Storm clouds threatened the Bronx all night. In the hours leading up to the game, it looked as if the sky would release buckets of rain at any moment. As game time approached, the skies cleared a bit, but those rain clouds would come back later. The bad luck recipient was Joel Zumaya, who had to pitch the seventh as the skies opened up. Three batters later, the Yankees took the lead for good.
On double his normal rest, it was tough to expect the world from A.J. Burnett. Pitchers, we’re told, are creatures of habit. Pitch, rest four days, repeat. Still, he’d been a bright spot in a rotation which had been mired in shakiness for most of July, and the Yanks sure could have used a win to open the second half. It didn’t help, then, that Burnett allowed 11 baserunners through six innings. The good news was that he surrendered just three runs. Phil Hughes, Mariano Rivera, and Mark Teixeira would take care of the rest.
Two performers stand out in last night’s contest. First is Phil Hughes. After Burnett exited, Hughes took over with authority. The 23-year-old righty pitched two full innings, holding the lead with a masterful performance. Despite three hits along the way, he recorded every out with three strikes. In a way, it was like Mariano in 1996. Starter goes six, Hughes comes on for two, and Mo finishes thing out.
The three of us at RAB are unabashed Hughes fans. Yes, we like all Yankees, especially the young guys. But there’s just something about Hughes. We’ve followed him through the minors. We’ve seen his bumps along the road. It feels great to finally see it all coming together. Yes, we’d rather see him in the starting rotation — it’s where the best pitchers on the team should be. That does not take away from what he’s accomplished, though. The man threw 75 percent strikes tonight, for Pete’s sake!
(No, I don’t think that the 40 pitches Hughes threw tonight is a way to transition him back to the rotation. I’ve come to grips with him being in the bullpen for the rest of the season. I don’t agree with it — even with Chien-Ming Wang healthy, Hughes stands to be one of the Yankees five best starters. But it’s become clear that the Yankees value him in the bullpen for the time being. So it goes.)
The other standout was none other than the $180 million man, Mark Teixeira. He was 3 for 5 on the night, but his hits came when it mattered. The first came in the first inning rally which netted a run, tying the game at one. The second came in the fifth, a single which turned into more when the ball bounced between Josh Anderson’s legs. That scored Damon, narrowing the gap to one.
The third and final hit couldn’t have been better timed. With two on and none out in the seventh, Teixeira took Joel Zumaya deep into the second deck in right, putting the Yankees ahead for good. It was almost as if you could feel the homer coming. Singleton had mentioned Zumaya’s struggles over the last few games, and as he said it you could see him struggling to throw the ball to the glove. On the fifth pitch of the at-bat and with a 3-1 count, Zumaya tried to get a 99 mph fastball down and in. It didn’t quite get there, and that was that.
The Yankees did have other opportunities throughout the night, but went 4 for 12 with runners in scoring position. That’s not great, but the Tigers went 1 for 12, and that was the difference. That and, of course, Zumaya’s recent woes.
Tomorrow promises to be a good one, as CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander square off in a rematch. You might remember last time, when Verlander scattered seven hits over as many innings, striking out nine. Sabathia pitched the whole game, eight innings, striking out seven. Doesn’t look like we’ll get rain, so enjoy the 1:05 start.