Bronx, N.Y., June 17, 2010 — Wednesday night in Yankee Stadium began with the uplifting Tuesday highlights when the team jumped on Philly ace Roy “Doc” Halladay for three home runs and six tallies in an 8-3 win. The Yanks had not only won four straight, the Scoreboard pregame show informed us, but nine in a row at home, a streak one game longer than any they put together in the magical 2009 championship season. Having dispatched the best the visitors had to offer, hard-throwing A.J. Burnett was to be paired against the relatively (in baseball years) ancient Jamie Moyer, who allowed nine runs while recording three outs his last time out.
Just when we were thinking this is a can’t-lose scenario, emceee Paul Oldin announced a guest to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Bill Mott is not only a horse trainer at nearby Belmont race track, but the youngest trainer ever to be inducted into Horse Racing’s Hall of Fame, and I applaud him on the honor the Bombers bestowed upon him. Still, one thought about what happens to sure things at racetracks could have alerted us about what was about to befall the home team.
A couple of decades ago, late Washington humorist and columnist Art Buchwald delivered an offering making fun of the Defense Department where he announced the Pentagon’s newest can’t-miss weapon: a new flying fighter impregnable against most modern weapons systems because it flew too low and too slow for sensors to even find it. Wednesday night, Jamie Moyer was that weapon.
Burnett started the game popping up Shane Victorino to third and striking out Placido Polanco in a scoreless top of the first featuring a heater that buzzed in at 92 mph to start with and advanced to 95 in no time. Ten minutes later Derek Jeter bounced out to second on Moyer’s first pitch, a fastball that registered 81 mph. Too slow to hit, or hit well, apparently, and the bad news was that the veteran lefty had plenty more where that came from. The same baseball bible that will tell you that faster pitches are harder to hit also lectures the interested observer that one secret of great pitching is to offer pitches that show batters very different offerings: a slow curve, for instance, that comes in at least 10 mph slower than the heater, and a changeup even more so.
Moyer hasn’t been reading this stuff though, because he mixed his low-eighties fastball with a cutter at 79, a curve crawling by at 78, and a change just a bit slower than the rest. Still, the pitches put the Yankee bats to sleep, and they rarely woke up. The good news, perhaps, is that the Bombers reached Moyer for two home runs through six frames, continuing a power surge that produced eight fence clearers in the last three games. But the kicker was this: Around those two loud hits 18 Yankees went up, 18 went down. And they hardly broke out in the seventh or eighth innings either. A-Rod walked with one down in the earlier frame, only to be removed on a 5-4-3 dp, and Kevin Russo reached on a two-out infield single in the eighth, becoming the only runner left on base through Moyer’s eight innings when Brett Gardner popped out to right field.
Burnett, on the other hand, had no such success. He has struggled early in his last several starts, and Wednesday was worse yet. He was wild from the start, and although he walked just three before being removed in the fourth, he hit a batter too and had Jorge Posada scrambling after balls missing the zone by several feet throughout the contest. Light-hitting Phillie (and ex-Mets) catcher Brian Schneider watched nine of A.J.’s pitches zoom by in two at bats, with just one finding home plate ump Ed Rapuano’s strike zone. But worse yet was the 3-2 fastball that caught too much of the plate with the bases loaded and Shane Victorino up in the second. His bases-clearing triple, reminiscent of the two-run Gardner three-base hit that started Halladay’s demise the night before, made the score 4-0, and Burnett was buried further by back-to-back singleton home runs by Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth in the third.
Robbie Cano’s one-out homer in the bottom of the second had closed the score to 4-1, and Posada’s solo shot in the fifth, also with one down, got the Yanks to 6-2. But attempts to rally late fizzled until Brad Lidge came into close in the ninth. He actually struck out the side, but a two-out walk, A-Rod rbi double, and Cano single did give the Yankee faithful who stuck around for the end the treat of witnessing the seeming impossible: seeing a pinstriper come to bat in the ninth as the tying run. Posada, who had twice driven in four runs with home runs over the weekend, could have knotted things if he did so again, but this would have required him to clear the fence for a second time in this game, and it wasn’t to be.
If there was any Yankee good news (aside from Tampa’s loss in Atlanta that preserved the two teams’ flat-footed tie for first place), it was that both the just recalled lefthander Boone Logan and the recently re-signed righty Chad Gaudin did a terrific job holding Philly where it was to make the Posada game-tying attempt even possible. Logan allowed nothing but an intentional walk over 2.7 innings, and Gaudin retired all nine Phillies he faced to end the visitors’ game. Unfortunately, more than enough damage had already occurred, and there is that nagging suspicion that the results the two achieved can’t be overly trusted given that the Yanks seemed out of the contest while the two of them worked.
The Yankee highlights are few. Although the team continues a trend of winning the vast majority of their games at their new home, they have not been displaying the come-from-behind wins that characterized the 2009 team. Still, aside from the two home runs and the effective relief work, that the team mounted a threat after being down 6-2 with two outs with no one on in the ninth vs. Philly closer Lidge deserves mention as well.
The presence of a horse racing pro would not have been the only hint that this would not be the Bombers’ night to anyone who looked at what has befallen the Yankee team over the years, by the way. The impending interleague visitation from the suddenly hot crosstown Mets, for instance, brings to mind two fairly recent bad June 16ths in Yankee land. Mets journeyman righty Dave Mlicki blanked the Bombers in the Bronx in the two teams’ first interleague battle 6-0 on this day in 1997. And ask 100 Mets fans if the team’s signing of ex-Red Sox power hitter Mo Vaughan almost 10 years ago yielded any fruit at all and they’ll say no. They would be close, but Vaughan beat David Wells and the Yanks 3-2 with a three-run, eighth-inning home run in Shea Stadium on June 16, 2002. But worst of all, in light of the home win streak Wednesday night’s Philly win snapped, the second longest Yankee winning streak ever, 18 games, was halted when the lowly St. Louis Browns, soon to become the Baltimore Orioles, beat the Yanks in the Bronx 3-1 on June 16, 1953.
So the Yanks send recently rising starter Andy Pettitte against Kyle Kendrick of the Phils in the rubber game of their three-game series on Thursday. Some might consider the Yanks the favorite in that one too, but I’ll not weigh in on that. Given Burnett’s wildness both in and outside the zone in this loss, we could have called this report “Wild Thing” in honor of the four-day-old 58th birthday of onetime Troggs singer Reg Presley; the group had a big hit by that name in 1966. But seeing as I think this one had more to do with what Moyer succeeded in doing than in A.J.’s failure, I’ll go with the 120th anniversary of the birth of comedian Stan Laurel instead. Suffering through one mishap after another paired in the Laurel and Hardy duo with the huge Oliver Hardy, the slight of build Laurel would always be blamed by the bossy Hardy for whatever befell the two of them. What happened to Yankee bats against veteran Moyer could be described in the same way Hardy depicted that duo’s troubles:
A Fine Mess