Welcome to the Year of Joba. The Yankees have a good, young pitcher on an innings limit, and as the team hasn’t seen one of those since innings limits became all the rage, every start — nay, every pitch — brings it with intense scrutiny and fan overreaction.
Today, the Yanks’ plan for Joba resembled something out of the Spring Training manual. With a few weeks left in the regular season and 30 innings remaining for Joba, the Yanks will keep their youngster on normal rest but control his innings. Today, he was set for 3 innings or 50 pitches, whichever came first. With Joba and his 17.3 pitches per inning, you never know.
Well, with the anemic White Sox offense on tap, Joba made it through three innings well before he reached 50 pitches. In fact, Joba needed an economical 35 pitches to record nine outs. He threw 23 of them for strikes and gave way to Al Aceves and the bullpen as the Yanks’ bats led the way to a weekend sweep against the reeling White Sox.
There was but one problem with Joba’s 35 pitches: They weren’t that good. The game started off with a Scott Podsednik triple, and he scored on a Gordon Beckham ground out. While the Yanks tied the game in the first on a Derek Jeter double and a Mark Teixeira sacrifice fly — the first of Mark’s four RBIs on the day — the White Sox grabbed the lead in the third on back-to-back-to-back singles with a stolen base in there for good measure. Joba ended strong with a strike out of A.J. Pierzynski, but he would head to the showers with a so-so line: 3 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 1 K.
For Joba, the problem seemed to be one of velocity. While he was throwing more strikes, he averaged below 92 with his fastball and peaked at around 94.4. His changeup, slider and curve were all working nicely, but I still wonder, as I have many times this season, where Joba’s 97 mph fastball went. He threw it last year regularly as a starter but only occasionally this year.
Anyway, with Joba out, the Yankees’ bullpen and bats went to town. Johnny Damon gave the team a lead with a two-run shot in the third. That blast was his 24th of the season, and Damon is now tied for his career high in home runs. The Yanks’ left fielder later left the game with cramps in both of his calves and is day-to-day.
For the next four innings, the game was a tense affair. Al Aceves, coming off of a few rough August outings, held the White Sox to just two hits and no runs in three masterful innings of work. He struck out one and grabbed his ninth win of the season. In the 7th, Aceves gave way to Damaso Marte who retired Jim Thome on four pitches. With a few righties up, Joe Girardi went to David Robertson. The Yanks’ K specialist nailed the second out of the inning and had Mark Kotsay down to his final strike, but a pair of singles prolonged the inning.
Out went Robertson, in came Phil Hughes, and there went the White Sox’s chances. Hughes retired Jayson Nix on a fly ball to Eric Hinske, and the Yanks’ bats took over. Melky and Jerry Hairston, Jr. each contributed RBIs on a double and sac fly, respectively, and then Mark Teixeira put this one out of reach with a towering blast into right field. It was his 32nd home run of the season, and as he touched the plate, his RBI total reached 101. He leads the AL in that category.
With an 8-2 lead in their pockets, the Yanks let Hughes pitch a 1-2-3 8th, and while Phil Coke gave up a two-out home run to Jermaine Dye in the 9th, it mattered for little. There would be no 9th inning comeback, and the Yanks would head down to Baltimore with their 82nd win. As the Blue Jays lost to Boston, the magic number drops only by one game to 27, and October is inching ever closer.