It was the fifth inning and the Yankees were in trouble. CC Sabathia had protected a 1-0 lead since the second (in itself a minor miracle) but that lead was history. The Rays now led 2-1, had the bases loaded, and, if the root canal wasn’t painful enough sir, here’s a kick in the shin with a steel-tipped boot: Evan Longoria was at the plate with nobody out.
Sabathia threw a tub of junk at him and up 0-2 in the count, got Longoria to bounce to third. Alex Rodriguez, whose leather was strong and supple in all the right places tonight, charged. He had everything in front of him: the ball, the third base bag, the runner racing home and Longoria breaking for first. He had a fraction of a second to decide what to do and three options, none of them perfect.
He could fire home and prevent the run from scoring. That would keep the score 2-1, and with David Price on the mound for the Rays, every run is precious. But the bases would still be loaded and there’d only be one out. He could step on third and sling the ball across the diamond hoping for a double play. He’d concede a run but he’d give Sabathia the chance to end the inning with an out. Or he could step on third and still try to cut the run off at the plate. The degree of difficulty on that play is absurd. The runner might beat the throw home anyway, and to make a perfect throw, on the run, with no angle… and the catcher still has to block the plate and make the tag.
Alex chose the 5-3 double play and I immediately thought two things: 1) Good for you Alex. You are showing belief in your team that you can score a couple of more runs in this game. 2) The Yankees probably just lost this game.
The Yankees never did take the lead again, but it would be inaccurate to say they lost the game there in the fifth. No, the Yanks had some runs in their tank tonight. Curtis Granderson homered off David Price. Eduardo Nunez ripped a single off the leg of third base umpire Jerry Meals. The bad news is that it was clearly going to be a double. The good news is that it hurt. The bad news outweighed the good news unfortunately, because had the inning played out the same way with Nunez starting at second, he scores the tying run. As it was, he was rounding third when Elliot Johnson dove to snag Arod’s dribbler. It was ticketed for right field, but the ball was in no hurry to get there.
The Rays padded their lead in an especially disheartening fashion. CC Sabathia, if you remember from opening day, is supposed to have some kind of Jedi mind trick in place when pitching to Carlos Pena. Pena drew a crucial walk in the three-run fifth and led off the seventh with an infield single. Neither was as loud as the grand slam from April 6th, but CC’s inabilty to retire Pena was a big part of another loss.
Elliot Johnson tried to bunt Pena to second, only CC jumped on the bunt and erased the lead runner. Yay. Johnson stole second and scored by a whisker on a two out single to center. Fuck. Pena would never have scored on that hit. B.J. Upton hit a tall homer in the eighth. It was 5-2 and all those close decisions that would have made this an agonizing loss didn’t seem to matter so much.
Then Derek jeter pounded a single into the right field corner and Alex Rodriguez hit a vintage 2007-era blast to left and made the score 5-4. Oh it’s an agonizing loss again, that’s better. The Rays turned a bloop, a steal and an ghastly error by Nunez into an unnecessary insurance run and made the final score 6-4.
In the seventh, Ben Zobrist squared up a high fastball right down the middle from Sabathia and stroked a blue dart back through the box. It was a bad pitch, but Zobrist didn’t miss it. He also didn’t try to do too much with the high heat. The Rays scored a vital run with two outs. In the eighth, Curtis Granderson tapped a grounder to second with two outs and the tying run on second and go-ahead run on first. It was a lousy swing, but it was also an excellent pitch, a strike, but low and away where Granderson couldn’t get good wood to it. The Rays got the vital out and protected their slim lead.
It’s not that simple, but it’s not that complicated either.