This game had bad news written all over it in the early going, but the Yankees came from behind for the 7-6 win thanks to Curtis Granderson’s monster effort.
The Murphy’s Law Inning
The top of the first inning was just amazing. Everything that could go wrong, did. First, Eduardo Nunez threw the ball away on a routine grounder to put men on first and second with one out. Then the Yankees played the shift on the left-handed hitting Ryan Doumit only to see him fist a ground ball right where the shortstop should have been standing. That scored two runs. Then it was Phil Hughes’ turn to make a mistake, specifically leaving a two-strike cutter up in the zone for Danny Valencia to hook into the left-center field gap for two runs.
The error obviously hurts, but like I said the other day, at some point the pitcher has to pick up his defense. Hughes didn’t do that, and it led to a four-run inning. The shift didn’t help, Nunez didn’t help, and Hughes didn’t help. The Yankees can’t keep playing catch-up game after game, at some point these mistakes have to stop.
Get Some Back
Just like Wednesday night, the Yankees responded to the four-run top of the first by scoring three in the bottom half. This time they did it with homers, first a solo shot by Granderson and a two-run job by Mark Teixeira. It was Tex’s first homerun of 2012, Spring Training included. Robinson Cano narrowly missed an opposite field homer as well, his ball died on the warning track. We’ve seen the Yankees score runs in bunches in the first inning only to get little the rest of the way so far this season, but thankfully that didn’t happen in this one.
Nunez helped open the floodgates with his error in the first inning, but he atoned for his mistake by starting a two-out rally in the second. He doubled to left with a full count, then scooted home and tied the game when Derek Jeter sliced a single to right. After getting ahead in the count 3-0 and then 3-1, Granderson clobbered his second homer of the night one batter later. The two-run shot landed in the second deck. Grandy’s fifth homer of the season gave his team a 6-3 lead.
After throwing 27 pitches in the first inning, Hughes needed just 58 pitches total to navigate the next four frames. He retired 13 of the next 15 batters he faced following Valencia’s double, settling down and looking more like the guy we saw in Spring Training. Phil’s night ended on a sour note when Doumit hooked a hanging changeup into the second deck in right for a two-run shot, but we saw some positive signs in the second through fifth inning. The Yankees are unlikely to make a rotation change until either Andy Pettitte or Michael Pineda is ready to return, but at least now Hughes can point to something positive and try to build on it. Give him credit for not completely tanking after that first inning.
The Grandyman Can!
Coming into Thursday’s game, Granderson owned a .208/.321/.458 batting line. He managed to raise that to .283/.377/.679 in five plate appearances. That’s .277 OPS points in one night. Of course, going 5-for-5 with three homers is no ordinary night. You already heard about the first two homers above, but Curtis chipped in another solo shot in the fourth, a line drive into the right field seats that proved to be the difference in the game. He added a line drive single in the sixth and an infield single in the ninth.
Granderson became the first Yankees ever (ever!) to hit three homers as part of a 5-for-5 game. It was the first three-homer game by a Yankee since A-Rod did in Kansas City back in August of 2010, and the first three-homer game in the new Yankee Stadium. He was so good that I’m going to forgive him for getting picked off first base in the ninth inning.
The bullpen has been the backbone of the team all season, and those guys again carried the load on Thursday. Boone Logan finished off the sixth inning for Hughes despite throwing two innings on Wednesday. Rafael Soriano put two men on base in the seventh, but he got out of the jam with a trio of strikeouts. David Robertson did the usual — put the tying run in scoring position before escaping the jam — and Mariano Rivera slammed the door with a perfect, six-pitch ninth. At 1.83, the Yankees own the best bullpen ERA in baseball.
Teixeira continued his hot hitting, no doubt inspired by my series of posts examining his offensive decline. He went 2-for-4 with the homer, giving him four straight multi-hit games and 11 hits in his last 29 at-bats (.379). Jeter singled once, both Raul Ibanez and A-Rod each singled twice, Russell Martin drew his usual walk, and Nunez sparked the two-out rally with his double. Nick Swisher drew a walk, leaving Robinson Cano as the only player in the lineup to fail to reach base. The Yankees have scored at least five runs in all but three of their 13 games this season. They’ve scored six or more runs in seven of 13 games. If the starting pitching had been just good instead of terrible, they’d have like nine wins by now.
The Yankees need to stop with the shift, it’s just not happening right now. They don’t have the personnel to pull it off and the pitchers just aren’t able to pitch to specific spots to get the kind of contact they need to make it work. They can worry about looking smart later in the season, just play the usual defense and worry about getting the pitching staff back on track. That first inning ground ball isn’t the first time we’ve seen it blow up in their face this homestand.
Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
The Yankees are headed up to Boston for a three-game weekend series, and tomorrow afternoon they’ll help celebrate the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park by wearing 1912 throwback uniforms. That’s pretty neat. Ivan Nova and Clay Buchholz are your starting pitchers.