Viciedo's ninth-inning homer cooked the Yankees (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Going into Thursday night, Ivan Nova had a 1.27 ERA in four starts in June. This is good, because Ivan Nova is suddenly much more important to the Yakees than he was supposed to be. A day after CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte both headed to the disabled list, with Adam Warren and Freddy Garcia looming, an authoritative, effective performance from Nova was an oasis of relief — though, speaking of relief, that part of the equation didn’t go so well. The bullpen, specifically Clay Rapada and David Robertson, worked together to take turn a 3-1 lead in the ninth into a 4-3 loss thanks to a three-run homer from Dayan Viciedo. It was not a particularly charming party trick.
Any last-minute loss is a tough one, but this one was particularly so because it wasted a now-precious good start. Stinging even more was Clay Rapada’s ninth-inning throwing error, which cost the team a double play and probably the win, and the question of whether it all could have been avoided if David Robertson had just started the inning. Girardi said afterwards that he was trying to avoid overusing Robertson given his recent injury and use. I think that’s understandable, but of course Robertson ended up pitching anyway, and there’s room to second guess if you’re so inclined. It was hard not to feel for Rapada watching his postgame interview, in which he looked downright haunted, as if he had just accidentally run over Derek Jeter’s dog.
The runs the Yankees did get came from two doubles in the fifth – Alex Rodriguez knocking Granderson home, and then Cano doing the same for A-Rod – and a Mark Teixeira solo shot in the eighth. Chicago starter Dylan Axelrod ended up with a solid line, even though at times it seemed the Yankees were about to crack him wide open: 7 innings, 6 hits, 3 walks, 4 Ks, 2 ER. In fact, it was just about identical to Nova’s except that the Yankee hurler tossed an additional third of an inning, struck out one more batter, and allowed one less run.
This series also gave Yankees fans their first glimpse of Kevin Youkilis in another kind of Sox uniform, which took me aback even though I was of course expecting it. Youkilis’ odd bat-waggling stance still makes me want to yell obscenities at my TV, just because - the guy is inherently infuriating - but I’m nevertheless a bit sad about his unpleasant separation from Boston, where up til just recently I imagined he might stay for his entire career. It’s not one of the world’s tragedies, but seeing him in the Chicago uniform – and whatever other uniforms are to come – will always be odd. He was 0-for-4 on the night.
How much panic is necessary about the Yankees’ sudden pitching concerns is still unclear, and will largely depend on your individual brand of fandom. It doesn’t sound like Sabathia will miss much too much time, though of course you never know and I just reached down to knock on the wood floor after typing that. But we will not see Pettitte again until September, at best, bringing to a crashing halt one of the best stories of this baseball season. I was in upstate New York visiting my dad when the Yankees announced Pettitte’s return; there’s not much reception where he is, and when I checked my phone as we drove through a rare three-bar zone, the news was so unexpected that I wondered if the phone was actually working properly — as if somehow I had just received a delayed tweet from 2007. That he would not only come back, but do so the tune of a 130+ ERA and regularly pitch into the eighth inning, surpassed my dreams of a best-case scenario. Even his injury was caused by a comebacker, a freak accident, not age or rust. But so it goes.
Hopefully, the Yankees have employees guarding Phil Hughes, Hiroki Kuroda and Nova 24/7, preventing staircase trips and cooking cuts and fending off stray meteors, lightning strikes and coyote attacks. I want their best men on it.