After tonight’s 8-6 defeat in Texas, the Yankees are 6.5 games behind the first-place Rays. In the Wild Card, they’re in third place, 3.5 games behind the Red Sox. Numerically, they’re not quite out of it.
But watching the team and looking ahead to last two months of the season, I get the sense that they’re on the cusp right now. This team — with Joba Chamberlain out indefinitely and the rest of the rotation falling apart — needs to put it together this week. They need to beat Texas in Texas; they need to beat Anaheim in Anaheim; and they need to beat Minnesota in Minnesota. If they don’t, it’s going to be a long, slow march to that final game in Yankee Stadium and the last road trip of 2008.
Tonight’s loss was a frustrating one. The Yanks could have won this game a few times over, but while the team lost a few nights ago, tonight’s effort really comes down to four individuals. We start in the ninth with Alex Rodriguez. This ought to make the A-Rod Haters happy.
With one on and one out in the ninth, the game was in A-Rod’s hand. Standing in there against Eddie Guardado, A-Rod could have tied the game with a long ball. Instead, he hit a game-ending double play that seemingly defines A-Rod’s 2008 effort just like his walk-off grand slam in April of 2007 defined last year. This year, A-Rod hasn’t been the best in close and late situations, and while there are definite sample size issues, it’s hard to ignore the fact that he hasn’t been coming through late in the games.
Of course, runs count early on too, and I hate to criticize him. Instead, I’ll leave that up to my mom. As were sitting at the Smoke Jazz Club tonight when the game ended, she to me: “He only hits home runs with no one on base.” While that’s not 100 percent accurate, he failed tonight in a key situation.
But while many of A-Rod’s detractors will be happy to finger him for the loss, the truth is that three other people had a chance to impact the game before it came down to A-Rod, and had any of those three come through, A-Rod wouldn’t have needed to get that game-tying hit in the ninth that never came. So let’s alight on Andy Pettitte.
Fresh off of a 5.1-inning, nine-earned run outing against the Angels, Andy Pettitte did not deliver. Pettitte allowed five runs on six hits in five innings of work. Over his last 10.1 innings against solid offensive teams, Pettitte has thrown to an ERA of 12.48. With Joba out, Pettitte has to pitch better than he did if the Yanks are to catch a whiff of October baseball this year.
But the Yanks nearly survived the Pettitte outing if not for Brian Bruney and Dave Robertson. These two pitchers gave up three earned runs in two combined innings of work, and had they done the job, Richie Sexson’s grand slam would have given the Yanks the lead. Instead, it simply teased us, giving fans hope that the Yanks could come back.
But the bullpen had faltered. Again though, maybe someone else is to blame. David Robertson threw 44 pitches tonight. He had reached that mark just once on July 1 against Texas. Perhaps, Joe Girardi left him in for too long tonight as he did with Damaso Marte tonight.
That decision would be overshadowed by the one concerning Melky Cabrera and Ivan Rodriguez. In the span of two batters with the bases loaded and the Yanks threatening, Girardi used Pudge as a pinch runner and Melky Cabrera as a pinch hitter. Why any manager would use a hitter with a sub-.600 OPS over his last 300 plate appearances as a pinch hitter while using the guy hitting nearly .300 as a pinch runner is well beyond me. It just doesn’t make sense.
In the end, tonight’s loss was the product of four distinct decisions and at-bats, none of which went the Yankees’ way. It’s been one of those seasons.