Monday, July 30, 2012

The official new Yankee killer

             The Boston Red Sox came into town demoralized and in the absolute pits as far as the AL East standings were concerned, and instead of sending them further into the basement, the Yanks allowed a flicker of light to ignite their lamp. By the time the Red Sox left town, they were back at .500, facing an optimistic 10-game homestand, and had found themselves a new bonafide Yankee nemesis.

             With the return of Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedrioa and big-contract bust Carl Crawford to the Red Sox lineup, they still weren't at full strength with DH David Ortiz on the 15-day DL. They had to face Phil Hughes in the first game, and beside three solo homeruns, the Yankee right-hander deprived Boston of any prolonged rallies. The same couldn't be said of Boston starter Aaron Cook; the Yankees smacked him for 3 runs in the 1st inning after Boston had seized a 1-0 lead, capped off by a Raul Ibanez line-drive homer into the right field stands. The next blow came from Russell Martin, a 2-run shot in the 4th that made it 6-3 at that point. David Robertson worked a clean 8th inning and held the game for what would've been a save situation in the 9th, but Curtis Granderson gave Soriano the night off by crushing a grandslam in the bottom of the inning off of former Yankee farm hand Mark Melancon. Hughes went 7 innings and struck out five while only walking one batter. With the win, Hughes became the fourth Yankee starter with double-digit wins.

             It was a battle of the hard-throwing lefties in the next game between Jon Lester for Boston and CC Sabathia for New York. For the second straight outing Sabathia wasn't his razor-sharp self and fell behind 3-0 in the 1st inning courtesy of RBI doubles from Will Middlebrooks and Adrian Gonzalez. To the amazement of all, Chris Stewart poked his first homerun of the season (and likely forever) to left off of Lester in the 3rd to cut it to 3-1 Boston. The joy was short-lived as Sabathia served up a 3-run homer to Gonzalez in the 5th to make it 6-1 in favor of the Sox.

             With a homer-happy park and the Yankee lineup, they're never out of a game. In the second amazement shot of the night, Jayson Nix responded with a 2-run homer to cut the lead in half at 6-3, and after adding another run to make it 6-4, a huge moment came in the bottom of the 8th with a man on and Mark Teixeira up to bat against his hated former-teammate Vicente Padilla. Teixeira once again got the better of Padilla and hit a 2-run bomb to tie the game at 6-6 and cap off the Yankee comeback. The Yankees weren't able to tack on any more runs in the inning and it would haunt them soon enough. In the top of the 9th, as per the usuality of baseball, the homefield closer Rafael Soriano was brought into the tied game and committed the sin of walking the lead off hitter. Then, Pedro Ciriaco, who tortured the Yankees in their only loss to Boston a few weeks ago at Fenway with a 4-hit game, landed another blow by hitting a ball to center which the usually reliable Curtis Granderson misplayed and got tripped up that allowed Ciriaco to reach third base and put Boston up 7-6. Pedroia would later get Ciriaco in on a sac fly to increase the lead to 8-6. There would be no dramatic homers this time for the Yanks as they took their second loss to Boston of the season.

             Boston had .500 within their grasp and only need the take the final game in order to reach it. Felix Dubront, the young Boston lefty who stymied the Yankees in his two previous outings against them, was just as impossible to score off. Nick Swisher was back in the lineup after resting his hip, and early on his singles were the only pinstripe action. The Yankees were kept off the board until the 8th inning when Russell Martin stepped up and slapped a solo homer to the opposite field to make it 2-1 Boston. Both Red Sox runs came in the top of the 2nd thanks to a Ryan Sweeney double that the slow-footed Andruw Jones couldn't field properly that allowed both runners to score. From there Hiroki Kuroda put a clamp down on any further scoring. Martin took Kuroda off the hook by slapping a single in his next at-bat in the 8th which tied the game at 2. Despite pitching the night-before and had just given up the game tying hit to Martin, Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine stuck with Alfredo Aceves in the 9th and it nearly cost him the game as Curtis Granderson put a charge into one that made it to the warning track in right.

