Last night’s game started out so well. After Joba Chamberlain escaped a shaky first, the Yanks put the screws to Kevin Millwood, tattooing him for four runs, capped by a Jorge Posada blast onto the short porch. After a weekend series win over the Red Sox, it looked like the Yanks would continue rolling.
Even in the second inning, when a couple of Alex Rodriguez misplays led to the Rangers halving the Yanks’ lead, things looked good. Kevin Millwood was laboring. The Yankee bats looked hot. Surely they could tack on a few more runs to put this one out of reach. Only that never happened.
Joba Chamberlain worked a 13-pitch third inning to help compensate for two 20-pitch frames, but the Yankees offense did not help him out in the bottom, coaxing just four pitches out of Millwood. That hurt doubly. First, it meant Joba had to run right back out there. Second, it got Millwood off the hook for his ridiculously long first and second innings.
Thankfully, Joba looked fine to start the fourth. Two quick outs, including a strikeout of Nelson Cruz, his second of the night, put Joba in position to keep his pitch count low and hopefully persevere through six innings. But then he committed the second-most-annoying sin in baseball: he issued a walk with two outs. This was all the more frustrating because he had already committed the most annoying sin: walking the leadoff guy, which he did to open the game.
What followed was five straight singles, allowing the Rangers to plate five runs. How that happened I’ll never know. On the last four singles Joba jumped out ahead in the count. In three of them he had two strikes. In all of them he had to record just one more out to erase all the baserunners. Yes, at this point the Rangers had scored seven runs, and all of them came with two outs in the inning. Worse, they all came in innings where there were bases empty and two outs.
It’s easy enough to hang this one on Joba, and I see no person more appropriate. Throwing 55 of 96 pitches for strikes is not going to cut it. Throwing a slider in every single 3-2 count you ever encounter is not a recipe for success — it’s probably why Josh Hamilton was able to lace one to right in his first at bat. Joba has become very predictable with his pitches. Combine that with a lack of command, and you have the makings for an outing like this.
I don’t think, however, that this is totally attributable to his long layoff. Yes, he certainly showed signs of rust in the first, but by all accounts he should have gotten through the second and third innings with relative ease. The second, in fact, should have been just nine pitches long, and it would have been if the Yankees weren’t fielding a third baseman with hip issues. Even Cody Ransom fields that Pudge grounder. As to the fourth inning, to try to pin any explanation on that is a fool’s game.
Robinson Cano tried to revive the team with a leadoff homer in the fourth to cut the lead to two, but two strikeouts — including Johnny Damon staring at a pitch down the middle — and a weak groundout by Melky ended that one pretty quick. Nelson Cruz then recovered the run with a homer of his own, a shot right off the barrel and into the right field stands. That was off Chad Gaudin; to send out Joba for the fifth would have been insanity.
The Yanks had a few more chances before Michael Young further extended the lead with a two-out, two-run homer in the seventh. They had runners on first and second with two outs in the fifth, but Robinson Cano grounded out weakly to end the threat. I thought he put a good swing on the ball, but apparently he didn’t square it up at all. Then in the sixth Derek Jeter doubled with two out, but Neftali Feliz came in and got Johnny Damon to fly out.
Then, of course, came the ninth. It looked to be a miraculous Yankees rally. They had plated four runs without recording an out, bringing the game to within one. All the sudden, Joba was in the back of my mind. The Yanks had a shot. They had the tying run in scoring position, and with no outs had a real shot to not only tie, but win the game. But then Nick Swisher popped up a sac bunt. The only logic in bunting there is to take off the DP. Even then, with no outs in the inning, it’s a pretty stupid move.
Yet Swisher bunted anyway, and because he’s not a guy who bunts with any frequency, he’s not very good at it. That led to a quick pop out. Then up came Melky, who has been horrible in August. Coming into the game he was hitting .198/.241/.333, and that includes his 4 for 6 night when everyone was hitting on Friday. Even his hit in last night’s game was a little dinker. He continued his futility, softly lining out to Elvis Andrus, who beat Jerry Hairston in a foot race back to second to end the game.
Of the Rangers 10 runs, nine of them scored after the Rangers had two outs and the bases empty in the inning. How in the world does that happen? Apparently, the Yankees know. Of their last 61 runs allowed, 50 of them have come with two outs. Yes, two-out runs will happen, but they shouldn’t be happening with this kind of frequency. Even worse for Joba, in the two innings he allowed runs all he had to do was retire the No. 9 hitter and he would have escaped unscathed.
The best way to deal with this game is to forget it. It’s a loss, yes, and Joba certainly didn’t look good, but it was just so strange, with all those none-on, two out rallies the Rangers mounted. Hopefully Andy Pettitte doesn’t have the itis. He’ll try to right the ship tonight. Considering this abomination, I’m really looking forward to tonight.