So for about eight innings, tonight’s 2-1 Yankee victory was a pleasure to watch. The ninth? Well, that was a different story.
While the Yankee offense took the night off against Shawn Chacon and his slow fastball of doom, Joba Chamberlain kept the Astros’ hitters guessing for six innings — and he would have thrown seven had it not been for that pesky DH-less NL.
While Joba didn’t have his strike out pitch going for him tonight — he recorded just two over six innings — his breaking balls were dancing, the fastball was, by and large, stellar and the changeup was on. He gave out a few too many free passes and ran into some trouble in the fourth when he walked the guys in the heart of the Astros’ order. After an 88-pitch outing, shortened because his spot in the batting order was through, Joba had recorded his first Major League quality start.
The Yanks took the lead for good when Derek Jeter hit an opposite-field home run in the 8th. Perhaps Captain Clutch isn’t quite as finished as his paltry offensive numbers suggest this year.
But outside of Joba, the two real stories of the night focused around the Yankee battery. Let’s start with the pitchers. In relief of Joba Chamberlain, Jose Veras looked about as good as he ever has in the Bronx. He threw two scoreless innings, striking out three and pounding the strike zone. Just six of his 24 pitches were called balls.
As good as Veras was, Kyle Farnsworth had Yankee fans the world over on the edge of their seats. Farnsworth came into close in lieu of a Mariano Rivera who has thrown 70 pitches over the past six games, and he started off the 9th in spectacular fashion. After getting ahead 0-2 on Ty Wigginton, Farnsworth fell behind 3-2 and promptly hit the Astros’ third baseman with a pitch.
With the speedy Michael Bourn up next, Farnsworth then proceeded to make something of a bad baseball play. Bourn bunted a pop up back to Farnsworth and stood in the box to watch it. Kyle should have let the ball fall to turn two, but he caught it instead. It’s tough to think that far ahead in the heat of the moment, and getting the sure out is always a better move. Wigginton made the point moot by getting thrown out by Jose Molina, and Geoff Blum struck out on a 2-2 slider to end the game. We all breathed a sigh of relief, and I couldn’t help but think that Jose Veras is much better suited to set up than Farnsworth is right now.
The other story was Jorge Posada. The Yanks’ injured catcher — and, yes, because of his torn labrum, he’s injured — was lifted in the game as part of a double switch in the bottom of the 7th. At first, I was worried Posada had hurt himself on a thrown to third to nail Bourn in the 6th, but Joe Girardi says he pulled the switch for defensive purposes. That in itself is worrying.
The Astros stole four bases off of Chamberlain and Posada. While some of that can be attribute to Joba’s slow delivery, as Ed Price ever so graciously notes in the linked piece, teams are going to run off of Posada, and Girardi now considers him a late-inning liability. The Yanks, however, need his bat.
Meanwhile, the Yanks have finally reached that two games over plateau, tying their high-water mark for 2008. They’re 3-1 on a tough road trip and are looking to move three games over .500 for the first time all season later today when Mike Mussina squares off against Wandy Rodriguez. They’re six out — 4.5 behind Tampa Bay — and I’m wondering if things are finally starting to click. It’s not a moment too soon.