             With Soriano had already gone in the 9th and not given up a run this time, it was David Robertson's turn to hold down the fort, and the sin bug must be spreading in the Yankee bullpen because he too walked the lead-off hitter. A controversial play game soon after when Will Middlebrooks was hit by a pitch while attempting to bunt, at least that is what the umpires declared. This put Middlebrooks in a 0-2 against strikeout artist Robertson, but on the very next pitch after the rhubarb in which Valentine and even Josh Beckett on the bench were tossed from the game, Robertson laid in an easy fastball which Middlebrooks poked past Chavez at third for a single. Robertson would eventually get an out, but it caused a first and third situation with Pedro Ciriaco, the pest from the night before who hit the triple to put Boston ahead, at the dish. On the first pitch Ciriaco saw the ball jammed him, but he was able to bloop it into short right to burn the Yankees again for a 3-2 Boston lead. Aceves took the ball again for the bottom of the 10th, and with two outs, hit Swisher to put a runner on first and allowed Raul Ibanez to have a chance to win it with one swing. Instead of a dramatic homer, Ibanez would score a whimpering strikeout to end the game and hand the series to Boston.

            60 wins is certainly a nice accomplishment for the season, but losing two playoff-intensity games to the Red Sox in late innings is a crushing blow. Next, another AL East foe, the Baltimore Orioles spring into town and the Yankees will surely be happy Pedro Ciriaco is leaving....

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Get a star lose a star

             Knowing Brett Gardner was done for the year and after getting swept in a four-game series against the Oakland A's, a call from the Seattle Mariners was just what the doctor ordered. Long-time Mariners outfielder and the first of the Japanese superstar imports, Ichiro Suzuki, wanted to leave the rebuilding organization with it's roster of young players and join a team comparable to his 38 year old age, and the Yankees fit that description to a tee.

             The convenient part was that the Yankees were visiting Seattle, so after Ichiro was traded to the Yankees in a sweetheart deal for D.J. Mitchell and some other nobody prospect, plus only having to pay $2 million of his salary this season, he only had to travel a few yards to join the Yankees in the visiting clubhouse.

             Not taking number 51, which has been last worn by Bernie Williams in a Yankee uniform and nobody else since, Ichiro went with number 31. Fellow Japanese countryman Hiroki Kuroda ironically became the first Yankee pitcher Ichiro made his Bomber debut behind. Nick Swisher, still hurt from the hip injury in Oakland, was out of the lineup, and paved the way for Ichiro to take his usual spot in rightfield. In his first at-bat Ichiro singled and later stole a base, but the Yankees were behind 1-0 until they scored three runs in the top of the 4th inning from a double and a couple of singles to make it 3-1 Yanks. Kuroda settled in and only gave up the 1 run on 3 hits with 9 strikeouts to join Ivan Nova and CC Sabathia as 10-game winners in the rotation. Alex Rodriguez added a bomb of a homerun to leftcenter in the 8th to pad the lead to 4-1, which might be last homerun of the season as it turns out. Technically a save scenario by the bottom of the 9th, Rafael Soriano came back after blowing a save the day before and achieved his 25th save of the season.

             The addition of Ichiro made the Yankees lineup deeper and more threatening, but this combined power thinned out a game later as Alex Rodriguez would go down with a fracture in his left hand that will sideline him for 6-8 weeks, basically the majority of remaining regular season games. Hard-throwing Mariners ace Felix Hernandez would be the reason why as a string of wild pitches towards the night of his night would plunk three Yankee batters, including A-Rod who took a 89 mph change-up off his left hand. Rodriguez went down in pain immediately and needed to helped off the field by manager Joe Girardi and trainer Steve Donahue.

             Hernandez's former teammate and mentor Freddy Garcia opposed him and pitched well for the Yankees, only giving up three runs in 7.1 innings of work. Unfortunately for him, the Yankees couldn't get much off of King Felix beside a Granderson solo homer in the first. Trailing 3-1 when A-Rod was plunked in the top of the 8th, it would turn into a bases loaded situation for the Yanks, but the best they could is add one run from an RBI lineout by Mark Teixeira who scorched the ball directly to the Seattle centerfielder. The Yankees gave it right back in the bottom of the 8th when three walks and an infield single issued by the bullpen gave Seattle their 2-run cushion back at 4-2. The Yanks wouldn't be able to rally against closer Tom Wilhelmsen and lost the game in addition to A-Rod for 6-8 with the fracture that won't require surgery, but certainly a DL stint and time to write more children's books.

