Here’s a short but true story. On Saturday night, after gritting my teeth through a frustrating Yankee loss to the Red Sox, I looked forward to Sunday night’s game and the recap I’d eventually write. I mentally composed the opening line of that recap, and wondered if it would come true: “The Yankees opened the scoring in the first inning of each game this weekend, plating five runs in game one, four in game two, and three in game three, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone when they scored twice in the opening frame of Sunday night’s series finale.”
Yankee nemesis Jon Lester was on the mound, but he had been struggling, and the Yankees quickly jumped on him. It started out with another base hit from Derek Jeter, followed by a line drive single from Curtis Granderson. Next up was an angry Mark Teixeira. (Before Sunday’s game, noted philosopher Vicente Padilla indulged in some healthy misogyny while casting accusations of racism towards Teixeira.) Teixeira shot a ground ball down the third base line and into the left field corner for a double to score Jeter and push Granderson to third.
After an Alex Rodríguez pop-up and a walk to Robinson Canó (Canó would wait until the ninth inning to extend his hitting streak to fifteen games), Nick Swisher hit an easy grounder to third, a double play waiting to happen. Mauro Gómez, recently called up from AAA because of his bat, not his glove, fielded the ball cleanly enough, hopped over to third to force Teixeira, then threw across the diamond hoping to end the inning. Inexplicably — and perhaps unprecedentedly — Gómez’s throw actually bounced twice on its way to first. Probably because he had never seen anything like this before, Adrian González couldn’t dig it out, and Granderson brought home the second run I had predicted the night before.
Iván Nova, the de facto ace of the Yankee staff, took this early 2-0 lead to the mound in the bottom of the inning. He struck out Daniel Nava for the first out, but gave up a single to Pedro Ciriaco. No shame in that, though. No Yankee pitcher had been able to handle Ciriaco over the first three games of the series, and he would end the night hitting a robust .538. Ciriaco looks to weigh about 130 pounds, so I can’t imagine it’ll take the Fenway faithful long before they start calling him the Splendid Splinter.
Ciriaco promptly stole second base, allowing Nova to walk David Ortíz and then strike out the blistering hot González. (González would leave the game two innings later due to illness, snapping his eighteen-game hitting streak.) With two outs, Cody Ross lofted a high pop fly behind second base. Having gotten out of the jam, Nova pumped his fist and started walking towards the dugout. Jeter hovered beneath the ball, watched it into his glove… and dropped it. Ciriaco scored.
Jeter did this in Anaheim a few years ago, dropping a pop fly in a play that was so stunning that it caused my brain to convulse and inadvertently create a Banter banterism, the Score Truck. (Here’s the history.) There were no such revelations on this night in Boston, just an unearned run for Nova.
The Yankees added a third run in the second inning when Jayson Nix doubled, moved to third on a passed ball, then scored on a sacrifice fly from Chris “Whythehellaren’tIstarting” Stewart.
Nova was undone a bit by more shoddy defense in the bottom of the third. With one out, That Man Ciriaco hit a grounder slightly to the right of shortstop. Jeter was able to get to the ball, but it hit off the heel of his glove for a clear error — except that the Fenway Park official scorer is apparently already in love with Ciriaco, so it was ruled a base hit. Ortíz was due next.
It’s very rare that I watch a Yankee game live, especially a Sunday nighter, so I almost never watch Ortíz hit. Back when he and Manny Ramírez teamed up to form the most feared 3-4 punch in baseball, I started fast-forwarding through their at bats to get to the result. Watching pitch-by-pitch was simply too much. I still find myself doing this with Big Papi, so I don’t know how Nova pitched him, I only know that Ortíz ended up on second base, and Ciriaco scored a run he shouldn’t have.
Nova eventually loaded the bases on an infield single and a walk, but he rebounded to strike out Jarrod Saltalalalalalamacchia and get a ground out from Ryan Sweeney. It seemed like another step in the maturation of a young pitcher. His defense kept letting him down, kept making him work harder, but he never faltered. He would never be pushed after that third inning.
The Yankee hitters struck again in the fifth. Teixeira opened the inning with a single, bringing A-Rod to the plate. I just can’t figure him out. He goes through long stretches where he never seems to hit the ball hard, but just when I’m ready to write him off completely, he does something like this. Lester left a pitch up a bit on the outside half of the plate, and A-Rod took a mighty swing. My instant reaction watching the play was that he had failed again. The trajectory off the bat indicated another lazy fly ball to the center fielder, but when the camera found Ryan Sweeney, he was sprinting towards the Triangle, and it was clear he wouldn’t be able to make a play on the ball. A-Rod’s lazy fly ball landed 410 feet from home plate, allowing the speedy Teixeira to score easily from first as Rodríguez coasted into third with a triple.
Three batters later Andruw Jones bounced a one-out single to left field to score Rodríguez, and the Yankees were suddenly up 5-2.
I know a lot of people don’t like ESPN and are terribly critical of their baseball coverage, but I don’t fall with that camp. I do have one criticism, though. Their announcing crew doesn’t really concern themselves with calling the game. They’ve clearly spent the week gathering stories and statistics about the two teams, so they have a series of bullet points they need to get through during the course of the game. The play-by-play is secondary.
In general, I don’t have a problem with this. They’re talking to a national audience of fans who don’t follow these two teams on a daily basis, so it probably makes sense to rehash the Padilla-Teixeira feud, explain Ortíz’s contract situation, review Jeter’s ascent up the various all-time lists, and remind us of Lester’s health issues.
In their kibitzing tonight, though, they missed a great game pitched by Iván Nova. The shaky defense caused him to expend 111 pitches to get through six innings, but he did so with flair. He gave up only one earned run, and even that was gift-wrapped by Jeter’s non-error. He yielded six hits and two walks, but struck out ten. After having to sweat a bit in the third inning, he faced only ten batters (striking out four of them) over his final three innings. He looked like an ace.
After Nova’s night finished, Nick Swisher doubled off the Monster with one out in the seventh, bringing up Andruw Jones. Jones had turned the clock back to 1996, having hit three home runs during Saturday’s double header, and he put this game on ice when he somehow was able to get on top of a Scott Atchison fastball at his shoulders and pound it high into the seats atop the wall in left.
There are a lot of reasons why the Yankees are where they are (and where they are is sitting seven games in front in the American League East with the best record in baseball), but one of the biggest is the unexpected production from Raúl Ibañez and Andruw Jones. The two have combined for 22 home runs and 58 RBIs, but this weekend it was Jones who did all the damage. After sitting out Friday night’s opener, he pummeled Boston pitching on the weekend, going 5 for 14 with four homers and 6 RBIs in three games. It will be nice to get Brett Gardner back if and when he returns, but it will be even nicer to have production like this lurking on the bench in October.
The Red Sox scraped together a run in the eighth, but it didn’t really matter. The Yankees’ 7-3 win and three games to one series win strengthened their position atop the standings while pushing the Red Sox into the cellar. Boston’s .500 record is better than only three teams in the American League. How’d you like to sit with that over the All-Star break?
Thankfully, the Yankees don’t have to worry about such things.
[Photo Credit: Steven Senne/AP Photo]