The morning after David Robertson served it up to the White Sox, I told my son that the Yankees lost a “heart-breaker.” Now he looks at the scoreboard every morning and every one-run game is a “heart-breaker.” We played Scrabble, he beat me 110 to 108, promptly informed me that I just lost a “heart-breaker.” Someday he’ll learn that not all heart-breakers are created equal. Some heart-breakers are really head-scratchers with fangs.
How do these Rays keep doing this to the Yankees? Even without Longoria, with one of their lesser pitchers on the mound, in the midst of a horrendous stretch of baseball, they can sting the Yankees like no one else. Look around the diamond do you want any of those guys on the Yankees? Zobrist is a nice player, but this is a terrible baseball team right now and the Yankees should have been looking to step on their throats. Instead the Rays won a game they had no business winning, 4-3 and put the Yankees on the ropes to start one of the biggest weeks of the season.
Though both recent catastrophes have multiple culprits, they have a lot in common. The Yankees turned routine outs into shocking errors, and David Robertson got tagged. The errors were so freakish that you almost want to write them off. This time Mark Teixiera whiffed on an easy, inning-ending bounder down the first base line allowing the go-ahead run to score. The ball may have hit the bag, but Teixiera a) should have had his body in front of the ball and b) should have caught it anyway. None of this would have mattered of course if David Robertson was pitching well.
Robertson came in to the game with the Yankees leading 3-2 in the seventh, two out and a runner on second. I thought Girardi made a good call to bring him in in such an important spot. But Robertson fell behind, couldn’t locate and some doofus named Brooks Conrad blasted him off the wall in right. Then he got ahead of Elliot Johnson and couldn’t put him away because he had no feel for the breaking ball. Johnson grounded to Teixeira and the game was lost. (Alex Rodriguez did give it a whirl in the eighth, but those fly balls to right-center just don’t clear the fence when you don’t inject your Wheaties.)
Freddy Garcia, who had to throw it twice to reach 80 MPH on the radar gun in April, started and pitched well. I thought he was done as a Major Leaguer after the first few turns through the rotation, but I’ve got a terrible track record this year assessing Yankee pitchers, so I guess that doesn’t carry much weight. When you are ancient and getting by with smoke and mirrors, one morning you wake up and find that the smoke machine has crashed into the mirror and you go back to sleep.
Garcia didn’t quit however and accepted a demotion to the least important spot on the 25-man roster. In over 17 innings as the last man in the bullpen, Garcia turned in a 1.56 ERA and pitched well enough to earn this start replacing Andy Pettitte.
Garcia was on a short leash – only expected to throw 65-70 pitches. He used those pitches efficiently as they got him through five innings. The only blemish was a solo jack by B.J. Upton in the fourth. He was pitching so well, and the Rays looked so helpless against his particular brand of precision-slop, that Joe Girardi got greedy and sent him out for the sixth with a 2-1 lead. The first batter grounded to short, but the second batter, Carlos Pena, tattooed the 74th pitch, an 84 MPH flatball, to right to tie the game.
The Yankees scored two in the first when they strung a few hits together and Hideki Matsui badly misplaced a fly ball to right, but that was it until the top of the seventh. Curtis Granderson gave them the lead 3-2 when he battled his way to a hard-won sac fly to left. Maybe they should have had more runs. Rays rookie Matt Moore was good enough to get by, but not good enough to impress. The Yankees had the better starter, the better hitters. They had the game in their pocket.
But the story of these two teams head-to-head is that Rays dismantle the Yankee bullpen and the Yankees can’t sniff Fernando Rodney, who has two wins and three saves against them already this year. Typing that sentence just caused a panic sweat to break out on my back and my right arm is tingling. I wonder if it is my heart?
AP Photo by Brian Blanco