The matchup looked electric. Joba Chamberlain vs. Brandon Morrow. 2006 first round pick vs. 2006 first round pick. Electric arm vs. Electric arm. It did not meet expectations. Both had troubles throwing strikes. Neither lasted six innings. The disappointment in the matchup set the tone for the game.
The Yanks got a bit lucky in the early goings. After two straight singles, Hideki hit a tapper to third. Chris Woodward not only bobbled the ball, but threw it past Russ Branyan at first, allowing Robinson Cano to score. That also put Jorge Posada on third, and he scored on a deep fly ball to center field. Melky laid into one, but Franklin Gutierrez is quite adept in center. That’s two runs on the two mistakes by Woodward.
The M’s got one of them back when Gutierrez blooped one to where no one could get it. That’s baseball for you. That doesn’t mitigate the game Joba Chamberlain pitched, though. Ronny Cedeno’s jack certainly wasn’t a cheapie, after all.
Joba was a bit frustrating last night, as we’ve seen a in a number of his starts this season. Not only were the end results — 5.1 IP, 9 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 4 K — disappointing, but in the process was as well: only 55 of his 96 pitches were for strikes. There was plenty wrong with Joba’s game, and all considered he might have been lucky to escape with those results.
One question I kept asking during the game is, why isn’t Joba throwing strikes? This is a guy who early in his pro career was known as someone who didn’t issue many walks. So why now? Why is he, like Hughes and Kennedy before him, having trouble finding the zone? All three had excellent K/BB ratios in the minors (5:1 for Joba, 4.59:1 for Hughes, 3.55:1 for Kennedy), but have all struggled in the majors (1.86:1 for Joba this year, 2.05:1 career for Hughes, 1.20 for Kennedy). Is there a connection here?
While you ponder that, back to the why question. Why isn’t Joba throwing more strikes? Is he trying to fool hitters and failing? Is worried about hitters making solid contact if he throws in the zone? These are, unfortunately, questions to which I have no answers. There’s nothing more I’d like to know right now, short of what color and type of panties Emmanuelle Chriqui is wearing right now, than why Joba isn’t throwing strikes. It’s frustrating, because we know just how good he is. It’s just going to take some more patience, I suppose.
After the game, Girardi mentioned that in long counts Joba slows down, which further messes him up. Is it really that simple? Pitch quicker? If so, can we beat Joba with a cudgel when he takes more than a few seconds to set up for a pitch? Something tells me, though, that it’s a bit more complex than Girardi is willing to admit to the press.
Once Joba left the game, the Yanks turned it on. Phil Coke came on with one out in the sixth and finished it with just seven pitches, including a strikeout. Phil Hughes followed with a nine-pitch seventh, also including a strikeout. In the bottom of the inning Alex Rodriguez foiled the Mariners plans to pitch him up and in, turning on one and parking it near the left field bleachers. It was 5-3 Yanks, and it felt like they were about to ride that lead to victory.
Brian Bruney had other plans. It’s easy to fault Girardi here. Not only had Hughes just dominated the M’s in the seventh, but he’s been generally awesome since his move to the pen. He’s capable of going multiple innings, so why not let him hand the ball to Mo? As Girardi explained after the game, the plan was to go to Bruney, the official 8th inning guy, the whole way if they had the lead. With this I take issue. Then again, I believe that bullpen roles in general have gone far beyond the point of ridiculousness, so my ire for this move is a biased one.
Still, it’s a chance for Hughes to pick up an inning. It’s a chance for him to face more hitters. It’s a chance for him to pitch in a close game in the 8th. Girardi said he wanted to get Bruney going, but tonight did not seem like the situation. With the offense generally sputtering at that point, why not stick with what’s working? Plus, the more guys you go to in the pen, the more of a chance you have of running into someone who’s having a bad night. That’s what Girardi did last night.
The six, seven, and eight guys singled off Bruney, bringing the game within one run. After a Cedeno sacrifice, the Yanks walked Ichiro to get to Russ Branyan. He’s cooled down a bit lately, but he’s still a dangerous hitter. He did his job though, hitting one deep to left. Johnny Damon had no chance of throwing out Woodward, and the game was tied. The second guessing became much, much easier at this point.
Something awakened the Yanks bats at this point. Maybe A-Rod’s homer jacked them up. Maybe they sacrificed a live chicken. Who knows? What we do know is that they came out firing in the eighth. Matsui doubled, and then Nick Swisher, with Brett Gardner running, laid down a pretty bunt that Sean White just couldn’t handle. Melky and Jeter followed with a double and single, giving the Yanks all they’d need to lock this one down.
It wasn’t the prettiest game, and for the first six innings it wasn’t the most fun to watch. It changed once the starters left, though, and in the end the Yanks came away with their sixth straight win. To make things even sweeter, the Red Sox and their indefatigable bullpen blew a 10-1 lead, losing to the Orioles 11-10. That puts the Yanks just two games back, even though that shouldn’t matter right now. All that matters is that the Yanks keep winning. They did just that, which means we can all be in chipper moods tomorrow. Andy Pettitte vs. Jarrod Washburn. I did not pick a good matchup to take my parents to.
*Chris Jakubauskas. I messed up at first by writing that Chris Jakubauskas fielded Swisher’s bunt. Just wanted to make sure Chris Jakubauskas’s name got into the recap. Chris Jakubauskas.