The problem with the hole the Yankees dug during the first four months of the season is that games like Friday and Saturday, games that could be easily dismissed if the year were going the way it normally does for the Yanks, sting all the more. The days on the calendar are dwindling, and the optimism that built slowly over the course of eleven wins in fourteen days against the Tigers, Angels, Red Sox, and Blue Jays evaporated like morning dew in the desert after two disheartening losses in two nights to the Tampa Bay Rays.
After swallowing the bitter pill of Hiroki Kuruda’s loss on Friday night, my hopes were not high as CC Sabathia took the mound for the Yanks against David Price. Early on, though, there were signs that the Yankees might be able to steal a victory. Price didn’t look as sharp as he usually does (all four Yankee hitters to come to the plate in the first inning hit the ball on the screws, but only Robinson Canó managed a base hit), and Sabathia seemed to be in control. In fact, over the first five innings CC looked better than we’ve seen him in ages. He yielded only a double to Evan Longoria in the first and a walk to Desmond Jennings in the third, nothing else.
The game was scoreless through the first four innings, but then the Yankees started a modest rally when Alex Rodríguez and Vernon Wells each singled to lead off the top of the fifth. After Curtis Granderson struck out and Mark Reynolds singled, young Austin Romine came up to bat with one out and the bases loaded. After working the count full, Romine fouled off three straight pitches before finally taking ball four and pushing in the game’s first run. It was a professional at bat.
Ichiro was up next, and Romine earned his team another run, but this time with some quick thinking on the base paths. Ichiro hit a slow grounder to Ben Zobrist at second base. Knowing that a double play would end the inning, Romine stopped dead in his tracks instead of running into an out, and Zobrist was forced to throw to first to get Ichiro. By the time James Loney threw to second to try to complete the 4-3-6 double play, Romine had already arrived safely and Wells had scored to give the Yanks a 2-0 lead. One more base hit would’ve been nice, but Eduardo Núñez fouled out to end the inning.
Sabathia did what he always used to do — that is, he shut down the Rays following that inning — but he veered off the tracks in the top of the sixth, probably just six outs before he could’ve handed the ball to David Robertson and Mariano Rivera. Sabathia had allowed just a single and a walk while striking out five and inducing nine ground ball outs over the first five innings (even Longoria’s double was just a well-struck grounder down the third base line), but a different pitcher came out for the sixth inning. Sadly, it was Average Sabathia, not Ace Sabathia.
Sam Fuld pounded a single to left field, but it wasn’t time to worry. When Sabathia walked Desmond Jennings on four straight pitches and then fell behind 2-0 to Ben Zobrist, it was time. When Zobrist hit a turf double through the gap in left center field to score Fuld and Jennings and then came home two pitches later on a Longoria single, it was over. Just like that.
Jake McGee cruised through the seventh, Jose Peralta did the same in the eighth, and the ninth inning brought Fernando Rodney to the mound to get the final three outs. He put an arrow through the moon, and that was that. Rays 4, Yankees 2.
When your highest paid pitcher takes the mound in the sixth inning with a two-run lead, there is an expectation of victory, but if we’re being honest we cannot pin this loss on CC Sabathia. He gave up only three runs in six and a third innings, but the Yankee hitters didn’t do much to help him out. The trio in the middle of the lineup, Canó, Soriano, and Rodríguez, has cooled off considerably (those three hitters are a combined 3 for 24 so far in this series), and aside from that fifth inning, the Bombers were never able to put more than one runner on base during any given inning. Quite simply, that isn’t good enough.
The good news, though, is that these losses haven’t eliminated the Yankees from contention. Tomorrow, after all, is another day. I still believe.
[Photo Credit: Chris O'Meara/AP Photo]