If you weren’t able to stay up late with Yankees on Friday night, you missed a comfortably boring Yankee win. Years ago major league teams would fill up their off days by hopping on the team bus and driving to play an exhibition with their AAA affiliates. (Imagine what Josh Beckett and today’s union would have to say about that!) It would keep the major leaguers sharp, give bench players an opportunity to play a full nine, give the minor league players a taste of the Show, and give a nice boost to the triple A team’s cash box.
That’s what it felt like Friday night in Oakland. (Heck, the YES Network even sent out their minor league broadcasting team, Ken Singleton and Bob Lorenz; Lorenz kept confusing Jemile Weeks and Cliff Pennington, two players who, um, don’t look anything alike. Singleton finally corrected him the last time he did it.)
There is no truth to the rumor that the Oakland franchise has petitioned the league to change its official nickname from the Athletics to the Anemics; that’s just the way they’ve been hitting. A quick scan of their starting nine reveals batting averages that look like this: 200, 167, 272, 226, 250, 147, 210, 217, and 215. Forty-six games into the season they’re still hitting just .210 as a team, easily the worst mark in baseball. (Immediately above them is the Pittsburgh Pirates at .217, the Yankees are hitting .265, and the Texas Rangers set the pace at .288. No one on the Oakland roster is hitting .288.)*
So Yankee starter Ivan Nova could be excused for drooling like Wile E. Coyote as he took the mound against this Mollycoddlers Row. Nova cruised through the first three innings, notching four groundouts and two strikeouts while yielding just a hit and a walk. Sure, he would give up a solo home run in the fourth inning to Josh Reddick, the only bat of substance in this sea of mediocrity, but that was more a mental mistake than a physical one; I can’t imagine why Reddick ever gets anything to hit.
Meanwhile, the Yankee hitters weren’t trouncing A’s starter Tyson Ross, but they were pushing him around a bit, kind of like a cat with an injured mouse or when Ali kept Floyd Patterson standing long enough to punish and humiliate him. Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodríguez singled in the first, but were stranded. Nick Swisher doubled in the second, but was stranded. Looking at the box score it looks like this was just more Yankee ineptitude with runners in scoring position, but somehow it felt different watching the game. Ross was a man racing down a dark alley, struggling to keep ahead of the Score Truck at his heels. He wouldn’t last long.
It started in the third, thanks to center fielder Coco Crisp, who is decidedly less cocky and irritating in that Oakland uniform. Two batters after a Granderson single, Robinson Canó ripped a bullet to right center. Crisp raced to his left and had the ball in his sites, but then appeared to actually overrun the ball, and it skipped off the thumb of his glove and bounced to the wall. Granderson scored easily and Canó coasted into second. A few pitches later Mark Teixeira — who may actually be alive — lurched at a pitch and jerked it over the scoreboard in right for a two-run homer and a 3-0 Yankee lead.
In the fourth it might have looked like the Yankees squandered another opportunity to put the game on ice, but I’d argue the game was already on ice. This was just gamesmanship designed to keep the home fans in their seats. Playing in his old park for the first time (the park where he was projected as a Hall of Famer, by the way), Eric Chávez drew a quick walk, then advanced to third on Russell Martin’s double. With no one out and Derek Jeter, Granderson, and Rodríguez due up, it looked like things were about to get ugly. They kinda did. Jeter looped a harmless foul ball to first for out number one (Jeter would go 0 for 5 on the night and see his average plummet to .339, his lowest mark since April 8th), then Granderson walked to load the bases with one out. A-Rod promptly grounded into a double play to end the inning.
You were asleep at this point, so this won’t make sense to you — but somehow it didn’t matter that the Yankees had failed to break the game open. Somehow, at 3-0 in the fourth, it already felt broken open. Like a piñata, only the Yankees were the big kids on the side of the party who were too cool to rush in and grab the candy.
Reddick’s home run in the bottom half would cut the Yankee lead to 3-1, but it felt more like when you were playing your little brother in ping pong and you let him get a couple points so he wouldn’t cry in the end.**
Canó led off the fifth by putting an absolutely beautiful swing on the second pitch he saw. The ball was headed for dead center field, so it looked a bit strange when Canó confidently swung his bat down to the ground as he does when he knows he’s blistered one into the seats. Center field in Oakland, after all, is quite a long ways away. But Canó’s blast cleared the wall with ease, and the lead was 4-1. Teixeira came up next and blooped a hit down the line in left. When it bounded past a diving Seth Smith, Teixeira lumbered into second for a double, but then forgot two things: one, he’s the slowest man in America; and two, there were no outs. He kept lumbering for third, but was thrown out easily. Raúl Ibáñez came up next and rifled a double of his own over Crisp; Swisher then flicked an opposite field homer to left. Four batters had come up in the inning, and the results had been homer, double, double, homer. As Swisher joyfully circled the bases, I had an image of Ali mercilessly jabbing Patterson over and over, punctuating each jab with a taunt: “What’s my name?” Jab. “What’s my name?” Jab. “What’s my name?” Tyson Ross was done for the night.
The A’s pieced together another run in the bottom of the fifth. After opening the frame with a single from Josh Donaldson and a double from Daric Barton, Oakland got a deep sacrifice fly off the bat of Kurt Suzuki to cut the lead to 6-2. Nova would escape without further damage, but he still appeared to vomit into his glove as he walked off the mound. A solo home run from the best name in baseball, Kila Ka’aihue, accounted for the final score: Yankees 6, Lollipop Guild 3.
Nova pitched well enough to win, and the bullpen was as effective as usual. Rafael Soriano picked up the save, but he floated a curve ball with two outs and gave up a booming double to Donaldson, meaning Soriano still hasn’t recorded a 1-2-3 inning this season. No pitcher in baseball with as many innings pitched as Soriano has failed to set the side down in order at least once.
It’s been fun picking on the Athletics here, and I’m sure the Yankees will have more fun on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, but here’s a quick splash of cold water: Only two and a half games separate these two teams in the standings. Doh.
* Even though it’s irrelevant to this game, I can’t resist sharing another interesting stat that jumped out at me as I was scanning those team numbers. Josh Hamilton (19) has more home runs than the San Diego Padres (18). That’s a race worth watching.
** Okay, I’ve just reread this post, and I’m not sure I could’ve squeezed in more metaphors and similes if I had tried. I admit it, I’m an English teacher.
[Photo Credit: Ben Margot/AP Photo]