The Yankees have played the Orioles four times in the last week and all four times they were completely outclassed. It looks like the two teams have switched roles after the last 15 years; Baltimore is the team completely outplaying their division rival and deserves to be in first place.
I don’t think many people reasonably expected David Robertson to repeat his 2011 performance in 2012 just because it’s tough to be that good two years in a row, but I also don’t think many people expected him to morph into this pitch-to-contact cutter machine. Three pitches after his teammates rallied for five runs in the top of the eighth, Robertson surrendered a go-ahead solo homer to Adam Jones in the bottom half of the inning. Matt Wieters followed with a single to right and then Mark Reynolds unloaded on another cutter for a two-run homer. All three hits came with two strikes, exactly when Robertson should be putting guy away with the curve. No idea what happened but this is getting ridiculous.
To make matters worse, Boone Logan entered the game and surrendered a solo homer to the left-handed Chris Davis on his only pitch of the night. After working so hard to tie the game a half-inning earlier, two relievers gave 80% of the runs back in the span of 14 pitches. The bullpen has been a problem in the second half, but for the most part it was just the middle relief. Now Robertson is starting blow games in part because he forgot how to miss bats, and no team can survive with one effective reliever.
The Yankees looked lifeless (as usual) for the first seven innings, with a Curtis Granderson single to plate Robinson Cano in the fourth representing their only run. It appeared as though they would go quietly into the night as they have so many times in recent weeks, but the offense strung together a lengthy two-out rally to tie the game in the eighth.
It all started with a Nick Swisher walk sandwiched between a Derek Jeter ground ball and a Cano fly out. Alex Rodriguez doubled in Swisher — his second straight game with a double, perhaps a good sign coming off the DL — and then Eric Chavez drew an unexpected walk off veteran lefty Randy Wolf. In came Pedro Strop, who blew a game at Yankee Stadium last week because he couldn’t find the strike zone. He surrendered a run scoring single to Granderson before walking both Russell Martin (to load the bases) and Chris Dickerson (to force in a run). Ichiro Suzuki tied the game at six with a two-run single through the right side, the sixth consecutive Yankee to reach base with two outs. That was exactly the kind of extended rally the team has been unable to put together lately.
For the second time in as many starts, David Phelps looked like a nervous rookie in a big game. Last weekend he walked six Orioles in 4.2 innings before the Yankees rallied for the win, and on Thursday he allowed four runs to the first five hitters he faced. The last three came on a Matt Wieters opposite field homer. The only out he got in that span required a great diving stop by Cano. All told, the damage was five runs on six hits (two homers) and two walks in four innings. Phelps has surrendered a dozen runs in his last three starts (15 innings) while looking nothing like the guy he was earlier in the season.
It amazes me that a bullpen over-manager extraordinaire like Girardi is completely unwilling to pinch-hit for his left-handed platoon bats when there’s a lefty on the mound. He used Clay Rapada to retire Nate McLouth (!) in the fifth but didn’t bother to send one of the many right-handers on his bench to plate for Chavez or Ichiro against Wolf. The first three lefties Wolf faced combined to make five outs thanks to two double plays. I know this sounds stupid given the roles Chavez and Ichiro played in the eighth inning rally, but it’s been going on all season and they keep getting burned. This was the exception.
Robertson and Logan gave the game away late, but Rapada (struck out the only man he faced), Joba Chamberlain (allowed a homer to Reynolds but otherwise got five outs), Justin Thomas (retired all three men he faced), and Derek Lowe (cleaned up that eighth inning) were pretty effective out of the bullpen. Reynolds has three two-homer games against the Yankees in the last week, which tends to happen when you don’t throw a guy with his propensity to swing-and-miss any breaking balls. Seriously, what’s the conversation during the pre-game scouting meeting? “We’re going to get Reynolds out with fastballs.” “Okay, sounds good!” That can’t be it.
The Yankees had ten hits as a team, the first time they’ve reached double-digits since the final game of the Indians series in Cleveland. They also scored six runs for the second straight game after scoring no more than five in their previous seven games and in 12 of the previous 13. Granderson chipped in two solid singles back up the middle, which I seriously hope is an indication that his bat will come back to life down the stretch. Ichiro (three singles), Cano (two singles), A-Rod (double and walk), Martin (single and walk), and Swisher (two walks) all reached base multiple times.
The six homers hit by the Orioles represents only the ninth time in franchise history that the Yankees have surrendered that many dingers in a single game. The Rays last did it toNew York back in May of 2009, the game immediately before A-Rod came off the DL.
Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
MLB.com has the box score and video highlights while ESPN has the updated standings. The Rays were idle on Thursday but they still picked up a game in the loss column and now sit two back. The Orioles obviously pulled into a first place tie. Again.
Same two teams on Friday night in what will be the (next) biggest game of the season. Phil Hughes will be opposite the left-handed Wei-Yin Chen in that one. If there was ever a time for Phil to throw the game of his life, this would be it.