With the Yankees clinging to a one-run lead, two out in the ninth inning of tonight’s game against the Atlanta Braves, Chipper Jones stepped against the Yankee closer. The Yankee closer pitched him tough, but the future HOFer won the battle by serving a slider on the outside corner for a deep line drive into left field for a base hit. Chipper’s nicepieceofhitting brought Jason Heyward to the plate representing the winning run. He got his hacks, on the second strike especially. He looked like he was trying to hit two game winning dingers in one swing, but the 93 MPH heat danced over the barrel. The next pitch busted his bat and the ball popped harmlessly to Robinson Cano at second base.
The Yankees won 3-2 and gained another game on Tampa, who were Dickeyed to death by the Mets. They completed their second straight sweep and have now won six games in a row and 16 out of 20. I should be feeling great about their recent success and their perch at the top of the American League, but all I was thinking about in the ninth was that the Yankee closer from the first paragraph wasn’t Mariano Rivera. That match-up with Chipper would have been a special one and I couldn’t help but feel a pang of sadness that it couldn’t happen.
And, though Soriano pitched a fine inning and I think he’s done a nice job, the difference between a backdoor slider and a backdoor cutter was never more apparent. Soriano set him up beautifully, but Chipper could wait back on the slider defensively and slash it to the opposite field. The cutter would have sped right past him. Hence Mariano’s proclivity for the backwards Ks to the lefties.
The game started brightly for the Yankees. Just a few days ago I said it would be nice to see Jeter get a double this week, since he had only two extra base hits in his last 32 games. I think the key for the baseball gods was the reasonable nature of my request: Jeter doubled off Tim Hudson to lead off the game. I will be more thoughtful the next time I make a wish. Curtis Granderson didn’t do much with a favorable count, but his grounder advanced Jeter to third. The Braves pulled the infield in on Alex Rodriguez. A few years ago, a third base man would have called time and double-checked his last will and testament if asked to plant his feet on the infield grass with Arod up there.
Alex looked lost on a couple of sliders, but Hudson eventually found the middle of the plate and Alex sent it right back up the box with a sharp knock and the Yankees led 1-0. Somehow, Hiroki Kuroda kept it right there for half the game. The Braves threatened just about every inning, but with Hudson coming up to the plate just about every time the Yanks needed a big out, Kuroda escaped damage. If the Yankees are afflicted with RISPitis, at least there’s a chance it might be contagious. The Braves were 2 for 13 with no RBI with runners in scoring position.
In the fifth, Brian McCann hit a long two-run homer to give the Braves the lead. In soccer, it would have been a “deserved lead” because the Braves seemed in control of the game at that point. Two batters into the sixth, the Yankees had it back – so much for “deserve”. Jeter singled and Granderson kept his hands and weight back behind a floaty cutter and skied it into the right field stands. It had a pop-up’s trajectory, but a homer’s distance, so we’ll take it. That skinny dude has a heckuva power stroke.
The Yankees again hunkered down behind a flimsy one run lead. Kuroda gave way after six and the Russian nesting doll of a bullpen the Yanks are running out there these days went to work. Logan walked two but squeaked through by retiring Heyward and Hinske with runners on base. Rapada was in an even worse spot, runners at the corners with only one out and .320 hitting Martin Prado at the plate. Rapada’s sidewinding sinking action induced the double play grounder that saved the game.
That brings us to Soriano in the ninth, a win, a sweep and a nice little challenge series with the first place Washington Nationals coming up. No Strasburg though.
When the Yankees were in fourth place, playing losing/boring (however you want to describe it is fine with me) baseball, every night seemed the same. The starting pitching wobbled early and the Yankees would be down two or four before even getting loose. And when they did get into the game, there would be some insurance runs for the bad guys or RISP fail for the Yanks that would seal the loss. Tonight was just the opposite. The Yanks scored first. The Yanks reclaimed the lead as quickly as possible after relinquishing it, and the Yanks induced the soul-crushing double play in the late innings. I don’t know if that’s good baseball, exciting baseball or just the swing of the pendulum, but I sure do prefer the wins.
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