It wasn’t the resounding breakout game most Yankees’ fans have been desperately anticipating, but on the strength of three runs, and Alex Rodriguez’ game ending throw, the Bronx Bombers finally managed to squeak out a much needed victory.
May has mostly been a gloomy month for the Yankees, but one bright spot has been the baby steps taken by Phil Hughes. In tonight’s game, the right hander broke out of the gate strong, but then fell victim to two old bugaboos. In the top of the third, Hughes left an 0-2 pitch over the plate to Humberto Quintero, who promptly lined an RBI double into the right field corner. Entering the game, Hughes had allowed opposing hitters to bat an astounding .293/.341/.537 (or 191% better than the league average) when ahead in the count 0-2, so Quintero’s run scoring hit was only the latest in a season’s worth of frustration born of poor location.
The Royals added to their lead in the fourth inning when Jeff Francoeur drove a 2-0 fastball into the left field seats. The long ball has been a season-long tormenter of the Yankees’ starting rotation, but no one has been more vulnerable than Hughes, who has been victimized at least once in each of his starts. In 47 1/3 innings, Hughes has now allowed 11 home runs, giving him the third highest rate per nine innings among all qualified major league starters.
The negatives aside, Hughes did manage to hold the Royals to only two runs over six innings, which was important because the offense wasn’t quite ready to bust out. The Yankees finally got on the board when Robinson Cano launched a long home run in the fourth inning, but the winning rally was much more subdued. In the bottom of the fifth, the Yankees loaded the bases on a seeing-eye grounder, hit by pitch, and bunt single, setting the stage for another golden scoring opportunity. With the memory of last night’s failure with bases loaded still fresh in everyone’s mind, Derek Jeter fell behind in the count, but finally produced a run with a single that was flared into right. Would this be the hit that would jump start the Yankees’ struggling offense and put an end to their futility with runners in scoring position? Unfortunately, the answer was no. After Curtis Granderson’s ground out produced another run, Alex Rodriguez and Raul Ibanez each went down swinging to end the rally.
Although the Yankees may not have exited the inning with good feelings, they did come away with the lead. Keeping it, however, wouldn’t be easy. Over the final three innings, Joe Girardi used five different relievers to record the last nine outs (such is life without Mariano), but his master plan almost hit a snag in the bottom of the ninth inning. With two outs, Alex Gordon, who had doubled, was at third when Alcides Escobar hit a grounder that Rodriguez fielded deep behind the bag. Arod’s only play was to desperately put his entire body into the throw, which hurtled across the diamond as Escobar raced down the line. The ball finally nestled into Mark Teixeira’s outstretched glove just ahead of the base runner, giving the Yankees a victory by the narrowest of margins, and, perhaps, a one-day reprieve from having to answer questions about not getting the big hit.