We may have to take our pleasure in small doses this year, $200 million payroll be damned, and today offered plenty of things to make us happy. Like Francisco Cervelli and Jayson Nix touching Justin Verlander early, staking the Yanks to a 3-0 to lead that was never in peril. And Kevin Youkilis irritating Verlander in the first inning when Youk hit a double. He’d just missed a home run on the first pitch of the at bat (long foul ball), and then doubled to left center field. He yelled something as he ran to first and when he reached second, Verlander stepped to him and screamed, “What did you say?” I don’t know if Youk was talking trash or just yelling at himself but the man has a talent for pissing people off.
Or how about CC Sabathia, still only throwing his fastball around 90 mph, handling the Tigers’ impressive hitters and throwing seven scoreless innings? Yeah, that was best of all. Some late insurance runs put the game out of reach. Hell, even watching the Great Mariano work out of a jam in the ninth, striking out Torii Hunter–man, that dude has never done well against Mo–to end the game was pleasing.
“I don’t care who they got missing, that’s the Yankees,” Verlander told The Associated Press. “They have a winning mentality about them, and they’re going to find a way to win this year. You don’t ever take anything for granted. As you saw, it was the bottom of the lineup that did the damage.”
“It’s a fun challenge,” Mark Teixeira said. “People think we’re crazy to say that, but it is a fun challenge, because if you’re going to win a World Series, you got to beat the best, and he is the best right now. So we’re going to Detroit, their crowd’s going to be rocking, they’re going to be cheering for their own team, so we have an opportunity to do something special and win a few games out there.”
Derek Jeter led off the game with a home run to right field, a few innings later Alex Rodriguez turned around a 95 mph fastball from Justin Verlander and hit a grown-up homer to left (eat your heart out Miguel Cabrera).
But I buried the lede–Phil Hughes was terrific. His fastball was in the mid-90s, the curve ball was crisp, and he out-pitched the Tigers’ ace as the Yanks sailed to a 5-1 win. Hughes went the distance (four hits, three walks, eight strikeouts), a remarkable comeback after his lousy outing in California. A solo homer to Prince Fielder was the one blemish on one of the finest performances of his career–he even struck the great Cabrera out twice.
I didn’t see this one coming. But after last night’s tense game, this one was a cool breeze.
Yanks have the day-off tomorrow and then will host the Rays followed by the Mets. Should be a fun week.
Verlander stops the cart, and we go into the woods to look for his ball. Two egrets, each standing on one leg, point it out. He drives it out of the woods and into a sand trap. We get back into the cart. Frankie ambles by and says, “There’s some pretty flowers in the woods, huh?” I say, “Yeah, Justin’s showing me the whole course — woods, rough, water hazards.” Verlander replies, “I’m just trying to be a good host, show you all aspects of the course.” I say, “Then why don’t ya show me one of the greens?” I pause, and then say, “With your ball near the pin.” Verlander glares at me, and then laughs. “People in real life don’t get ballplayers’ humor, the way we talk in the clubhouse,” he says. In “real life,” people say things they don’t mean. Ballplayers do the opposite. Verlander says, “I’m always hurting someone’s feelings.”
He sprays sand out of the trap, his ball barely reaching the green. Three shots later, we head off toward the next hole. His fastball topped out at 86 mph his senior year of high school, and scouts weren’t interested. So he went to Old Dominion University in Virginia and spent the winter lifting weights. He gained 20 pounds, and by the end of his freshman year, his fastball had been clocked at 96 mph. “All 20 pounds of muscle went to my legs,” he says, which helped him drive toward the batter with his fastball. “Blessed, I guess,” he says. “I was born to be a pitcher.”
Justin Verlander lost a bid for a perfect game when he walked a batter–in a 12-pitch battle–in the eighth. But a double play got him out of the inning and then he retired the side in order in the 9th, good for the second no-hitter of his career.
