Laying last night’s blame on a familiar figure

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.

Sori blows it as Lillibridge saves it, twice

It wasn’t supposed to get any worse than Monday. I mean, six no-hit innings from Phil Humber? What’s worse than that? Turns out that watching your $35 million eighth inning guy blow a lead and having two potentially game-winning ninth-inning hits taken away on great defensive plays is much, much more infuriating.

Rafael says: "No win for you Ivan!" (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Ivan Nova‘s Big Day

"Please let Soriano preserve this lead." (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

This was a big start for Nova, who was essentially pitching for his spot in the rotation whether you agree with it or not. Juan Pierre gift wrapped the first out of the game, trying a drag bunt on Nova’s first pitch only to get thrown out. He needed just eleven pitches to navigate the first inning, then just eight to get through the second, setting the pace for the night. The Yankees’ right-hander pitched into the seventh inning for the first time in his career, giving up a run only when Alex Rios came around to score after he should have been out twice (once on the fly ball Curtis Granderson couldn’t reel on, and then again when Robinson Cano dropped the throw on the steal attempt).

The key for Nova in this game was clearly his curveball. He did an okay job of locating his fastball away to both lefties and righties, but his ability to get that curve over for a called strike or bury it in the dirt for a swing-and-miss (which he got three of) is what allowed him to be so successful. The impatient White Sox hitters put nine of 13 balls in play on the ground and worked just five three ball counts in 25 plate appearances against Nova. The final line was five singles, two walks, and the one run in six-and-a-third innings of work, but unfortunately it was just the latest in a line of strong pitching performances that went wasted.

"Lol whatevs." (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Eighth Inning Guy™

Rafael Soriano has now appeared in ten games with the Yankees, and only once has he managed to not allow a baserunner: his first outing of the season. The damage tonight was hitting Carlos Quentin with a pitch and surrendering a go-ahead two-run homerun to Paul Konerko on a meatball cutter over the plate, turning a 2-1 lead into a 3-2 deficit with five defensive outs to go. The two baserunners he allowed after that are just salt on the wound.

Joe Girardi said after the game that he has no plans to change that damned 7th-8th-9th inning formula, meaning Soriano will still be force fed high leverage work even though he’s done little to deserve it. The next time I see this guy on the mound, it’ll be too soon.

Where’s The Offense?

Three runs in two games, one of them coming on a solo homer by Brett Gardner of all people. Don’t get me wrong, the White Sox have a pretty good rotation and Gavin Floyd is no chump, but three runs in two games? This team has to do better than that, they can’t have the opposing starter open the seventh inning by throwing his 73rd pitch. Just an awful showing over the last two days, this lineup is better than this.

Oh, and the best part was that stupid sacrifice bunt in the ninth inning. Three outs left to play with and the man with the second most homeruns in the league (Granderson) just gives away an out. It was made even worse because not only has Matt Thornton struggled tremendously this season, but he also walked the next batter. Who knows what happens if they let Grandy actually try. I don’t know when the Yankees moved to the National League, but someone in the dugout needs to start using their brain once in a while. The bunt increased the team’s chances of winning by -6.1%, so it was a backwards move.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Leftovers

Brent freaking Lillibridge man. You know what the worst part is? That guy isn’t even an outfielder, he came up as a middle infielder but learned other positions because he couldn’t hit enough to play everyday and needed to up his versatility. Tuesday was his 29th career game in the outfield and eighth (eighth!!!) in right field. Alex Rodriguez and Cano did everything right, hitting the ball hard and deep towards the short porch, but that kid made two unbelievable plays. Just tip your cap to him in the ninth, nothing you can do there.

It’s a good thing Mark Buehrle is pitching tomorrow, because the lefty hitting Nick Swisher sure does need a day off. He’s hitless in his last 15 at-bats now, might even be 16. I don’t really care to look right now. Granderson, Mark Teixeira, and A-Rod combined to go 0-for-9 with two walks and that brilliant sac bunt, and those three are pretty much carrying the offense right now. Eric Chavez had a great night in the field, but he went 0-for-3 with a strikeout and saw just seven pitches total. The two runs, as you probably know, came on solo homers by Cano and Gardner. Ironically enough, both guys showed bunt earlier in the at-bat. Le sigh.

