Prior to the game the buzz was all about Joe Girardi and that funky, Tony LaRussa lineup he threw out for Wednesday’s tilt with the Rockies. Starting pitcher David Phelps was in the eighth spot, and catcher Austin Romine was ninth. Girardi’s explanation made a little bit of sense — he anticipated using a left-hander to pinch-hit for Phelps at some point, and with Brett Gardner and Robinson Canó at the top of the lineup, he didn’t want to have three lefties in a row. Also, he said he liked that after the lineup turned over, he’d have two hitters in front of Canó. Of course, he could simply bat Canó third like any sensible person would, but none of it really seemed to matter as much as the media wanted it to.
What did matter, was that the top of the lineup produced two runs early and young David Phelps pitched one of the best games of his brief career. Gardner led off with a bloop single down the line in left and — brace yourself — stole second on the first pitch to Canó. Canó later flied out, but when Vernon Wells followed with a shot into the seats in left, the Yanks were up 2-0.
As for Phelps, he found some trouble in the second inning when rising star Wilin Rosario (the loan bright spot on my struggling fantasy team, by the way) smacked the first pitch he saw into the gap in right center for an easy double and first baseman emeritus Todd Helton followed that with a homer to right to tie the score at two. After that? Smooth sailing for Phelps as he retired thirteen of the next fifteen batters, yielding just a walk and a single to finish six strong innings. No one will ever see Phelps as a top of the rotation guy, but I’d love to pencil him as the fourth starter for the next five years.
I have to admit that I fell asleep for the bottom of the seventh and top of the eighth, so wasn’t until a few minutes ago when I looked at the play-by-play that I missed something eventful. First, the Yankees have someone named Preston Claiborne; he pitched a scoreless seventh. Second, and this is the big news, the Rockies took the unorthodox step of using two pitchers at once, bringing in the Rex Brothers for the eighth. Not surprisingly, they used their advantage to set the Yankees down in order.
The ninth inning was all about Vernon Wells. He led off with an infield single, then took for second a few pitches later on what looked to be a busted hit and run. He should’ve been out by about a yard, but shortstop Juan Herrera dropped Rosario’s throw, and Wells was in scoring position with no one out. Lyle Overbay worked a walk, Ichiro bunted them over to second and third, Lance Nix walked to load the bases, but Travis Hafner struck out, leaving things to pinch-hitter Brennan Boesch with two outs. Boesch hit a grounder to third, apparently ending the threat, but Nolan Arenado double-clutched before making the throw, and Boesch was able to beat the play by an eyelash, allowing Wells to score the go-ahead run.
The Great One came on to pitch the ninth, which means the recap would normally end here, but Girardi was up to his old tricks again. When he sent Hafner to hit for Chris Nelson in the top of the ninth, he lost his third baseman. He could’ve kept Hafner at third, except that the Pronkster hasn’t thrown a ball in a major league game since 2007, nor has he played anywhere in the field aside from first base. So with Jorge Posada retired and Francisco Cervelli on the disabled list, Girardi did the only thing he could do — he put Wells at third. (If he doesn’t play Rivera in center before the year is out, I’ll be sorely disappointed.)
Naturally, the second batter of the inning bounced a ball to third. From the upper deck, I’m sure Wells looked like any other third baseman as he ranged comfortably to his left, fielded the big hop, and fired to first for the out. Perhaps he’ll get the start on Wednesday afternoon.
Rivera did the rest, notching his twelfth straight save. Yankees 3, Rockies 2. (Here’s something to watch for. It’s early, but the way this team is constructed, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Rivera actually topped his career high of 53 saves from back in 2004. Then he’d walk off into the sunset with a Cy Young Award, just like Koufax. Wouldn’t that be poetic?)
[Photo Credit: Dustin Bradford/Getty Images]