All right, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but after watching the Yankees lose their ninth straight game in Tampa — and listening to Lou Piniella for nine innings — the title seemed appropriate if a bit reactionary.
There’s something about the Rays that really bothers me. When the Red Sox were at the peak of their powers, each series definitely raised my blood pressure, but I respected those teams. Terry Francona respected the game, and the players not named Papelbon, Pedroia, and Youkilis were actually a bit likable. They played the game the right way, and it was hard to hate them for it.
It’s not that the Rays don’t play the game the right way, because they do. They run out every ground ball, go from first to third, steal bases, all that stuff. But Joe Maddon is infuriating. He creates a new lineup each night, moving hitters four or five spots in the batting order from one night to the next, and haphazardly deploys his fielders, heeding voices only he hears.
The truth of it all, though, is that none of it would be remotely infuriating except for one thing — it works. All of it.
The matchup seemed to be in favor of the Yanks on Tuesday night, with the streaking Ivan Nova on the mound for the Bombers and the disappointing James Shield starting for the Rays. (How befuddling is Shields? Try this stat on for size: Complete games — 0 in ’09, 0 in ’10, 11 in ’11, o in ’12.)
The Yankees jumped on Shields early. Derek Jeter absolutely smoked the first pitch of the game, sending it to the wall in left center for a double, then scored on a laser that Curtis Granderson hit past Carlos Peña at first for another double. After the obligatory strikeout from Alex Rodríguez, Robinson Canó rifled a single through the Maddon Shift for a 2-0 Yankee lead.
DeWayne Wise homered in the third to bump the lead up to 3-0, but Nova was struggling enough to make it clear that more than three runs would be needed. He faced twenty batters over the first four innings, and he started twelve of them out with ball one. As a result, it seemed like he was working hard all night, even when no one was on base.
In the bottom of the third, however, the Rays got some folks on base. There were two outs and runners on first and second when B.J. Upton came up to the plate and immediately grounded a single through the left side of the infield. Wise charged the ball well and came up throwing, looking to get Elliot Johnson at the plate. Wise’s throw beat Johnson, but the ball came loose in the collision and the run scored. I’ve never seen a play this scored as an error, but Russell Martin got the E-2. Jeff Keppinger came up next and singled in two more runs to tie the score. All three runs were unearned, but all three can be attributed to Nova’s shakiness.
The Yankees took the lead right back in the top of the fourth when Raúl Ibañez doubled and came home on an Eric Chavez single, but that lead was immediately erased in the bottom half of the inning by two-run home run by Sean Rodríguez.
Trailing for the first time in the game, the Yankees looked to even the score in the top of the sixth. Reigning American League Player of the Week Canó opened the frame with a single, and two batters later Ibañez blistered a ball over the first base bag and into the right field corner. Third base coach Robby Thompson bravely waved Canó home, but Robinson it immediately looked like the wrong decision. After the relay throw arrived at the plate, catcher José Molina poured a cup of tea and let it steep for a bit before applying the tag on a sliding Canó. It kind of summed up the entire night.
From there, the Yankee hitters went down like lambs as the bullpen coughed up a couple more runs, including one on a double steal, making the final score Rays 7, Yankees 4.
Strange as it might seem, I can’t wait to get to Fenway Park.
[Photo Credit: Mike Carlson/AP Photo]