When a game ends in a walk-off, it’s easy to forget what came before. Last night’s game was a tense one right up until Hideki Matsui relieved it with a blast into the bleachers. The game remained tied from the bottom of the second to the bottom of the ninth, and it seemed as if Baltimore was just about to break through on a couple of occasions. But the Yanks fended them off, taking their third straight game by the score of 2-1.
Andy Pettitte gave up a run in the first, a homer to Nick Markakis on a ball that was around his shins. That was not a sign of things to come, as he retired 12 of the next 13 batters he faced. Troubled brewed in the fifth after a walk and a Matt Wieters single put runners on first and third with one out, but Pettitte escaped that. A pair of double plays erased a couple of singles in the sixth and seventh, but then Pettitte faced a second and third, one out, jam in the eighth and Joe Girardi thought it best that someone else get out of it.
(Taking this space to give Eric Hinske props on a good play on Roberts’ double. He knew he wasn’t going to catch it, so he didn’t over pursue. He let the ball ricochet and played it well. I can’t help but think another outfielder might have chased it all the way in the corner and let Wieters get to second, or worse, let Izturis score. Also, his homer was brutal. Absolutely crushed. Love to see that.)
What follows is an ode to defense and determination. With Phil Coke on the mound in relief, Nick Markakis stepped up, ready to hit. Coke threw a 93 mph fastball on the inside edge, and Markakis turned on it, bouncing the ball hard to Mark Teixeira at first. It seemed like Teixeira wanted to tag first and go for the double play, but he knew he had time only for the lead foe. He fired to Molina, who reached around to tag Izturis and record the inning’s second out.
The play amazed on every level. First, Teixeira fielded the bouncing ball quickly. Second, he decided he had enough time to throw home. Third, he threw an accurate bullet. Fourth, Molina laid down the tag right on Izturis’s spikes, which cannot be a pleasant feeling. Fifth, Molina actually held onto the ball, which was at the edge of his webbing. Everything went right, and the Yankees kept the game tied.
That eased some tension. Now the runner couldn’t score from third on an out. Coke could just concentrate on the batter and get him. So what does he do? The catcher’s worst enemy: a fastball in the dirt. Molina got down for it, but sometimes there’s just no blocking it. It squibbed away and Brian Roberts came charging from third. Molina recovered and flipped to Coke who, like Molina on the play before, was in perfect position. Roberts, seeing a glove waiting there to tag him, tried to get around, but Coke would have none of it.
The star of that play was home plate umpire Adrian Johnson. When Roberts popped up after his slide, Johnson looked at him and explained exactly what was going on. Coke had tagged him before he got to home plate. With just two pitches Coke had set down the Orioles in bizarre fashion. The game was still tied.
In the end, Matsui was the star. Jim Johnson dealt him a 95 mph fastball on the inner half, and Matsui laid into it, sending it up into the bleachers and causing a ruckus in the Bronx. Group celebration at home plate, pie in the face, the whole nine yards as the Yankees won their fourth straight game. A 6-3 Red Sox loss in Texas means that they’re back in a tie for first place in the AL East.
While the offense sputtered a bit again, the Yankees’ pitching delivered. After a couple of poor starts, Andy Pettitte came back with a strong performance at home. The bullpen, without Hughes and Mo, finished it off for him. The Yanks have to feel good after that one. Everything seemed to be working just when it needed to be.