In the ninth inning of a classic duel with Jon Lester, Masahiro Tanaka needed one more strike to Mike Napoli to send the Yankees to the home half of the ninth in a 1-1 deadlock. After several innings of excellent pitch selection and execution, his fastball up and out over the plate snarfled the elephant. Napoli extended his arms and smacked the ball just over the wall in right to win the game 2-1.
Masahiro Tanaka takes you all the way. That’s a rare feature in a starting pitcher in 2014. He pitched a complete game gem tonight – like it fell right off the Ace Manufacturing Co. assembly line. But the Yankees lost because Jon Lester straight up beat him.
Tanaka, for all his brilliance, can’t keep the ball in the yard. Nobody’s on base when it happens, but it happens. When an opposing batter lofts a fly ball, it’s got about a 15% chance of clearing the fence. Egads, that’s awful. Perhaps it’s unsustainable and he’s going to find the number descend towards league norms, about 10%. Or maybe it’s Yankee stadium, where he’s allowed nine of his 13 homers.
Most of the time, a solo homer or two won’t beat him. Tonight it did. And though we don’t discuss pitcher wins too much, this game had the distinct feel of two pitchers locking horns while the lineups were just there for window dressing. Jon Lester got a much deserved win and on the other side of that, I think Tanaka’s loss is an accurate measure of this game. He blinked. He blew that pitch to Napoli seven ways to Sunday in a spot where he absolutely couldn’t let up a dong.
How about the ninth inning? Uehara, don’t sleep on this, is half-way through his second season in row where he makes Mariano Rivera’s best closing seasons look ordinary. The guy threw pitches to McCann and Beltran (the two players running neck-and-neck for most likely to cause a broken plasma screen this season) that seemed to turn to mist when they got into the hitting zone.
Great baseball game played by two mediocre teams with a retched ending.
Today was also the last day of the Little League season here in Inwood. The boys got trophies and pizza and sun screen rubbed in their eyes. I had a blast coaching, but I could have done a much better job. I’m happy that the kids improved batting and throwing, but I don’t think I adequately conveyed the beauty of the game nor the logic of the game over the past three months.
It’s my fault because I wasn’t prepared for the vast spectrum of prior knowledge my 15 players would to the season. Some of these crackerjacks were 6 going on 16 while others were 5 going on 5. Even today I had kids ask me where first base was.
On this the last day of the season, with the aforementioned trophies looming, my own kids made sure I knew that baseball was “boring” and that they “never want to play again.” (They also got pumped up to bat and run the bases and had fun and those words were mostly cruel forms of Saturday morning protest when they’d rather be playing Minecraft or whatever instead of putting on their overly complicated uniforms, but when 15 kids are baking in the sun waiting for a ball that never comes, I understand what they’re saying.)
A lot of the parents asked me if I’ll coach again next year and I couldn’t give them a straight answer. But I’m sure as hell looking forward to swimming class tomorrow where I sit far away from the side of the pool and just watch.