Having scored just one run over their last two games despite getting solid pitching from the entire staff — even the Meat Tray has allowed just one hit and no runs over his last three outings, spanning 5 1/3 innings — there was still a sense of unease among Yankee fans heading into Tuesday’s matchup against Detroit. Derek Jeter bounced into a double play to stifle a ninth-inning comeback attempt. The Yankees, as has been the case for what seems like the past 15 years, continue to make pitchers they’ve never faced before look like a combination of Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson. Andy Pettitte’s timetable for return remains uncertain; first he suffered a setback in a simulated game, then the news of an MRI following his latest bullpen session “basically to set his mind at ease.” A-Rod was out of the lineup due to a strained calf muscle. Lance Berkman’s still on the shelf with the ankle injury suffered in Kansas City.
And oh yes, there’s that small matter of the Tampa Bay Rays winning two straight while the Yankees lost two in a row, to climb into a first-place tie.
Amid Hope Week, fans were dialing the Batphone.
But the Yankees had two things going for them: 1) They had CC Sabathia, unbeaten in his previous 18 starts at home dating back to last season, on the mound. 2) At least they had faced Justin Verlander before, so there was a chance that their luck would turn, despite their lack of success against him. The fact that he had an ERA of over 7.00 in the first inning was a clue that if the Yankees didn’t get to him early, they might not get to him at all (a point that was beaten senseless by all Yankee commentators, both on TV and radio).
Things didn’t look too good after Austin Jackson yoked CC Sabathia’s first pitch of the game into the left-field seats and then surrendered two loud outs. Curtis Granderson made two tremendous catches to bail him out and minimize the first-inning damage to just one run.
In the bottom half, Brett Gardner (leadoff single) and Derek Jeter (walk), set the table for a two-run inning. The Yankees had a chance to pile on, loading the bases with one out, but Marcus Thames grounded into an inning-ending double play. Granderson’s leadoff home run in the second provided more of a cushion for Sabathia, who cruised through the next five-plus innings, until yielding a solo home run to Brandon Inge in the seventh. After Triple Crown and MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera, there was no one in the Tigers’ lineup to pose a threat to Sabathia. Save for the Tigers’ 13-run explosion on Sunday, they had scored more than four runs in a game only two other times since August 1.
The Yankees’ offense, meanwhile, applied constant pressure to Verlander, advancing runners to scoring position in each of the first four innings. They were as patient as Verlander was wild, drawing five walks and forcing him to throw 114 pitches. There was a prevailing sense of uneasiness, however, because the Yankees didn’t capitalize on many of those opportunities. They had chances to blow the game open and did not. The Yankees did manage to eat up Detroit’s middle relief, scoring three runs against Daniel Schlereth — one in the sixth and two in the seventh — but again missed an opportunity to tack on runs in the seventh. With the bases loaded and one out, they only managed to score one run in that situation, courtesy of a Ramiro Peña’s sacrifice fly. The Yankees finished the night 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
A four-run lead heading into the eighth inning is a little more secure these days, with David Robertson and Mariano Rivera teaming up to shut the door. The tandem did just that on Tuesday to preserve the 6-2 victory and keep the Yankees tied with the Rays for first place in the division and the best record in baseball. CC Sabathia became the American League’s first 16-game winner.
Wins aside, Sabathia has to be considered among the frontrunners for the AL Cy Young Award. He’s in the top 10 in seven major pitching categories, has a 2.34 K/BB ratio, 7.08 K/9 ratio, and has already thrown 181 2/3 innings. Perhaps most impressive, CC Sabathia has pitched at least seven innings in 18 of his 26 starts. That’s an ace.
And that’s what we saw Tuesday night.
At some point, opposing managers will learn that keeping a left-hander in to face Robinson Canó means nothing. Canó’s frozen-rope home run in the seventh inning off Schlereth was his 22nd of the season and 12th off a left-hander. He is now slugging .585 versus lefties this season.
Nice move by the Yankees to pay homage to Bobby Thomson, who died Tuesday at the age of 86. Thomson’s “Shot Heard Round The World” on Oct. 3, 1951, put the Giants into the World Series, where the Yankees defeated them 4-2.