Bronx, N.Y., May 30, 2010 — It was a shame that many Yankee fans approached today’s afternoon battle with the Indians in Yankee Stadium with trepidation. Despite the series of horrors that took place in the venue Saturday, fans attending this weekend need to be aware of what a rare treat we face, with three straight day games in the Bronx. The weatherman has cooperated through the first two, and at least on Sunday, attendees got to see a very good baseball game.
Cleveland sent righthander Justin Masterson out to the mound. A pitcher they got from the Red Sox in the Victor Martinez trade, Masterson has a high era and an 0-5 record, but he has been striking out opposing batters at an impressive rate. Yankee fans got to see that phenomenon up close in the home fourth inning, the first of just two times they showed signs they might break through and score. Using a sinking low-nineties fastball and an effective slider, Masterson retired 18 or 23 Yankee hitters through six on nine ground balls and seven strike outs, six of them swinging.
The young righty pitched around a first-pitch Derek Jeter bunt base hit in the first and a two-out Juan Miranda line single in the second seemingly with ease, but home team bats heated up in the fourth. The struggling Mark Teixeira led off and reached on a hard ground single the other way, a rarity for him, even if overshifted third sacker Jhonny Peralta should have pegged him out. Mark did not get a very good read when Robbie Cano blasted a first-pitch fast-ball off the left center field wall an out later. Planted halfway to second, he was unable to score when the ball caromed off the wall and briefly eluded the outfielders. Still, the Yanks, down 1-0 on two singles wrapped around a sac bunt in the third, were in business with runners on second and third with one down. But having already struck Alex Rodriguez out for the first out, Masterson calmly whiffed red-hot Nick Swisher and Miranda to extinguish the threat.
Despite being down, Yankee righthander A.J. Burnett was no slouch on the mound. Pounding 95-mph heat and an effective curve, he retired 18 of 22 through six, and did his finest work in the sixth when a bad Brett Gardner route to a Crowe liner to left had the speedy Indians center fielder on second with a leadoff double. AJ struck out Shin-Soo Choo and Austin Kearns around yet another fine Teixeira play, this one on Travis Hafner, who had already been robbed on a nice grab by Burnett himself in the fourth inning too.
Despite the inspired comeback, the Yankee offense sputtered yet again, but AJ started the seventh sharp as well, coaxing a popup and a strike out. But with two down and two strikes on Luis Valbuena, a potentially game-costing series of events began when the second baseman was hit by a pitch he appeared to be trying to swing at. Both he and Yankee catcher Chad Moeller were briefly banged up on the play, but although Luis limped down to first, he stole second base on a 2-2 pitch to catcher Lou Marson, who bounced softly to the shortstop hole on the next pitch. A wrong-footed Jeter fired to first, but the ball ticked off the webbing of Teixeira’s glove, and Valbuena raced around to score. Then catcher Jason Donald’s drive off the right center field wall went for a triple as Swisher was hurt on a dive, and the visitors were suddenly up 3-0.
But the Yanks made their second charge on Masterson in the bottom half, an inning the righty began having thrown 95 pitches. Swisher reached him for a leadoff single, and Gardner legged out an infield single after a fielder’s choice had moved Nick to second. Francisco Cervelli, hitting for double strike out victim Moeller, went down swinging too, bringing Jeter up. Masterson had handled Derek well following his first inning bunt single, getting a bouncer to third and a three-pitch strike out. And Jeter was down 0-2 quickly on a swing and miss and foul. Even though the Indians weren’t holding him on first, the third-pitch Gardner scamper to second was ruled a stolen base, and rightfully so, because he scored behind Swish when the Captain lined the next pitch to center for a single.
This ended Masterson’s day, and Cleveland lefty Tony Sipp, coming off a great early year but a bad outing in Friday’s Yankee win, was brought in to face Curtis Granderson. Curtis “crossed ‘em” though, doubling to right, and passing the torch onto Teixeira, the name it seems I can’t type without inserting the words, “struggling.” Still, Mark had a hit and got close to another in the first too, and he swung around to the right side. Working the count to 2-2, he fouled off a pitch, then blasted a no-doubt-about-it moonshot to left center, and the Yanks had a 5-3 lead.
It wasn’t just a big inning in the game, and in this up-and-down early season. It was a numbers flasher as well. One of the many fun things about the ever-accumulating offensive numbers of Derek Sanderson Jeter is that each time he reaches a Yankee milestone, it affords us the opportunity to mention another Pinstriped great. The rbi’s on his seventh-inning single gave him 1,099, which ties him for ninth place on the all-time Yankee list with the one and only “hitman,” Don Mattingly. Not to be outdone though, the following three-run blast from the Yankee first sacker, the “Tex message,” was also the 250th of Teixeira’s career. That is a nice round number.
Of course, no sooner had A-Rod’s following foul pop landed in first baseman Russell Branyan’s glove than did the buzz grow around the Stadium. “Great rally…but who pitches the eighth?” We needn’t have worried. Although Damaso Marte and, briefly, Joba Chamberlain warmed, Burnett strode to the mound with his 105-pitch count and retired the Indians in order on a grounder and two strike outs. AJ went eight stellar innings, equaled the nigh-on dominant Masterson with eight strike outs, and walked not one batter. He allowed only five hits, and just one of the three tallies were earned. Burnett found the zone on just 16 of 31 first pitches. But not only did he get the visitors to swing and miss 12 times, the Indians managed just 37 foul balls in the 78 strikes he threw. That’s how you get into — and through — an eighth inning.
Cano, Swisher, and Miranda hits leading off the bottom half led to two more runs, and the Bombers forged the final 7-3 score on Cervelli’s 23rd rbi on a sac fly. Mariano Rivera pretty much finished up himself striking out two, then throwing Valbuena out on a bouncer back to the box. Mo looked sharp, and hopefully going forward he’ll get regular work; the Yanks can rebuild the bullpen one role at a time, starting with him. Kudos to Curtis Granderson, back in the outfield, pulling a hard double off a tough lefty with the game on the line.
On this day in 1932, the Yanks dedicated a plaque in Yankee Stadium to the departed Miller Huggins, the manager who directed the team to its three first Championships, but who had succumbed suddenly two years before. And also Mickey Mantle missed hitting one completely out in the old Stadium on May 30, 1956. He almost cleared the tier level with his blast. Maybe Tex will reach the upper deck in the new place some day. But that’s just bookkeeping: numbers and baseball history. The three stars on this gorgeous day in the Bronx were:
AJ, DJ and the Bomb