-game hitting streak, the 44th double-digit streak of his career, which ties him with Al Simmons for fourth place all-time behind Tris Speaker (47), Hank Aaron (48), and Ty Cobb (66), Hall of Famers all.
A nice win for the Yanks. Here’s hoping they bottled that bit of momentum and took it with them up to Boston.
[Photo Credit: Frank Franklin II/AP Photo]