This is one odd week for the Yankees. They played a game against the Angels last night, host the Blue Jays for two tonight and tomorrow, enjoy a day off and then, with just 15 games left in the season, head west for a tough Seattle/Los Angeles road trip. Whoever scheduled this West Coast swing for mid-September did a poor job of planning. No matter; the Yanks will play, and as they showed tonight, they will win.
Facing the Angels in a make-up from the May 3 rain-out, the Yanks sent Joba Chamberlain to the mound as part of his build-up to the postseason. For the first time since July, Joba looked, well, not bad. He threw 67 pitches in four innings and 41 of them were for strikes. He allowed one run — a Vlad Guerrero home run on a hanging breaking ball — but otherwise employed his full arsenal of pitches to keep the Angels off balance.
The real key to Joba’s success tonight was the goose egg he tossed up in the base-on-balls category. Tonight’s start marked just the fourth time all season that Joba walked no one, and by keeping the Angels off base, he maintained his rhythm and dictated the pace of the game. Outside of the Vlad moon shot, he allowed three other hits and struck out two.
On the velocity front, Joba’s fastball sat where it has all season. He peaked at 95 and averaged 92. He threw just one fastball for a swinging strike. In the grand scheme of Joba’s development, this fastball data is alarming, and it has been all season. While velocity isn’t everything with pitchers, for power throwers such as Joba, it is. Last year, he was averaging in the upper 90s; this year he isn’t. Where that velocity has gone, no one has explained.
With Joba on a short leash, the Yanks had to furnish 15 outs from the bullpen, and the regulars weren’t as sharp as they usually were. Al Aceves gave up a double to Erick Aybar, the first batter he faced, and then the Angels small-balled their way to a run. Jeff Mathis sacrificed Aybar to third, and Figgins hit a groundball to the right side to drive in the run. Aceves setlled down until the seventh when he walked two batters and had to be lifted for Phil Coke. Aceves hadn’t issued two walks in one appearance since July 31.
Coke shut the door. He struck out Chone Figgins, and then, with an assist from Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira, retired Maicer Izturis to end the Angels’ threat.
The Yanks, meanwhile, had little to show off of Jered Weaver. Nick Swisher blasted a home run into right field in the third for the Yanks’ first run. But that would be the lone run for the Yanks until the 5th, and the Bombers were down 2-1 when an odd inning unfolded before our eyes. Nick started the rally with a double, and Melky Cabrera walked. The man with more hits than anyone else in Yankee history sacrificed the two runners to second and third, and Damon hit a weak ground ball to short that would have plated the tying run. Melky, however, forgot an early lesson of baseball and ran into Chone Figgins before he fielded the ball. Melky was out; Swisher had to come back to third; and Damon was safe at first on runner’s interference.
The next hitter was Mark Teixeira, and the Yanks’ first baseman did not disappoint. Teixeira hit a ball to deep center field, and as he left the batter’s box, he yelled at the ump because his bat had hit Mathis’ glove. He wanted a catcher’s interference call until Torii Hunter didn’t catch the booming fly ball. Tex had himself an RBI triple, and the Yanks had a one-run lead.
In the 8th, Phil Hughes gave it back. After loading the bases with a pair of singles and a walk, the Angels scored a run on a double play, but Hughes retired Howie Kendrick for the final out. In the bottom of the inning, Teixeira doubled and A-Rod walked. Girardi pulled Teixeira for Brett Gardner in a tie game, and Gardner broke for third. A good throw would have nailed the speedy runner, but the ball bounced low. Chone Figgins couldn’t grab it and deal with the incoming Gardner. As the ball bounded into left field, the Yanks scored the winning run on an error. They had out-Angeled the Angels. Cano would add an insurance run with a single, but the Yanks didn’t need it.
The great Mariano Rivera nailed down the final three out as the Yanks swept the one-game set from the Angels. The team’s Magic Number to win the East dropped to 12, and with Brett Tomko tossing a complete-game shut out against the Rangers — just the second of his career — the Yanks’ Magic Number for a playoff spot stands at 7. October, here we come.