For seven innings last night, CC Sabathia kept the Yankees in the game. After a rough first inning he settled down, hurt only by a pair of Chase Utley home runs. But, because he’d done such a good job of keeping the Phillies off the base paths, they were both solo home runs. Unfortunately, with Cliff Lee in his groove, it would take a serious offensive effort just to make up those two runs.
What the Yankees needed was for the bullpen to keep it a two-run game so that maybe, just maybe the offense could pull off a late-inning rally. That did not happen. Phil Hughes walked the first two batters he faced, and while Damaso Marte did his job, David Robertson failed to record the inning’s final out without allowing the Phillies to extend the lead.
His first opponent was Jayson Werth. With a righty on righty matchup, this is the guy the Yanks wanted to retire. Robertson started him with a fastball that ended up a bit low for ball one. To the fastball he went, and he missed three straight times for a four-pitch walk. But did he really miss? As pitchf/x records it, the second and third pitches of the at-bat were strikes. The second pitch was debatable, hanging up at the top of the zone, a place where umpires don’t always call strikes. But the third pitch was right there, a 93 mph fastball that came in a bit high, but certainly within the zone’s confines.
Robertson then missed badly for ball four, a fastball low, loading the bases for Raul Ibanez. Girardi could have gone to Phil Coke, but with three righties following Ibanez, and considering Robertson’s favorable splits against lefties, it was probably the right move to leave him in the game. Robertson then went to work, and he set up Ibanez nicely.
The first pitch he kissed the low, outside corner with a fastball for strike one. He then tossed another low fastball that missed the bottom of the zone to even the count. Keeping the ball low again, Robertson placed his third pitch, a 93 mph fastball, on the inside part of the plate for strike two. With Ibanez down in the count, he had to be prepared for the curveball, but Jorge and Robertson went back to the fastball, this one high and outside. It was a nice change of pace, and that’s going to get a swing and miss sometimes. Ibanez, though, managed to foul it off.
With the count still 1-2, and with Ibanez having seen four straight fastballs, Posada and Robertson went to the curve. It missed by a decent margin, though, evening the count at 2-2. I’m not sure if they were going for the swing and miss, or just poor contact, but again Posada called for the curveball and set up on the low outside corner.
Robertson delivered, and Ibanez bounced one through the hole on the right side for a two-run single that opened up the game for the Phillies. The pitch was supposed to stay away, but as you can see below, Posada had to move his glove towards the middle of the plate. That allowed Ibanez to get enough of his bat head on it to get it into the outfield.
Just how much of the plate did that curve get? The pitch sequence strike zone plot from Brooks Baseball shows us.
It was low and kind of away, but not where Robertson and Posada wanted it. It was still a decent pitch, but not a great pitch. Ibanez, a good hitter, did what he could with it. Cano, playing a bit to his right, had no shot.
Had Robertson placed that pitch just slightly further outside, perhaps Ibanez would have bounced it right to Cano. He might have even swung and missed. But, because the ball was towards the middle of the plate Ibanez could handle it, and while it wasn’t the difference in the game it certainly changed the tone. Instead of being down two with six outs remaining, the Yankees were down four with the bottom of their lineup due up in the eighth.
“A game of inches” is a cliche for a reason. Robertson had done a good job setting up Ibanez, but made a small mistake on one pitch and it ended up costing them big. It’s the nature of the game, and it happens to the best of them. Just ask CC Sabathia who, after throwing three good pitches to Chase Utley in the sixth, left a fastball right over the middle of the plate.
After all this, I can’t help but wonder how the game would have unfolded if Robertson got even one of those strike calls against Werth. If he’d retired him, our moods might be different right now.