There aren’t too many games you can point to as “must wins,” especially in the closing days of May, especially when the team is in the middle of a west coast road trip, especially when the team is also riding a five-game winning streak. I’m not ready to say this game on Memorial Day night in Anaheim was a must-win, but it was certainly a game that should’ve been a victory.
Even though Phil Hughes had looked much better recently, the match-up didn’t look good on paper, as the Angels were sending their ace Jered Weaver out to start the series. Aside from Justin Verlander, Weaver has probably been the best pitcher in the American League for the past few years, and except for a bad start in Texas, Weaver has been dominant again this year. This was a game that looked like a Yankee loss before the first pitch was even thrown.
When the second pitch was thrown, however, Derek Jeter smoked a line drive into left field; five pitches later Curtis Granderson waited on a breaking ball and grounded it through the hole between short and third, and the Yankees suddenly had runners on first and second with no one out. Alex Rodríguez came up next and hit a hard grounder just to the right of shortstop Erick Aybar. It looked like a certain double play, but the ball skipped off of Aybar’s glove and somehow bounded over his shoulder into short center field, allowing Jeter to score easily and put runners on first and third.
Working to Robinson Canó, Weaver got a called strike to even the count at 1-1, but immediately started limping on his follow through, triggering a wave of discomfort in the stands and bringing Mike Scioscia and his support staff to the mound. Pitchers scare their managers all the time by catching a spike during a windup and coming up temporarily lame. They look into the dugout and say they’re fine, but the trainer still comes out to watch them throw a test pitch or two, but everything’s fine. Almost immediately it was clear that that wasn’t going to happen this time. Weaver slowly walked to the back of the mound, and when the cameras caught a glimpse of his face, it wasn’t pain that registered, but the frustration of an athlete whose body had betrayed him. Weaver knew this was serious even before he took his practice pitch and wasn’t able to complete it.
He walked off the mound, clenched his fist, and screamed “Fuuuuck!” at the top of his lungs, loud enough to be picked up by the crowd mikes and every ten-year-old in the lower tier. In case any of those ten-year-olds had missed it, he repeated himself just as he stepped into foul territory. Later the Angels would report he was suffering from a lower back injury.
It’s probably not appropriate to take pleasure in an opponent’s injury, but it’s perfectly fine to joyfully accept the opportunity that injury presents. The Yankees already had a 1-0 lead, there were runners at the corners with no outs, and the Angels were going to have to get 27 outs with their bullpen. Things looked good, about as good as they can look.
Bobby Cassevah came in for the Angels and struck out Canó, but then walked Mark Teixeira to load the bases, bringing up Raúl Ibáñez, who lofted a sacrifice fly to left field, scoring Granderson. Nick Swisher came up next and squirted a dribbler to the third base side of the mound. Cassevah fielded it in plenty of time, but rushed his throw, bouncing it past Albert Pújols for an error that allowed A-Rod to score the third unearned run of the inning. Scioscia decided to walk Eric Chávez intentionally, probably because his scouts had told him that the Yankees refuse to hit with the bases loaded. Russell Martin validated that decision by flying out to center field.
Handed this 3-0 lead and free of the pressure of facing an ace, Phil Hughes promptly gave everything back. It was the same infuriating rally the Angels have been cobbling together for years: Mike Trout two-strike single; Macier Izturis fly out, Pújols single, Kendry Morales two-strike RBI single, Mark Trumbo two-strike RBI ground-rule double, Howie “Yankee Killer” Kendrick RBI single.
It was finally over two batters later, but the Angels had sent eight men to the plate, scored four runs, and gotten right back into a game that should’ve been over.
Granderson homered to right in the top of the second to tie the game at four, but the Angels struck again in the fourth. Trumbo launched a towering fly ball to the gap in right center, but both Granderson and Swisher looked as if they had a shot at it. Just as the ball settled into Swisher’s glove, however, Granderson settled into Swisher’s chest. Both men fell in a heap on the warning track, the ball bounced free, and Trumbo ran like the wind. Well, Trumbo ran like a gentle breeze. He ended up on third with a triple. Kendrick took the first pitch he saw and floated it deep enough to right for Trumbo to score on the sacrifice fly. Angels 5, Yankees 4.
Hughes was clearly struggling, but not because of his control. His pitches were finding the strike zone (66 of 87, and through the first three innings that ratio was even higher), but he had no command. Pitches meant for the corners floated out over the plate and were hit hard. Seven times he put hitters into an 0-2 hole, but only once was he able to finish off that crippled hitter with a strikeout.
Hughes was touched again in the fourth, this time when Angel rookie Mike Trout hit a rocket over the wall in left center. There’s been some lamenting lately about the lack of exciting players on the Yankee roster, and some have suggested that Jesus Montero, a home-grown talent with All-Star potential, would’ve provided that. Montero was a player fans had been waiting for patiently, reading reports of his progress through the minors before his successful arrival in the Bronx last September. Trout followed that same flight path and created that same excitement, but he wasn’t traded. Forgive me if I’m bitter.
The suddenly resurgent Teixeira, hitting right-handed now against the left-handed Hisanori Takahashi, homered in the top of the fifth to cut the lead to 6-5. Over the past four games, Tex is 10 for 16 with three doubles, four home runs, and nine RBIs. There is hope.
Hughes made it into the sixth, but he wouldn’t make it out. It was all fairly innocent, which is typical of the Angels. The speedy Peter Bourjos reached on a perfectly placed dribbler to Hughes and was then sacrificed to second. Cody Eppley replaced Hughes, and Izturis hit a grounder up the middle; Canó was able to field it, but he couldn’t get the out. After Pújols walked to load the bases, David Phelps came in to face Morales, and his first pitch was hammered to the wall in left center, scoring two and giving the Halos an 8-6 lead.
Just as Yankee fans were starting to think dark thoughts about their heroes, the Bombers put together a rally in the top of the seventh. Canó hit a laser over Bourjos’s head in center field for a double, and Teixeira followed that with a walk, prompting Scioscia to bring in his fifth pitcher of the night, Jason Isringhausen. (I know what you’re thinking — it must’ve been Jason Isringhausen, Jr. No, it was really that Jason Isringhausen.) Ibáñez greeted him with a rifle shot to right field that looked like a run-scoring double. But Trumbo got a good jump on the ball, good enough that the runners had to be cautious. The ball ended up tipping off his glove, but Canó was fooled. Thinking Trumbo had actually caught the ball, he raced back to second to tag up, so he was only able to get to third.
Still, the bases were loaded with no outs. Swisher came to the plate with an opportunity to do some serious damage, but all he could muster was a sacrifice fly. One out later, though, Russell Martin laced a line drive down the left field line to score two and even the game at eight.
The Yankees would threaten again in the ninth, but again they’d be thwarted by bad luck and bad hitting with the bases loaded. Teixeira opened the inning with a single, then moved to second when Chávez walked two outs later. Martin punched a ground ball up the middle, and again it looked like the Yankees would surely score as the ball seemed ticketed for center field. But Izturis was able to keep it in the infield. He wasn’t able to make an out, but he saved a run. Jeter came up with the bases loaded and bounced the first pitch he saw to Pújols, who flipped to second for the out.
The Yankees had four at bats with the bases loaded and finished 0 for 2 with two sacrifice flies, but there wasn’t much time to dwell on that. Cory Wade came in to pitch the bottom of the ninth and Trumbo made his third pitch disappear into the night. Fuckin’ Angels.
[Photo Credit: Jeff Gross/Getty Images]