When Robinson Cano came to the plate representing the tying run, for a second I believed that the Yanks’ second baseman would come through. He took a pitch for a ball, took another for a strike and then hacked weakly at an outside slider, pulling it to Kendry Morales for the final out of a 5-2 Angels victory. For the Yankees, it was another loss to the Angels, one complete with early-inning bad luck and some poor managerial decisions.
Before we delve too far into this one, though, we should acknowledge that the Yanks’ Magic Number to clinch dropped to a Yogi-like 8 tonight. While the Royals found themselves at the wrong end of an early 6-0 deficit, they rallied against Tim Wakefield, Manny Delcarmen and closer-of-the-future Daniel Bard to down the Red Sox 12-9. Zack Greinke faces Paul Byrd tomorrow evening.
For the Yankees, the game started off on a promising note. Similar to Sunday, Derek Jeter singled to get the party started. For reasons unknown, Robb Quinlan wasn’t holding Jeter on, and while Johnny Damon scorched the ball down the first base line, Quinlan nabbed it on a dive. Had he been holding Jeter on, the Yanks would have had second and third with no one out.
With a runner on first and one out, Mark Teixeira blasted a ball down the third base line, but Chone Figgins had other ideas. The Angels’ pesky third baseman made a diving stop, and while he didn’t record an out, he stopped what could have been an RBI double. The Yanks had two scorched balls, but nothing to show for it. It would be that kind of night.
Making his first start after an extended rest brought about by shoulder fatigue, Andy Pettitte wasn’t sharp in the first inning. With two outs, back-to-back-to-back hits gave the Angels a two-run lead. After that, Pettitte rolled. He gave up a run on a few hits in the bottom of the 5th, but his final line was more than we expected. He went 6 innings and gave up 3 runs on 5 hits and 2 walks. He will pitch again against the Red Sox this weekend, and how he responds to regular rest will be quite important for the Yanks’ playoff hopes.
In fact, the third run probably shouldn’t have scored. With an out in the 5th, a Chone Figgins flyball split Melky Cabrea and Johnny Damon. Damon called off his center fielder, and Robb Quinlan advanced on the weak-armed Damon. Had Cabrera caught that ball, Quinlan probably stays at third.
Meanwhile, the Yanks scuffled against Saunders. They drew no walks and eked out just 7 hits. Their runs came on solo shots by A-Rod and a pinch-hitting Hideki Matsui. While Nick Swisher drilled one to the wall in the 9th, the air in Anaheim wasn’t carrying, and a late-game rally fell short.
But while we have to tip our cap to Joe Saunders, what was quite curious were a few managerial decisions by Joe Girardi. First, he opted to rest Hideki Matsui, a very good hitter against left-handed pitchers, in favor of a right-handed lineup. That strategy clearly didn’t work, and Matsui blasted one of the few pitches he saw from Saunders. With Jose Molina as Matsui’s replacement in the lineup, the swing in line-up value is immense.
Then, late in the game with the Yanks down 3-1, Girardi made a few questionable decisions. While Alfredo Aceves has not thrown since Sept. 14, Girardi went with Brian Bruney, and while Bruney has a new number, his results were the same. He gave up a towering home run to Kendy Morales and should not pitch in any meaningful situation.
After the game, Girardi defended his move, but his reasoning was unsatisfying. Claiming that the Yanks are “trying to win,” Girardi said that he prefers to bring in Aceves when they’re winning or in a one-run game. It’s hard to believe Girardi thinks this excuse flies. Keeping the game close is just as important as closing the door, and the Yanks should not be pigeon-holing their relievers as Girardi seemed to say they do.
While Matsui’s home run brought the Bombers back to within one, Girardi went with Jonathan Albaladejo in the 8th. The mediocre reliever gave up another run to ice the game for the Angels. I know the Yankees don’t need to win right now, but they need to start preparing for October. They have 11 games to improve their play, and this game won’t go down as a shining moment.
Right now, Kenny Singleton and Michael Kay are discussing how the Yanks are on auto-pilot. They’re in the playoffs, and they’ll probably have the best record in the AL. But a crisp, well-played and well-managed finish to the season would do wonders for the team’s and the fan’s confidence.
We’ll do it again later tonight at 10:10 p.m. Chad Gaudin will pitch for the fourth spot in the playoff rotation, and he’ll face Ervin Santana. Let’s hope the bats — and Zack Greinke — show up.