It’s disappointing to see the Yanks drop a game to the Nationals, holders of the league’s worst record by no slim margin. When they have a lead it seems like the season is coming apart. The Nationals, the Washington Nationals, holding a lead over the New York Yankees? As if. This is baseball, though, and that kind of thing will happen over the course of a 162-game season. It was nothing but heart-wrenching to witness the loss last night, but there wasn’t anything particularly wrong with it.
Chien-Ming Wang was pitching for his future in the rotation, and he did just well enough to get himself at least one more start. Unfortunately, he didn’t look much different than in his starts against Texas and Boston. Sometimes the sinker worked, sometimes it didn’t. He left it high on a number of occasions and got away with it. On others he let it tail and he didn’t — Adam Dunn and Nick Johnson did damage on those. It wasn’t a great performance, and honestly it wasn’t even that good. The Yanks can only hope that Wang improves as he gets consistent work.
While Chien-Ming ended the day with five innings pitched and three earned runs, it’s easy to forget that a blown call kind of ruined the fifth inning for him. With Willie Harris on second and one out, Christian Guzman grounded one between A-Rod and Ramiro Pena. Alex snagged it and threw to first, getting Guzman by a half (or quarter) step. The replay showed he was out, but the first base umpire did not see it that way. Guzman was awarded a hit, and came around to score when the next batter, old pal Nick Johnson, slammed a tailing sinker past a diving Melky and into the left-center field gap for a triple.
That’s one run, which means that Johnny Damon’s homer in the ninth would have tied the game. A ha, but remember that baseball isn’t a game of ones and zeroes. What happens on one pitch affects the next; what happens to one batter affects what happens to the next guy. It’s what Michael Kay calls the fallacy of the predetermined outcome, and despite our criticism of him it’s a perfectly valid point. Who’s to say that Jorge and Wang go through the same pitch sequence to Johnson with a runner on third and two outs? If they do things differently then Wang doesn’t throw that sinker and Johnson doesn’t hit a triple. He might have hit a homer, which would have put us back at square one, or he might have made the third out and Dunn’s homer would have remained the only run on the board.
(Using the fallacy of the predetermined outcome, we could also erase Robbie Cano’s leadoff homer in the fifth. But we could also erase the rest of the game, leaving it to a completely different iteration. This is what I mean when I harp on randomness in baseball. One thing affects another, so when one thing goes wrong it sets off an entire series of events. Change one thing in a baseball game, and you really change everything that happened after it, too.)
Wanger’s next start should come next Tuesday in Atlanta. Their 268 runs scored ranks among the lowest in the league, lower than the Nationals. Again, given his success last night relative to his previous two starts, I imagine the Yanks won’t think twice about giving him another try. If they were facing the Red Sox, then maybe they’d pull him from the rotation in favor of Hughes. But with an offense like Atlanta I’m fairly certain that we’ll see CMW toeing the rubber at Turner.
The bullpen did a stellar job of keeping the game close. Phil Hughes pumped 24 pitches in his two innings, 16 of which were strikes (the magic 2/3 mark). He sure is pitching like he wants his rotation spot back. Failing that, he’s pitching like he doesn’t want to see Pennsylvania ever again outside the rare road trip to Philly or Pittsburgh. For the time being, he’s become yet another weapon out of the Yanks’ ever-strengthening bullpen. While I’d like to see him get well over the 150-inning mark this season, having him in the bullpen has been a pleasure.
As to the offense, when only three of your starting nine get hits in a game, you’re probably not going to win. That’s a shame, because this was the first loss in which the Yankees’ pitching allowed three or fewer runs. The Yanks did make the most of their four hits, though. Two left the yard and the last one nearly led to the tying run. Unfortunately the Yanks just couldn’t put it together in the ninth. With Gardner, pinch-running for Teixeira, on third, A-Rod worked a walk. Yeah, you’d like to see a hit from him there, but he didn’t get anything good to hit. The only real hittable pitch was the one he fouled off, and even that was down and in. Hey, if a guy’s going to give a hitter a walk he has little choice but to take it.
It all came down to Robbie Cano, and boy was that an at bat. Not quite as epic as his first-inning AB on Thursday in Boston, but he did everything he could to find the pitch he liked, fouling off six pitches before grounding into a game-ending double play. This is Robinson Cano, love him or leave him. Yeah, he probably could have worked a walk on that AB. Had that been Damon at the plate there’s little doubt that Posada would have been up with the bases loaded. That’s just not how Robbie does things, though. He’ll foul off pitches until he gets something he likes. Sometimes that means putting a bad pitch in play. That’s what he did on the ninth pitch of the at bat, hitting a low and outside pitch to Christian Guzman.
Should Girardi have sent Alex during Robbie’s at bat? I can see the argument going both ways. The scenario could play out so many ways. Alex could steal safely (possibly without a throw) and take off the double play, forcing the Nationals to move the infield in. Cano hits the ball hard, so that increases his chances of pushing one through. The Yanks might have sent Gardner on the throw, which might have plated the tying run. The Nationals might also have cut off the throw and gotten Gardner at home, leaving a runner on second and two out, still down by one. Or they might have gotten Alex at second and allowed the tying run to score. Finally, Alex might have just gotten nailed at second without any movement from Gardner, leaving a runner on second and two down. Girardi opted to do nothing. I find it difficult to fault him in the same manner I did Thursday night when he didn’t bring in his best pitcher when the game was on the line. This clearly was not as obvious a call. I would have gone for it.
The Yank will get an early opportunity to shake this one off, as they’ll play a getaway game tomorrow at 1:05. Joba Chamberlain starts against Craig Stammen. It can’t come soon enough.
I’ve got a buddy with a pair of bleacher seats for tomorrow, section 202, row 17. They’re going for face, $12, transaction over email. Just hit me up — email addy is on the sidebar — and I’ll hook you up. Please, do not email if you are not serious.