             With the west coast trip officially a disaster after losing another future hall of famer to injury and dropping five of the last six games, the Yankees wanted to capture the rubber game and have something to half-smile about on the flight back to New York. Hisashi Iwakuma started for Seattle and gave the Yankees a scare by throwing inside to Derek Jeter to lead off the game. Jeter reacted shortly thereafter by crushing a pitch deep to leftfield in a rare show of pull-power to put the Yanks up 1-0. Ivan Nova started for the Yankees and was sloppy all the way through. He gave Seattle two runs back in the 1st, including a walk with the bases loaded, and in total would walk six in 5 innings, his shortest outing of the season.

             In the 8th inning, trailing 2-1 and on the break to losing another series for the consecutive time, the Yankees put together a 4-run rally and it was Jayson Nix of all people who came up with a tremendously clutch pinch-hit double with the bases loaded that cleared the bags and swung the game 4-3 in the Yanks favor. Russell Martin would knock Nix in as well to make the score 5-2, and in the 9th Rafael Soriano made the comeback complete by finishing off the Mariners for his 26th save of the season.

              Eric Chavez and Jayson Nix will be seeing alot more playing time with Alex Rodriguez gone for the next two months, and a good test will come in the last place Red Sox, who make their first trip to New York this season and despite having a bad season so far, will always find a way to make it Yankees-Red Sox...

Monday, July 23, 2012

That's not supposed to happen

             The Oakland Colosseum has served as a favorite west coast destination for the Yankees over the past couple of seasons in which they have won nine straight, including three this season. The A's were overly due to pick up the slack at home and they turned the 9-game losing deficit into a 4-game win streak in the blink of an eye.

             The A's had been hot in July, posting an 11-2 record, and the Yankees, the previous hottest team in baseball before leaving the homer-happy confines of Yankee Stadium. Freddy Garcia was slotted in to slow down the young team, but instead found himself in a 4-0 hole by the 3rd inning, thanks to a bases loaded double by Seth Smith which increased the Oakland lead to four runs. In true Yankee fashion, they chipped away in the 6th to cut the score to 4-2, but overall couldn't get the big inning against A.J. Griffin (no relation to Burnett). It came down to the 9th inning when Oakland closer Ryan Cook came out to shut the door. Nick Swisher brought the team one run nearer to tying it with a solo homerun that make it 4-3 in favor of the A's, but that was the end of the Yankee magic for the night and their 9-game win streak at Oakland was finished.

              Looking to brush off the inevitable road loss to the A's, the Yankees sent their 10-game winner Ivan Nova to the mound to start a new Oakland win streak, the only problem was A's starter Tommy Milone wasn't cooperating. The Yankee bats were blanked by Milone over his 7 innings of work while Nova grinded through 6.2 inning, giving up 2 runs and needing Boone Logan to bail him out of the 7th inning with no further damage being done. Nick Swisher was knocked out of the game trying to beat out an infield grounder and ended up straining his hip flexor, which will have him on the bench for at least the rest of the road trip. The news comes as a double blow due the fact it was earlier announced Brett Gardner will undergo season ending surgery for his mystery shoulder ailment. The offense finally woke up in the 8th with a solo homer from Russell Martin, and then in the 9th Robinson Cano tied it up with his 22nd bomb of the season which tied the game at 2-2. The pesky A's didn't let the blown save bother them, in the bottom of the 9th with one out, hits from Yoenis Cespedes, Jonny Gomes, and finally the hero Brandon Moss off of the losing pitcher, Cody Eppley, gave the A's the walk-off win.

             After being out-pitched by the A's in two straight games, the Yankees were hoping Phil Hughes could stop the trend, and unfortunately he couldn't. Jarrod Parker (yet another 'who?' in the A's rotation) out pitched Hughes by only giving up one run in 8 innings. Hughes took the hard luck loss and only received one run of support while giving up solo homeruns to Cespedes in the 4th and Brandon Inge in the 8th. This time around Sean Doolittle was sent to the mound by Bob Melvin to finish the game and there would be no 9th inning homers from the Yankees who fell 2-1 to the A's.

