Splitsville. Under normal circumstances, that’s not a bad outcome opening a best-of-seven series on the road. But facing Cliff Lee in Game Three disrupts normal circumstances. In Game Two, Phil Hughes got pounded, the Yankee offense could not turn base-runners into run-scorers, and the Rangers evened the ALCS at one game apiece with a 7-2 victory.
Texas scratched out a really grimy run in the first inning. Elvis Andrus tapped a bounder over the pitcher’s mound and Phil Hughes deflected it into no-man’s-land behind the rubber. He stole second, and maybe even was safe. I don’t know because TBS only replayed a few times and never found the money shot which would tell me for sure.
(Why is it that I saw the Buster Posey tag-out 50 times and Lance Berkman’s strike three 150 times, but this call was just brushed aside? The media has decided that the blown calls are not acceptable, but when picking which calls to grouse about, they carefully choose the calls that support the narrative they wish to endorse. Lance Berkman took strike three, which was trumpeted from here to eternity, but only a handful of those reports included the other bad calls that went against Berkman in the very same at bat.)
Under duress, Hughes unleashed his best stuff of the game as he struck out Michael Young, Vlad Guerrero and Nelson Cruz. He was unlucky to walk Josh Hamilton after a tough battle and a missed strike three, and because Andrus had also stolen third base, that put the Rangers in a position to get creative on the bases. They tried to trade an out for a run (which I thought was a somewhat-desperate idea with long-ball threat Nelson Cruz at the plate) but the Yankees called an aggressive play and Cano returned Posada’s throw to sender late and wide and Andrus had drawn first blood.
I assume this was a predetermined play because Cano took the throw in front of the bag and threw back to Posada without hesitation, and every team I’ve ever played in every level from Little League on up predetermines what to do when there are runners on first and third. If it was improvised, I thought it was an OK decision from Posada, as sweating one run in the first inning is wussified, and a terrible decision by Cano, because he was unable to prevent the run from scoring and he allowed the inning to continue with one of the Rangers’ most dangerous hitters in the box.
The Yankees looked very dangerous in the top of the second. Cano almost erased the deficit with a wall-scraper, and with two runners on, Lance Berkman made a bid for extra-bases with a rocket to right. Nelson Cruz was able to corral both blasts and the Yankees got nothing for their troubles. But since Hughes had struck out the side in the first and the Yankees had clobbered the ball in the second, Yankees fans had reason for optimism.
That feeling did not survive the bottom of the second. Hughes missed badly to David Murphy and he put it off the face of the second deck in right field. When I saw David Murphy was batting third for the Rangers when the Yankees visited in September, I was reassured that the Rangers were pretty crappy. Then Texas swept the Yankees and here he is doing a lot of damage in the ALCS.
Hughes kept missing spots and the Rangers kept making him pay. He cranked up the extra-base machine and served up five doubles and triple for five more runs and put the game out of reach for even the Yankee bats. I don’t take much issue with Girardi’s moves, though I know he has his detractors here, but why Hughes was still pitching in the fifth inning I’ll never understand. He was getting hit hard from all comers and the Yankees were going to have chances if they kept the score within sniffing distance.
To be fair though, the Yankee offense did not ride to the rescue today and maybe even holding the Rangers at five wouldn’t have mattered. The Yankees had 14 base runners, but only two of them crossed the plate. The Yankees lacked the requisite big hit and fortunate timing. For instance, Cano crushed the ball four times for a double and homer (and two warning-track outs), but he stranded four runners in crunch time.
For most of the game, The Yankees had the donut offense working for them – a big hole in the middle. Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira couldn’t extend or finish the rallies. If those guys were contributing, I think it would have been another fun night. Hopefully they’re saving it for Cliff Lee.
Keeping the Yankee rallies in check for the first five-plus innings was Colby Lewis. He was pitching in Japan last year. This is what at least Hiroshima Carp fan thought of him:
Methinks steroids are not yet en vogue in Hiroshima, because schlubby Colby Lewis should not evoke this kind of nightmarish imagery. Nor should the Yankees be worried about facing him again in the series. If the Yankees return to Texas for Game 6, they will knock him around. They were on him today, and hopefully they’ll turn the scoreboard crooked if they face him again. The Yankees also threatened against the bullpen, but without the breakthrough heroics of Game One.
The only worrisome aspect of this loss was Phil Hughes and his total lack of command. He let up seven hits with two strikes. He’s got to polish those guys off. Why was he crisp and unhittable against Minnesota and throwing batting practice today? I think it’s just a different quality opponent mixed with the inconsistencies of a young, possibly fatigued pitcher. I think it’s possible he’s got a good game in him if needed in Game 6, but I would not be surprised to see him struggle again.
The Yankees now head back to the Bronx and prepare for Cliff Lee. They’re sending Andy Pettitte up against him, so by no means should we paint them as lambs to the slaughter. I’m excited for the game and for some ridiculous reason have a good feeling about it. I don’t think the Yankees will really hurt Lee, but I like their chances to come out of the game with a win. If the Yanks lose that one, I’ll change my stripes for the rest of the series, but until then, bring it on, Cliff.