For a day, Mariano is human while Damon isn’tBy
This Yankee approach to winning is becoming quite the theme. For the second time in three days, the Yanks pulled out a walk-off win to emerge victorious. By winning dramatic fashion, the Yanks’ success allows us to forget, for a few minutes, some of the poor play we saw today.
We start in the ninth inning. Today’s winning pitcher — Mariano Rivera — is on some stretch this year. Yet to blow a save, Rivera has allowed just two earned runs this year, and for a few minutes today, it looked like the second was going to cost the Yanks the game. Having just tied the contest at 10 in the bottom of the 8th, Rivera gave up a first-pitch home run in the 9th to David DeJesus. The cutter just didn’t cut. It happens, and Mo’s ERA is a whopping 0.67 now.
After DeJesus, Rivera pulled out a dominating 1-2-3 performance, and the Yanks could go to work on Joakim Soria in the bottom of the 9th. With one out, Jorge Posada homered to tie the game, and the Yankee Stadium crowd, shocked by a rare display of mortality by Rivera, came back to life. Robinson Cano saw four pitches, swung at all of them and grounded out to short. But then Mystique and Aura, Curt Schilling’s best friends, reared their heads.
Wilson Betemit drew a walk; Melky Cabrera hit an 80-foot single just down the third base line; and Johnny Damon — already five for five on the afternoon — roped a single into the right field corner. Betemit crossed the plate; the Yanks mobbed Damon, an amazing six for six on the day; and all was right in the Bronx.
But until minute 230 of this game tonight, all had not been right in the Bronx. Five days after coughing up three different leads in a game in Minnesota, Andy Pettitte couldn’t keep the Yanks and Royals close. The Yanks kept have to play catch-up, and when all was said and done, Pettitte’s final line was terrible: 6.2 IP, 10 H, 10 ER and two Jose Guillen home runs, including a grand slam.
On the season, Pettitte’s ERA is now 4.99. He’s allowed 97 hits in 79.1 innings and just hasn’t been generally sharp this year. His performance is yet another reason why the Yankees need to see how Joba fares in the rotation. They need good starting pitching, and with Wang and Pettitte struggling lately, they just aren’t getting it.
But Pettitte is to blame only in performance. The other person who, until the bottom of the ninth, carried this game, was Joe Girardi. On Pettitte’s 111th pitch with the bases loaded, Guillen, a significantly better hitter against lefties (.311/.344/.541) than against righties (.233/.258/.390) , launched a ball high and far and gone. Why is Joe Girardi, usually one to the bullpen too quickly, leaving in a scuffling Andy Pettitte to face Guillen? No one in the pen could have done worse than Pettitte.
My other two bones to pick with Girardi today came on strategic moves. In the first inning — the first inning! — with Damon off of second, Derek Jeter, number three on the Yanks’ all-time hit list, bunted. I was stunned. Considering that it was the first inning, bunting is a terrible strategic move, let alone with Jeter at the plate.
Then, in the eighth, with Damon off second and Jeter off first and one out, the Yankees were primed to steal a base. They had their best base-stealers on, and Jimmy Gobble, a lefty slow to the plate, on the hill. At no time did the runners go, and Bobby Abreu hit a very deep fly ball that David DeJesus tracked down near the wall. That out could have been a sac fly. With one out in a tie game, the Yanks have to at least try to start the runners.
Girardi has seemingly been afraid of strategic managing this year. He’s been loathe to start runners; he’s shied away from hit-and-run plays; and he seems generally satisfied to wait for the big blow that hasn’t always come for the Bombers this year. When all is said and done of course, the Yankees won today, and the game was an Instant Classic. But we should take some lessons from the first 8 innings. All was not right until Johnny Damon and Jorge Posada picked things up in the 9th.