           Now looking to just be able to leave town without the total embarasment of getting swept in four games, CC Sabathia was called upon to be the ace once again and stop the losing streak, and for a while it looked like he might be the one to do it. In a match-up that already took place in Oakland, Sabathia had the 4-0 advantage over former-Yankee heavyweight Bartolo Colon by the 4th inning with a solo homerun from Curtis Granderson, his 26th of the season. Sabathia, making his second start from being on the DL, despite going 7 innings, wasn't as sharp as his first outing against the hapless Blue Jays, and gave up two solo homers in the 5th, and another run in the 6th off of a fielder's choice groundout. The Yankees failed to tack on any insurance runs and it would come back to sting them. Rafael Soriano came on for the save and to stop the Yankee bleeding, and the man who had been excellent all season in Mariano Rivera's shoes and only blew one save up to this point, managed to blow his second save of the season at a very bad time by allowing a solo homerun to Seth Smith over the centerfield wall which erased the Yankee lead and made it all tied 4 all. There would be no shirt untucking this time for Soriano, who at least got out of the inning with no further damage.

              It became a battle of the bullpens and the Yankees had a good chance in the 10th to go ahead by a run, but Derek Jeter took a called strike three with Cano left stranded at second. Then in the top of the 12th there was a golden opportunity to take the lead when Mark Teixeira singled and ended up on second base with a throwing error from Josh Reddick to start the inning. Robinson Cano, who had his multigame hitting streak ended the previous day, lined out to center afterwards. Alex Rodriguez was intentionally walked and A's lefty Jerry Blevins got out of his own jam by getting Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez to hit infield pop ups and the Yankee run chance was spoiled. Where the Yankees left the door open, the A's took advantage. Cody Eppley was on the mound for another Oakland walk-off win in the bottom of the 12th when Coco Crisp managed a two-out single that scored Derek Norris from second base, and the Yankees had officially been swept!!

                Even though the Yankees had lost each of the games by the margin of one run, which included an untimely blown save from the usually reliable Rafael Soriano, still the young and frisky A's had out-pitched and out-hit the mighty Yankees, who dropped below the 20 games over .500 mark with a 57-38 record and saw their lead in the AL East decrease to 6 games. The Yanks will try to salvage something from this west coast getaway with a trip to Seattle against the Mariners, and of course will draw King Felix Hernandez in the second game....

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The bulldozer effect

             When the Yankees were in their terrible-mode in May, the Blue Jays knocked them around up in Toronto during a brief two-game stint, this time the Yankees were kind enough to return the favor. Reality has set in for the Jays since May and they came in at the bottom of the AL East pile while the Yankees are sitting pretty as perhaps the best team in baseball.

             Phil Hughes was scheduled to match-up against Toronto's Henderson Alvarez and it had the makings of a homerun derby with players like Bautista, Cano, Granderson, and Teixeira lurking around, but the game was pitched rather tight for most of the way. Russell Martin got the Yanks on the board early with a 2nd inning homerun over the right-field wall. Perhaps his game winning hit from last Friday is getting his dead bat going. The Yanks would add another in the 3rd from a Robinson Cano double that plated A-Rod to make it 2-0 Yanks. The Blue Jays chipped their way back and used a solo homer and an RBI double to tie the score 2-2, but overall Hughes was solid, going 7 inning and only giving up the 2 runs while striking out 4 hitters. The Yankees squandered bases loaded opportunities early in the game, but were given another chance in the bottom of the 8th to do something with it. Raul Ibanez came to the plate with the bags full and Jason Frasor on the mound. After working the count to 3-1, Frasor was forced to throw Ibanez a fastball and Raul deposited it over the right-field wall for a grand slam which blew the game open at 6-2. Although an error allowed the Jays to rally a little in the 9th to make it a 6-3 game, Girardi didn't hesitate to then bring in Rafael Soriano to finish it off for his 23rd save.

