Heading into today’s game with the Mets, I decided that based on everything I was reading, seeing and hearing, some media trends needed to be stopped:
* Thinking that one or two hits by a player in a slump immediately means he’s broken out of his slump (see Teixeira, Mark; and Posada, Jorge).
* This might anger some Banterers and I know it may upset Cliff — I apologize in advance — but the love for Posada’s offensive prowess needs to be tempered. Aside from the two grand slams he hit last weekend, maybe it’s just me, but I have little confidence that he’s going to drive in a run with men in scoring position. Any opposing pitcher with an above-average slider can throw that pitch at Posada’s back foot, regardless of whether he’s batting lefty or righty, and he’ll swing over the top of it.
* The Yankees’ recent offensive downturn has everything to do with the opposing pitchers. The Yankees beat up mediocre pitching, yes, but pitchers who change speeds give them fits. Neither Jamie Moyer, Kyle Kendrick, nor Hisanori Takahashi light up the radar gun — Moyer barely registers a reading — but they threw strikes early in the count and kept the Yankees off balance by changing speeds.
Mike Pelfrey, the Mets’ starter on Saturday, is a similar pitcher to Roy Halladay, who the Yankees shelled for six runs in six innings on Tuesday. Granted, Pelfrey’s stuff isn’t as good as Halladay, but he’s a hard-throwing, sinker-slider type. As good as he’s been this season, sinkerballers have a propensity to leave pitches up in the strike zone, as Halladay did Tuesday. Pelfrey seemed due for one of those outings. Hence, in my mind, he was the perfect elixir to the Yankees’ anemic bats.
Another factor in the Yankees’ favor: they countered with Phil Hughes, who led the American League among pitchers to have made a minimum of five starts with a Run Support Average of 10.38. In his nine victories, the Yankees scored 88 runs.
The Yankees answered Jose Reyes’s leadoff home run with two hits and a run in the first. In the third, they answered another Reyes home run with a two-run shot off the bat of Teixeira. It was at this point of the YES telecast that a prescient conversation between Michael Kay and Paul O’Neill took place:
KAY: “For a pitcher like Hughes, he’s got to be thinking, ‘I’ve given up two home runs to Reyes and my team has picked me up.’ Now he’s got to pick his team up. He’s got to settle down and put up zeroes.”
O’NEILL: “That’s right. You have to start thinking, ‘I’ve had my bad innings, and if I can get cruising here for three or four innings, chances are my offense swings the bat today.”
That conversation took place in the fourth inning. Hughes put the Mets away on nine pitches. In the bottom half, Posada led off with a walk and Granderson got ahead in the count 2-and-1. Granderson then fouled off a few tough pitches before launching a hanging curveball into the box seats to give the Yankees a 5-3 lead.
Now with the lead, Hughes needed to respond. Reyes stepped to the plate with two outs and a runner on first. Hughes fell behind 1-0 and again 2-1. Hughes fought back with a good fastball that painted the outside corner to even the count. After Reyes fouled off another fastball, Hughes delivered a curveball on the outside part part of the plate that Reyes swung through to end the inning.
The Mets worked Hughes again in the sixth. Angel Pagan hit a one-out single and then advanced on a wild pitch, and Hughes proceeded to walk Ike Davis to bring the go-ahead run to the plate in the form of Jason Bay. Bay, who had seen just four pitches in his two previous at-bats, swung at the first pitch and grounded into a 5-4-3 double play to end the threat. Hughes had no problems working through the seventh inning and holding the two-run edge.
The Yankees’ offense had chances to break the game open in the sixth and eighth innings. In both innings, they had runners in scoring position with less than two outs — in the eighth, they had runners on second and third with no one out — and failed to score. Counting today, the Yankees have two hits in their last 21 at-bats with runners in scoring position. The lack of situational hitting, more than anything, has been the root cause of the Yankees’ offensive slide.
Another positive to take from Saturday: Joba Chamberlain pitched a scoreless eighth. Even better, he struck out David Wright without having to throw a fastball. Mariano Rivera followed by pitching a flawless ninth to close out the 5-3 victory.
The win snapped the Yankees’ three-game losing skid and ended the Mets’ eight-game run. As for Hughes, he didn’t have his best stuff, but he pitched well enough to preserve the lead he was given. He is now tied with David Price for the AL lead in wins (10), and furthered his case to become a member of the All-Star team.
Now it’s set up: Santana vs Sabathia for the series win. Should be a good baseball Sunday.