Updated (5:36 p.m. with quotes from the post-game interviews): Derek Jeter really set the tone for this one in the first inning. A walk and a balk landed him on second base with Nick Swisher up, and then Derek got greedy. He took off for third, and while the replays showed he may have gotten his hand in before the tag, the throw beat him. “Out!” said the umpire.
An argument ensued, and as Jeter later explained during the post-game interviews, the ump had some interesting explanations for the call. Jeter alleges that Marty Foster said he made the out call because the throw beat him by so much. “I was told I was out because the ball beat me, and he didn’t have to tag me,” Jeter said to the reporters. “I was unaware they had changed the rules.”
If that’s really how it went down, Foster has some explaining to do. That’s a pretty outrageous statement for an umpire to make. Until instant replay review is instituted in baseball on a wider level, that subjective decision is part of the game, and it killed the Yanks in the first.
On the next pitch, Nick Swisher laced a single into center field. If we discount the fact that nothing in baseball is a predestined event, Jeter could have scored. In addition to the bad call, what also irked me about Jeter’s decision — and I’m pinning this one on Jeter’s choosing to try for third — was how little it could have helped the Yanks had he been safe.
Based on the 2009 Run Expectancy Matrix, teams this year with a runner on second and no one out are expected to score 1.10 runs. Teams with a runner on third and no one out are expected to score 1.32 runs. Meanwhile, a team with one out and no one on is expected to score 0.29 runs. The marginal reward for the steal of third is just 0.22 runs while Jeter’s making the first out at third base cost the Yanks 0.81 runs. Even though he was technically safe, it just doesn’t make sense for Jeter to try that risky move with no one out and the Yanks’ heart of the order due up, and we don’t need the run expectancy spreadsheet to tell us that. In that situation early in the game, it’s just not worth the risk.
The rest of the game was similarly frustrating. Andy Pettitte needed just six pitches — five of them strikes — to get through the first and then used 103 more to get through the next 5+ innings. Of those, 53 were strikes and 50 balls. He just didn’t have his best stuff, and Tony Pena, managing for the ejected Joe Girardi, probably shouldn’t have left him in to start the 7th with his pitch count pushing 100.
But Andy Pettitte is Andy Pettitte. It’s frustrating to watch him alternate good starts and bad starts, but at the same time, he’s the team’s fifth starter. Even without his best stuff, he gave the Yankees a chance to win it. They just couldn’t capitalize. We could blame the umpires for a bad call in the third that eventually led to a two-out, three-run home run off the bat of Alex Rios, but blaming the umps gets us nowhere. That’s just part of the game. Pettitte, and not the umpires, threw an 0-1 fastball into Alex Rios’ wheelhouse.
The loss may belong to Pettitte, but I’d be remiss to leave out a mention of Brian Bruney. The former 8th Inning Guy came in with a runner on first and no outs in the 7th. The Yankees needed Bruney to slam the door, and he threw it wide open. After a strike out, back-to-back doubles brought home an inherited run and one of his own. The Blue Jays had a 7-1 lead, and while Bruney would get another out and issue a free pass before getting the hook, the game was nearly out of reach. Where Bruney fits into the pen right now is anyone’s guess, but it won’t be in high leverage situations until he earns it.
In the end, the Yanks tried to mount a comeback. They plated two in the 7th, one in the 8th and two in the 9th, but it would not be enough. Nick Swisher didn’t come through with two outs and the bases loaded. Eric Hinske struck out swinging on a 3-2 slider from Justin Frasor with the tying run on first. Sometimes, the Comeback Kids can’t comeback.
We can’t complain too much about the homestand. The Yanks have won four straight series, and if they go 3-1 every four games, we’d be happy. But at the same time, you want to see them squash some teams along the way. For the second straight series, they had a sweep within their grasp but could not close the door. Today, they had their chances but went just 2 for 11 with runners in scoring position and left 11 runners on. From Jeter to the umpires to Pettitte and Bruney to the failed ninth inning comeback, it was one frustrating game.