            The Yankees had been rolling without their number one starter over the past few weeks, and now it was the big guy's chance to get back into the action and add to the fun. On the 15-DL for the first time since 2006 with a strain ab muscle (which is kind of difficult when having a big belly), CC was slated to keep the Blue Jays in the basement. He would have some help before the game even started when it was announced that Toronto homerun machine Jose Bautista would be placed on the 15-Day for a wrist injury from the night before. Sabathia would take the news and run with it, posting 6 shutout innings with 6 strikeouts that earned him his 10th win of the season. Andruw Jones put this one away in the 3rd inning with a 3-run homerun to left-field off of Brett Cecil. The Yankees added three more runs in the 7th to make it 6-0, and Chad Qualls (silly head) allowed one Blue Jay run in the 8th that broke the shutout, but it ended in an easy 6-1 Yankee win. There was some negative news that Brett Gardner suffered yet another set back from returning this season, his one millionth set back during 2012, but seeing Yankee left fielders Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez keep knocking out homeruns, the team is getting along just fine without him.

              With the Blue Jays about as dejected as possible from getting bulldozed the two previous nights, they tossed up the white flag early in the final game, falling behind 4-0 in the very first inning behind the poor starting pitching of lefty Ricky Romero. Mark Teixeira hit his 19th homer of the season batting right-handed that had the Yanks on top of Toronto 3-0, and then Andruw Jones singled in Cano to top off the 4-run inning. That was all Hiroki Kuroda needed as they steamrolled over the Jays hitters by going 7 innings and only allowing 4 hits while striking out 5. The Yanks had poked more runs in during the 4th and 6th innings, and after the top of the 7th when leading 6-0, the skies above Yankee Stadium opened up and rained down hard. The forecast said rain for the next few hours, so with the fact the Yanks were up 6-0 in the 7th and the Blue Jays looked dead, the umpires called the game in the Yanks favor to complete the sweep.

                It's west coast time again, after the game the Yankees backed their bags and headed to the airport for a little trip to Oakland where the Yanks have already swept the A's there this season, looking for another.....

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The battle of the Marks

             Returning from the All-Star break in Kansas City where Robinson Cano was soundly booed for not including future Hall of Famer Billy Butler on the AL Homerun Derby team, the Yankees played host to their ol' thorn in the side, the Angels.

             Hiroki Kuroda was given the ball to begin the second half of the season, looking to bounce back after his sub par outing in Fenway. Kuroda fell behind 1-0 in the 3rd inning thanks to a solo shot by Erick Aybar, but in the bottom of the frame, batting right-handed against the $70 million dollar lefty C.J. Wilson, Mark Teixeira poked a 2-run homer that barely went over the leftfield wall. From there Kuroda went on a roll and was working into the 7th inning on a low pitch count when things started to fall apart. The $250 million dollar man Albert Pujols singled to start the inning, Kendrys Morales was plunked in the back on a 1-2 pitch, and then Mark Trumbo, who bombarded the Yanks in Los Angeles a few months back with four homers, crushed a 3-run homer deep into the left field bleachers, where no balls ever go, to give the Angles a 4-2 lead. Pujols would get up in the 8th inning and hit a high popper to the right field foul line than dunked in for an RBI double as a result of Swisher shifted too far left against for the pull hitter. Swisher made amends soon after by leaping up at the wall and robbing Mark Trumbo of what would be another homerun. The Angles still had the 5-2 lead and it looked like another painful loss against the Angels was in the Yanks future with the untouchable Scott Downs coming out to start the 8th.

             Coming into the game, Downs was sporting a microscopic ERA and had been a constant Yankee-rally killer in the past for the Angels and Toronto Blue Jays. Shockingly enough, Derek Jeter started the bottom of the 8th inning with a hard double to right field to get things cooking. Curtis Granderson worked a tough at-bat and squeaked a walk on a 3-2 pitch. This set the table for two on and nobody out, with Mark Teixeira, who already homered in the game, to come to the plate still hitting right-handed against the lefty Downs. This was indeed going to be Teixeira's night as he found himself a hanging curveball with no bite and launched it deep to left that tied the game at 5-5 for his second homer of the game.

