So what are we to make of these Yankees? They race out to a first place lead in April and stay there long enough to make folks think about the playoffs even if there were more than 120 more games to play, then they suffer through the team’s worst run in twenty years, losing ten of eleven, before righting the ship with a three-game sweep of the Kansas City Royals. (And by the way, that was a fun series, wasn’t it? I’ll never get tired of the old clips of Brett and Nettles throwing haymakers; they’d each get ten-game suspensions today for behavior like that, but in the boys-will-we-boys era of 1977? Nothing at all.)
So as the Yankees headed out to the West Coast for four games against the hapless Athletics, there were hopes that the momentum would continue. For a while, that’s exactly what happened. The Bombers got on the board first when Brian McCann laced a homer into the right field seats with one out in the second, staking CC Sabathia to a 1-0 lead.
I don’t think anyone in the organization expected much from Sabathia this season, but still he’s somehow managed to fall short of those low expectations. Tonight, however, he wasn’t bad, not nearly as bad as the box score would indicate. The A’s put together something of a rally in the bottom of the third, and for a while it looked like the type of inning that’s been CC’s undoing over the last few years. With one out Josh Phegley hit a flair to right center, Mark Canha grounded a single up the middle, and Billy Burns blooped a ball in front of Carlos Beltrán in right. Three unimpressive singles had loaded the bases, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if the next hitter had blasted a grand slam. Instead, the old Sabathia showed up for a bit. He struck out Marcus Semien on a high fastball, then painted the inside corner with another fastball to get Ben Zobrist looking to end the threat. Hope?
The Yankee hitters took that momentum and turned it into another run in the top of the fourth. Alex Rodríguez blasted a ground ball through the teeth of the shift for a leadoff single and then moved to second when Mark Teixeira walked. When McCann followed that with a solid single to center, A-Rod came rumbling around third looking to score the Yanks’ second run, but he was called out after the umpire ruled he had missed the plate.
Here’s one thing I like about the instant replay system. A-Rod knew he had touched the dish with his left hand as he had slid by the plate, but he didn’t get angry at all. After being called out he simply turned to the dugout and motioned for Joe Girardi to challenge the play. A minute later his run was on the board. In the old days he would’ve jumped and screamed and nothing would’ve changed; I like this way better.
In the top of the fifth Brett Gardner started a one-out rally with a single to right, then took off on a 3-2 pitch to Chase Headley and coasted into third when the third baseman stroked a single to right center. A-Rod produced a professional at bat, lofting a sacrifice fly to right field to tie Barry Bonds on the all-time RBI list at 1,996 and give the Yanks a 3-0 lead.
There was nothing fancy about any of it, but the workmanlike efficiency was comforting. Sure, there had been some missed opportunities for more, but a three-run lead against this quadruple-A team seemed pretty comfortable. In fact, when a kid named Billy Burns hooked a ball about six inches over the wall and six inches from the left field foul pole for a homer that cut the Yankee lead to 3-1 in the bottom of the fifth, I wasn’t the least concerned. (If you want to know the truth, it didn’t break my heart. I picked up Burns in my fantasy league a couple days ago. That home run might’ve hurt CC and the Yanks, but it helped keep my Oxford Commas comfortably in first place.)
It was the sixth inning when things fell apart. After giving up a ringing double to Zobrist on the first pitch of the frame, Sabathia dug deep again, getting Billy Butler to fly out and striking out Stephen Vogt. But for some reason he altered his delivery to Brett Lawrie, going to a slide step even though Zobrist was sitting firmly on third base with no place to go. The resulting pitch floated up a bit, and Lawrie pounded the mistake into the seats to tie the game. One bad pitch undid six innings of work.
Making things worse, Sabathia opened the seventh by yielding a single to Phegley and a walk to Canha, and that would be all. David Carpenter came in and made a mess of things (single, bases loaded walk, sacrifice fly for a 5-3 Oakland lead), but Sabathia wasn’t nearly as bad as the numbers make him look. In fact, if he could manage to pitch this well every time out the rest of the way, the Yankees would win the division. Sadly, it wasn’t good enough tonight.
The Yankees mounted a two-out rally in the bottom of the ninth against the ex-Yankee Clippard, scoring a run when Brett Gardner rocked a double to the wall to score Garret Jones, but when Burns hauled in Headley’s fly ball on the warning track in left center, the game was over. Athletics 5, Yankees 4.
[Photo Credit: Ben Margot/AP Photo]