Watching the ninth inning unfold from the cozy confines of Section 420B last night was a surreal experience. Still smarting from Rafael Soriano’s sub-par pitching, we watched Derek Jeter eke out a base hit, and the stadium turned alive. When Curtis Granderson, the team’s leading home run hitter, bunted, we all groaned, and after walks and pitching changes, Brent Lillibridge single-handedly saved the game for the White Sox twice.
After Lillibridge’s lucky diving catch of what I first assumed to be a game-winning double off the bat of Robinson Cano, I sat in my seat in stunned silence. For a regular season game in April, I was annoyed. No, I was mad. I was mad at Soriano for blowing yet another game in April for the Yanks. I was mad at Lillibridge, a guy who barely looks like he needs to shave, for making two great catches, and I was mad at the Yanks’ offense, suddenly quiet, for putting up no fight against Gavin Floyd and the White Sox.
As we all tend to do so in a one-run game lost on a dime, I wanted to blame someone. Rafael Soriano, of course, seemed like the natural scapegoat. Entrusted as the high-leverage Bridge to Mariano, Soriano needed to get three outs. The first one was a strike out, and it all unraveled from there. He hit Carlos Quentin, and then he gave up the world’s most obvious “here it comes” home run to Paul Konerko. Goat, I thought.
But it wasn’t just the home run that caused the Yanks to lose. After the ninth inning, Soriano still seemed to be the perfect scapegoat. Had he not hit Carlos Quentin, the White Sox would likely not have used Brent Lillibridge as a pinch runner, and Lillibridge, a middle infielder by trade, would not have been in a position to make those catches. With the fallacy of the predetermined outcome firmly in mind, I don’t think Quentin makes the catch one both of those bullets that should have won the game. Again, Soriano’s fault with a side of Lillibridge to blame. (But who can really blame someone for making those catches? Once the emotion settles, just tip your cap.)
So who was this Lillibridge punk that ruined what should have been a perfect inning capped with a Yankee comeback? He’s a 27-year-old middle infielder with a career 51 OPS+ in 317 plate appearances spanning part of four seasons. Tonight was his eighth appearance in right field, and after emerged as one of the Braves’ top prospects in 2008, he has yet to fulfill his potential. How he came to be on the White Sox will bring some mixture of joy and dread to Yankee fans’ hearts.
On December 4, 2008, Lillibridge, one season removed from being named Atlanta’s sixth best minor leaguer and a potential future lead-off hitter, found himself bound for Chicago in a multi-player deal. The youngster, along with Tyler Flowers and two minor leaguers went north in exchange for Boone Logan and Javier Vazquez. The rest, as we know, is history. The Braves traded Logan and Vazquez to the Yanks a year later in exchange for Michael Dunn, Melky Cabrera and Arodys Vizcaino, and Vazquez flamed out in New York.
Essentially, had Chicago not traded Vazquez to the Braves, Lillibridge wouldn’t have been on the White Sox. He wouldn’t have been in right field in the ninth inning, and he wouldn’t have robbed the Yanks of a pie-filled victory. It was simple: It was, as it always is, Javier Vazquez’s fault. While walking out of the stadium, I realized I could blame Javier Vazquez, and the loss seemed easier to take. I might have gone home an unhappy fan, but in the great game of finger-pointing, I was a satisfied camper. It was, is and always will be Javy’s fault.