It isn’t love if it’s easy. Home-run binges, clutch hits and flawless closers put happy bubbles in the brain.
It isn’t love if it doesn’t hurt. A division clincher in mid-September is a breezy balm.
It isn’t love if your eyes are dry. It’s just a game, after all.
It isn’t love if your pulse is flat and blood is settled. The level head is free of passion.
It isn’t love if you never want to give up.
It isn’t love if you give up.
I thought I wrote all that for us when they were going to lose. To help us get psyched for tomorrow. But now after watching him draw one of the grittiest walks I’ve ever seen, Paul O’Neill 2000 World Series gritty, I think I wrote it for Francisco Cervelli.
The New York Yankees beat the Boston Red Sox in a game that tested the very fabric of fandom, 4-3, in 12 innings. The Orioles also won. They beat the Rays in a tough-as-nails 1-0 duel in Tampa, so that means the Yankees have clinched at least a tie for the American East crown. Even if everything goes to pot tomorrow, the Yanks get to go head-to-head with the O’s in Baltimore on Thursday to decide things once and for all.
But everything is not going to go to pot tomorrow.
This game served as an unpleasant reminder of every single RISP frustration we experienced as fans this season. Mark Teixeira would have earned a place next to Javy Vazquez in Yankee infamy had they lost this game. He came up with a man on third and less than two outs three times. He registered five outs in those at bats and drove in zero. I felt awful for him, even as I cursed him to burn for eternity. The Yankees left runners on all game. Much like their loss in Toronto, but with more on the line, they came up small when even medium would have done the job.
Joe Girardi deemed Ivan Nova too risky to start this game and wisely opted for David Phelps instead. Phelps put in 5.3 solid innings before giving way to the bullpen. He left down 2-1 thanks to Teixiera’s woes with RISP. It stayed that way through many torturous innings. The Yankees seemed sure to break through almost every inning, and then they wouldn’t.
After Brett Gardner got picked off / caught stealing to end the eighth, the Yankee closer came on to pitch the ninth. We’re not expecting Mariano Rivera anymore, and that’s sad in itself, but when Soriano coughed up a looping homer to James Loney to push the bulge to 3-1, Mo’s absence was shining.
Curtis Granderson led off the ninth with a single off Sox closer Andrew Bailey. Girardi sent up Raul Ibanez to bat for Eduardo Nunez. Ibanez, who has only 91 hits this year, but about 40 HUGE ones, lashed a 1-2 fastball into the short seats in right. Bailey caught too much of the plate, but it was mostly a fantastic job by Ibanez of staying down through the ball and yanking it just high enough to be a homer.
With one out, Derek Jeter doubled and the Red Sox intentionally walked Swisher to get to Arod. Alex put up a wonderful at bat, even got jobbed on a call, and still worked a walk. Bases loaded. Bobby Valentine called on Mark Melancon, owner of a 6.44 ERA, to get Teixeira. I never, for one second, entertained the thought that Teixeira would fail to drive in the winning run. It was the perfect redemption to his horrid night.
Melancon worked carefully, but after several pitches and another questionable call (the ump was wide all night long according to Cone), Melancon threw the kind of pitch that is no doubt responsible for his 6.44 ERA. It was right down the middle, belt high, and Teixeira saw it clearly. But his timing was off. He swung too late and extended too far and what should have been devastating contact was broken lumber. His bat exploded and the ball popped into shallow center. Robinson Cano followed, failed to hit, failed to hustle and the threat was over. Raul Ibanez’s inspirational homer seemed like it happened a year ago and I felt like the Yankees were losing a game they had just tied.
It stayed tied for a few more innings. Rafael Soriano may not be Mo, but it was damn gutty of him to come out for his second inning and hold the line. Derek Lowe chipped in with two good innings. The Yankees didn’t do much for awhile, but Swisher’s two-out hit in the 11th brought Alex up again with a chance to win it. Alex crushed a ball to the gap, but as we have well noted, those shots fall short these days and Ellsbury did a heckuva job to run it down. Kay was fooled, but I doubt the fans watching on TV were.
I got up from the living room and retreated to the kitchen to pack tomorrow’s lunch. It was the top of the order for the Red Sox and Derek Lowe is not good. I took extra care cutting off the crusts and washing the apple. I packed it away in the fridge and knew it was time to face the music.
The game was still knotted at 3, Cervelli was up, down 0-2 in the count with two outs. Michael Kay talked about what a tough year it had been for Cervelli. He had been the “forgotten man” – left to languish in AAA all season as another guy took his job backing up Russell Martin. Chris Stewart might be a little better than Cervelli, but by not by enough to make that an easy situation to accept. I thought about a homer, but it didn’t seem possible.
Cervelli fought all the way back to work a walk. Curtis Granderson followed by taking four straight balls. And Raul Ibanez deflected a fastball into left field. It was a harmless roller and if Boston had an infielder anywhere near it, they would have thrown the lead footed Ibanez out by plenty. But there was no one there. If Francisco Cervelli did not touch home plate I would have forgiven him. He was flying.
Photos by AP & Getty Images via ESPN.com