July 13, 2012, Bronx, N.Y. – Ironically, the Anaheim Angels, who helped open Yankee Stadium 2012 for business by losing on Friday the 13th in April, began the season’s second half in the Bronx, again on Friday the 13th. Hiroki Kuroda, this night’s starter, pitched and beat the Angels 5-0 that April Friday, but the five runs the visitors scored this time around weren’t quite enough.
This was also the second anniversary of the death of George M. Steinbrenner, considered by many the best sports team owner ever; George succumbed July 13, 2010, just three days after “voice of God” and Yankee broadcasting icon Bob Sheppard had done the same. The Stadium hosted a brief tribute to George before the game to an appreciative crowd, and George’s granddaughter Haley Swindal got the crowd going by delivering a rousing National Anthem. But that’s not all that was going on in George’s palace; not only did new Brooklyn Nets guard Joe Johnson throw out the ceremonial first pitch, Nets coach Avery Johnson hung with the bleacher crowd as the game began.
Anaheim’s C.J. Wilson and Kuroda seemed ready for the big game; each struck out a batter in the first, and they posted similar lines. Even though Kuroda held a 2-1 lead in the game after the teams exchanged home runs in the third inning, Wilson did seem to have the better command. He pounded 21 first-pitch strikes to 27 batters through seven frames; Kuroda missed 17 of 30 times into the eighth. Wilson walked two to Kuroda’s one, but his seven strike outs bested the Yankee righty by one; he allowed five hits to Hiroki’s eight; and one home run to two long balls by Kuroda. Hiroki threw to a 63/38 strikes/balls ratio, Wilson 66/26. He left with a 4-2 lead.
Kuroda was good, and looked to have a winning chance, up 2-1 after six. But the Yanks failed to score Curtis Granderson following a leadoff triple in the sixth, and things turned. Albert Pujols singled leading off the top of the seventh, and the Yankee righty hit Kendrys Morales with a pitch at 1-2. Two tosses later All Star Mark Trumbo went 400-feet-plus for a 4-2 Angels lead (showing why he was a better home run derby contender than Billy Butler ever could be). Howie Kendrick followed a strike out with a double to left, but died on second after two more strike outs. But Mike Trout led off the eighth with a double, and stole third once Torii Hunter had struck out. The Yanks would twice fail to score a runner from third with less than two outs this game, once with no outs, then with one. But although the double Pujols followed with was lucky, floated the other way, he did hit a fly ball, something three Yankees failed to do, and the score was 5-2.
It’s easy to sum up the heroics that followed. New Yank righty Chad Qualls came on and got two outs, denying the Angels any more runs, if just barely. And the Yanks jumped on lefty bullpenner Scott Downs for a Derek Jeter double, Curtis Granderson walk, and another Teixeira home run, a majestic no-doubt-about-it shot past the left field foul pole for a stunning tie at 5-5 in the bottom of the eighth. Downs got two outs, but walked Nick Swisher after getting ahead 0-2. Then Russell Martin, the poster child of first-half Yankee offensive failures, singled the other way off Kevin Jepsen for the winner.
Glorious copy, but it leaves too much out. There were plenty of heroes, with Tex leading the way. But Kuroda had a bounce-back start after struggling in Boston, Qualls earned his first Yankee win, and Rafael Soriano came on for yet another save. Derek Jeter made a fine running grab of a ball Hunter topped in the first and pegged him out. And Swisher made the bottom of the eighth possible by running back, leaping, and grabbing Trumbo’s bid for a second home run of his own to bring Jeter up, destined to start his umpteenth winning rally.
Teixeira, the most maligned 30 home runs/100 rbi’s stellar defender in the game, has been very good lately; he had an impressive offensive series in Boston at the end of the first half. But stellar defensive plays define Mark’s game. When singles hitter Erick Aybar surprised Kuroda with a blast to right field for a 1-0 lead in the third, he did so one pitch after Alberto Callaspo sent a surefire single into the first-base hole. But Tex made an extended dive, grabbed the rock, and got it to Kuroda covering first just in time. There was no one on when Aybar went yard.
Which brings us to Martin. Russell was having a fabulous game long before he came to bat in the eighth, though with just a walk and two grounders to third. Not only had Martin done a great job working with Kuroda, he had pegged out two Angels stealing, and if replays mean anything, make that three. (Trout was out at third in the eighth.) His eighth-inning single was huge, but the job wasn’t over, with Soriano in for the save. Raffy struck out Callaspo, but Kendrick stroked a 3-2 single to right. Aybar popped out to Teixeira, who calmed 40,000 nerves by taking charge as the ball fell near the mound. But nothing is ever easy, and Soriano fell behind pinch hitter Maicer Izturis, 1-0. His next pitch was outside and in the dirt, caroming off Martin and rolling toward the Yankee dugout. Kendrick broke for second, Martin for the ball …
As related above, this one wasn’t just a key ballgame against a likely playoff opponent. It was also about tradition, with the team feting the late owner on the second anniversary of his death. It’s a thing the Yankees do better than anyone, celebrating the heroes who have gone before. On this day in 1985, the Yankees held a day in honor of retiring the numbers of Roger Maris and Elston Howard, No. 9 and No. 32.
The Yankees and their fans got a pretty good day from a power hitter and a catcher this time around too. Teixeira had five rbi’s, Martin one. And Russell pegged Kendrick out to end the game.
A Tex Flex (or two), a Russell the Muscle Night