You remember what your algebra teacher told you about coin flips, don’t you? The coin has no memory. The probability of each result is always the same, regardless of what has come before. If a certain coin comes up heads, say, six times in a row, the odds on the seventh flip do not change. Only a fool would bet on heads thinking the coin was hot, and you’d be equally foolish if you bet on tails because it was due. A coin, after all, is just a coin.
More and more, these Yankees are starting to look like that coin. Remember when they won six straight and looked to be turing the corner as Mariano Rivera jogged in from the bullpen in the ninth inning of what would’ve been their seventh-straight win? And what about when they forgot how to win and lost three straight, the last two to the lowly Kansas City Royals? Recently it just seems like the Yankees are a .500 team, and the record bears that out. Since emerging from that soul-crushing four-game sweep at the hands of the Mets, the Yanks have come up heads just as often as tails — 19-19. At this point, perhaps they are who they are.
As depressing as that idea is, Wednesday’s game with the Royals was just the opposite. The other side of the coin, if you will. The Yankees scratched out a run in the first without benefit of an RBI as Brett Gardner made a daring dash home on a wild pitch that bounced only two or three yards away from Kansas City catcher George Kottaras. (Ichiro also tried to score on the same play when Kottaras’s throw skipped into the infield, but he was thrown out.) At the time the whole thing reeked of desperation. Gardner had no faith that anyone would drive him in, so he took a chance. Ichiro was thinking the same thing, so he took a bigger one. Heads you score, tails you’re out. 1-0 Yanks after one.
Iván Nova was on the mound for the Yankees, and after yielding two harmless singles in the top of the first, he mowed through the next twelve Royals hitters without allowing a base runner, allowing the Yankee offense to put a few things together. The first big moment arrived in the bottom of the third when Robinson Canó came to the plate with two outs and runners on first and second. Canó’s season has been up and down, but considering that he’s really the only frightening hitter in the lineup, it’s quite amazing what he’s been able to do — or what opposing pitchers have allowed him to do. Why he ever gets anything to hit, I’ll never know.
He got something to hit when Kansas City’s Wade Davis left a pitch out over the plate. Canó stayed with the pitch and drove it out towards the deepest part of the ballpark for a 419-foot home run to left center. It was the first home run by a Yankee starter in eight days, and the Yankees were up 4-0.
(That was probably the most important Canó moment of the night, since it essentially sealed the win, but there was a moment an inning earlier that will stick with me longer. With one out in the top of the second David Lough popped up a ball in the infield. Eduardo Núñez immediately began calling for it, as it looked to be heading towards the shortstop side of second base. But as the ball drifted across the bag into Canó’s territory, Núñez kept tracking it. As Canó realized Núñez wasn’t going to be called off the play, he brought his glove down and crossed his arms in mock indignation. After the out was made, he made a show of pointing out where the play had been made and playfully chided the youngster for overstepping his boundaries. It was the type of thing that of all sports happens only in baseball, and it was the type of thing that we used to see routinely from Derek Jeter — the stone-faced response to every single Hideki Matsui home run or the barely-controlled laughter each time Alex Rodríguez struggled with a pop-up. I can’t imagine Canó would’ve put on such a show had Jeter been the shortstop to wander into his domain, and perhaps Jeter’s absence thus far has allowed Canó to test his leadership skills a bit. Then again, it might simply have been two friends having a little fun. Either way, I enjoyed it.)
But back to our game. Those four runs exceeded the total production of the previous three games, but the bats weren’t done. They doubled that output in the sixth inning, and it only took four batters: Canó single, Vernon Wells pinch single, Zoilo Almonte walk, and a grand slam for Lyle Overbay.
But better than all that was Nova. He wasn’t just getting the Royals out, he was dominating them. He gave up a run in the eighth after walking Alcides Escobar with two outs and then giving up a double to Eric Hosmer, but that was it. Aside from those two mistakes, the last nine batters he faced went down like this: seven groundouts, a strikeout, and a fly out. He was great all night long.
Two years ago I wrote a piece in this space making several predictions about the future of the Yankees, and one of those was the development of Nova into the ace of this staff. I was recapping a game between the Yankees and the Reds that day, and after watching last night’s game with the Royals, I was immediately reminded of that night back in Cincinnati. Please note the similarities in Nova’s stat lines:
6/20/2011: 8.0 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 7 K
7/10/2013: 8.0 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 K
Last night’s performance, of course, comes on the heels of what he did his last time out, that complete-game gem against the Orioles. Even more important than that, it stopped a Yankee losing streak and gave them a much-needed 8-1 win. We can only hope that the coin won’t remember any of this tomorrow afternoon, and that the Yanks will come up with another win.
[Photo Credit: Kathy Willens/AP Photo]