Boone Logan is officially out of my doghouse now, he did a nice job on Sunday and then struck out Mark Teahen to lead off the ninth in this game. Yeah, Pierre singled after that, but it was a crummy little infield hit. It happens. So good job Boone, keep it up. David Robertson did some fine work wiggling out of trouble in the seventh inning. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say he’s been the best non-Mariano Rivera reliever on the team so far. Buddy Carlyle has appeared in three games thus far and has gotten zero swings and misses. It’ll blow up one of these days.

The Yankees grounded into at least one double play for the 12th consecutive game, with Granderson doing the honors on Tuesday. Just in case you’re wondering, the all-time record is 34 straight games by the 1949 Red Sox. No one is close to them, the second longest streak belongs to the 1961 Athletics at just 22 games. The Yankees have a long way to go.

WPA Graph & Box Score

For the first time all season, the Yankees lost two games in a row. They’re last club to do that, so … yay? MLB.com has the box score and video highlights. I recommend watching Lillibridge’s two catches if you haven’t seen them already, they really are spectacular. Too bad they robbed the good guys of game-winning (or at the very least, game-tying) hits. FanGraphs has some other stuff.

Up Next

The best and worst part of baseball? They play every day. The Yankees will send Bartolo Colon to the mound against Buehrle tomorrow night, though it’ll be up to the offense to wake up. If you’re interested in going, there are plenty of dirt cheap tickets available on the secondary market, so check out RAB Tickets.

Maxwell goes deep again in Scranton win

Graham Stoneburner has been placed on the disabled list due to a stiff neck, making room on the roster for Dan Brewer. Dellin Betances is expected to return to the mound on Thursday, finally back from his blister issues. The MRI on Jesus Montero‘s groin came back clean, so he’ll just rest for a few days and go from there.

Josh Norris took some lengthy video of Slade Heathcott, Gary Sanchez, and Dan Burawa from yesterday’s game, so check it out.

Triple-A Scranton (8-5 win over Charlotte) faced on old buddy
Greg Golson, RF: 2 for 5, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 K –
Frankie Cervelli, C: 1 for 5, 1 R, 2 K, 1 PB – apparently the plan is for him to catch tomorrow, then they’ll see where he’s at and decide whether or not to activate him
Jorge Vazquez, 1B & Chris Dickerson, CF: both 1 for 3, 1 R, 2 K – JoVa doubled, walked, and drove in a run … Dickerson walked twice and plated a run
Justin Maxwell, LF: 2 for 5, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 2 K – eight for his last 32 (.250), but six of those hits have left the yard
Jordan Parraz, DH: 0 for 2, 1 R, 2 BB, 2 K, 1 HBP
Brandon Laird, 3B: 0 for 5
Kevin Russo, 2B: 2 for 3, 2 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 BB – beast game right there … good to see him rebound from that awful start
Ramiro Pena, SS: 1 for 5, 1 R, 2 RBI
Adam Warren, RHP: 5.1 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 4-5 GB/FB – 60 of his 100 pitches were strikes
Josh Schmidt, RHP: 2.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 1 HB, 1-2 GB/FB – 26 of 46 pitches were strikes (56.5%)
Kevin Whelan, RHP: 1.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1-0 GB/FB – ten of 18 pitches were strikes (55.6%) … give him a chance (to replace Rafael Soriano!)

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Game 20: Back on track

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Last night was a miserable, ugly, grotesque showing of a baseball game that we should never speak of again. Thankfully, the Yankees play again today and we all have a chance to forget about … what were we talking about again?

Here’s the starting nine…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, LF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, DH
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Eric Chavez, 3B
Brett Gardner, LF
Gus Molina, C

Ivan Nova, SP

Want some good news? The Yankees are the only team in baseball that has yet to lose back-to-back games this season, and they’re 18-4 after being shutout since 2008 according to Pete Caldera . No YES Network tonight, the game will be broadcast on My9 locally and MLB Network nationally. First pitch will be thrown a little after 7pm ET, so sit back and try to enjoy.

Yankees waiting on results of Hughes’ tests, more scheduled

Via Peter Botte and Marc Carig, Phil Hughes underwent four hours of medical examination today, including not one but two MRI’s (shoulder and elbow) as well as a series of vascular tests. The results, however, are not available yet, and in fact the right-hander is scheduled for even more tests tomorrow. Mark Feinsand reported last night that Hughes is going for a full body scan and the Yankees are concerned about a non-structural issue, such as an aneurysm. That would be bad, remember Ian Kennedy had one in 2009 and missed basically the entire season. Get well soon, Philbert.