             The Yankees weren't done quite yet. They had the tie, now they needed one more run for the win. Raul Ibanez was in to pinch hit for Andruw Jones and he drew a walk. Joe Girardi inserted the valuable Dewayne Wise to pinch-run and he promptly stole second. With the struggling Russell Martin up sporting a batting average under .200 against the hard-throwing Kevin Jepsen, one would think Wise would be left stranded at second. Instead, Martin lined a double past first base which barely made it in fair territory and Wise came in to give the Yanks the 6-5 lead. Rafael Soriano picked up where he left off an converted his 21st save of the season, the last out coming from Martin throwing out Kendrick trying to steal second when it looked like Martin was going to let a pitch get away from him. Chad Qualls picked up his first win in pinstripes by mopping up the 8th inning, which turned out to be the Yankees most exciting victory of the season against the menacing Angels.

             With no trades or call-ups to say otherwise, Freddy Garcia's previous good two outings earned him another start in Pettitte's empty slot, and he contributed positively again with five decent innings in which he only surrendered 3 runs. Luckily for Garcia, he was facing a mediocre pitcher who was coming off the DL in Jerome Williams. The Angels managed 2 runs in the 1st from a bases loaded double by Alberto Callaspo, but the Yanks erased that immediately in the bottom of the frame with an opposite field 2-run homer from Kansas City fan-favorite Robinson Cano. Curtis Granderson jumped into the 2nd half homer fun with a 2-run shot of his own in the 3rd to give the Yanks a 4-2 lead at that point. With Garcia only able to go five innings, Girardi had to pull out his usual bullpen speed rack and put together four scoreless innings from Eppley, Robertson, and finally Soriano who closed out the 5-3 win that gave Garcia his 4th win as well as Soriano's 22nd save this season in place of Mariano Rivera. If the Yankees bullpen hadn't been good enough, news was getting better concerning the return of Joba Chamberlain while he rehabs, that the fireballer could be back by August sometime. If that isn't intriguing enough, there's other whispers that Rivera himself be have a small window to return this season from his surgery, but the latter seems quite unlikely according to Girardi.

            Playing with house money by guaranteeing themselves two out of three against the tough Angels, the Yanks set out for the sweep, but it wouldn't seem easy against their ace, the 10-1 Jarred Weaver. The Yanks sent their own 10-game winner, Ivan Nova, to the mound, and instead of a pitching clinic, the game turned out to be a slugfest. By the top of the 6th, the Yankees were leading 3-2, highlighted by a 2-run shot from Alex Rodriguez, who woke up from his slumber and had been hearing the boos lately. Nova started to flatten out and let in three Angels runs, including an unforgiving act of giving Maicer Izturis his first homerun of the season. Chad Qualls had to come in to relieve Nova in the 7th after letting a couple on, one of which scored which made the score 6-4 after Granderson had brought the team back closer with a solo homer. Eric Chavez also chipped in with a solo homer which made the game 6-5, but in the 8th, Qualls would be responsible for another string of three Angels runs which put the game out of reach at 9-5. Mark Trumbo managed to hit another homerun before leaving New York in the 9th that made the score 10-5 as fans headed for the exits. You should never leave early with the Yankees offense because they can always make a game out of it. Mark Teixeira hit a 2-run homerun in the 9th, his third of the weekend, that pulled the score to 10-7. Scott Downs was called upon to close it out for Mike Scioscia, but he struggled again to walk in a run at 10-8 and left the bases loaded for Alex Rodriguez to be the big hero and make the fans forget about the terrible hitting with RISP during the first half (and most his Yankee career). Kevin Jepsen came on for the righty-on-righty match-up and instead of a fairytale ending for the Yankees, it would be yet another A-Rod weak pop-up near the infield to kill the comeback.

             Despite A-Rod making more fans happy, the homer-swinging team can walk proudly being twenty games over .500 with taking 2 out of 3 from the Angels, and knowing the fact the crosstown Mets got swept in Atlanta to begin their second half. Next up, Scott Downs' former team, the Blue Jays come pay a visit to the Bronx....