Bronx, N.Y., April 17, 2012 – There’s almost 1,500 innings per team per regular season in major league baseball, a nice round number easily eclipsed when a team has mutiple games go extra innings. There’s always six outs, in most cases turned in by a variety of methods: strikes outs, both swinging and called; ground outs; fly balls; maybe a runner tagged out on the basepaths. There may be hits; there may be runs; great plays and ugly errors. But every team plays a few games that feature crazy short segments: moments when personalities intrude on the game, when things that don’t appear on every scorecard congregate in one section of a contest.
The Yankees disposed of the Minnesota Twins 8-3 Tuesday night in Yankee Stadium with relative ease, but this was one of those games where some of those touch-and-go moments dominated the early frames. The Twins took the lead in the top of the second when left fielder Josh Willingham caught up with a CC Sabathia fastball and lined it deep to just right of center where it cleared the fence: nothing strange about that, just good old country baseball.
CC shrugged off the blow and retired the next three, ushering in, however, a nine-out segment with a few twists and turns, an inning-and-a-half span that, as it turned out, determined the outcome of the game. Southpaw Nelson Liriano, who looked brilliant facing the Yanks in Spring Training, promptly fell behind lefty hitter Curtis Granderson to start the bottom of the second, walked him, then balked him to second after missing with two throws to New York shortstop Eduardo Nunez. Nunez followed with a sac bunt toward third, beat it for a base hit, then scored from first when Brett Gardner doubled into the left field corner.
Or did he? No, it seems a Yankee fan seated near the field in the corner couldn’t resist the idea of a memento of the game and, partaking in what can only now be termed Bartman-esgue behavior, touched the ball still in play, forcing Nunez back to third because of the interference. Light-hitting catcher Chris Stewart grounded out meekly, and a strike out and grounder kept Nunez stuck at third, and the score of the game tied, 1-1.
But the winds were still blowing weirdly and, after an out, Twins second sacker Alexi Castilla singled, and Denard Span objected to a strike call on the next pitch. Long story short, Span argued himself (and his manager Ron Gardenhire) out of the game. CC tried to stay fresh through the arguments but, once play was restored with Clete Thomas filling in at bat, Sabathia was also called for a balk; two balks and two ejections in a four-out span is not your everyday mix. A double then single put the visitors up 3-1, which could have been more, but Gardner, the best defensive left fielder in baseball, made a fabulous play on a sinking liner to end the top of the third.
The craziness was not over, however, and the Yanks responded with back-to-back one-out Andruw Jones and Granderson singles, and runners on second and third once Trevor Plouffe bobbled the latter hit in right field for an error. Nunez beat out a roller to short on a 3-0 pitch for one run, then Gardner walked to load the bases. And for the second time in two innings, the Yanks were in the same spot: with defensive specialist Stewart at the plate with big runs in scoring position.
But this time Stewart singled for two runs, and a Derek Jeter sac fly and Nick Swisher grounder closed out the bizaarro nine-out episode with the home team up 5-3. By all tenets of baseball the game was far from over, only in fact it was. Sabathia, fulfilling a between-games promise to focus on throwing strikes with his offspeed stuff, settled in, and the Twins had no chance. A guy who usually builds to fastballs at 94 and 95 mph, CC struck out Ryan Doumit on a slider to start the top of the fourth, then closed the frame by having Plouufe stare at a seed at 93, the hottest fastball he threw all night. Sabathia was in the midst of a streak where he would retire 13 straight, five on strike outs. A seventh-inning walk and error derailed him briefly, but he closed out his night with a grounder, then a swinging strike out of the first batter in the eighth.
April 17 would be a huge day in Yankee history on the basis of it representing the debut of Mickey Mantle in the Bombers outfield and announcer Bob Sheppard behind the Stadium mic on this day in 1951, if nothing else. But it was also this day in 1953 that Mantle hit the longest home run in the history of Washington’s Griffith Stadium; he followed by reaching Camilo Pascual for two 500-foot home runs on April 17, 1956. Newly retired catcher Jorge Posada had his 1,500th hit in a 7-3 win over Texas in Yankee Stadium on this day in 2010, which came exactly one year after the team earned its first-ever win in the new Stadium 6-5 over Cleveland, on April 17, 2009.
But back to the ace. CC’s dominance would have precluded any possibility of a Minnesota comeback even if Yankee bats fell silent, but they did not. Jones homered deep to left in the home fourth, then Gardner doubled again, and scored the second of three runs, on a Jeter single in the fifth. The Yanks failed to plate Robinson Cano, who threatened with a leadoff sixth-inning double, but when Gardner received a free pass and stole second in the seventh, it was Stewart to the rescue yet again, with an rbi single to left to forge the 8-3 final.
David Robertson and Corey Wade finished for CC who, though he only threw 15 first-pitch strikes to 28 batters, had a solid 73/38 strikes/balls ratio. He used 13 swings and misses to record seven strike outs, with just one walk, and used his slider and change to coax eight ground-ball outs. Without the early craziness he easily could have thrown a one-run beauty, allowing for the Willingham bomb.
On the offensive side, Gardner had two walks and three runs scored along with the doubles, Jones had two hits and two runs and started the big rally, Nunez used his speed to build two runs and score another, and Jeter drove in two. But on a night where the Yanks got an acelike outing from their No. 1 starter, it was the offense of Stewart that stood out. It was a night for
Carsten Charles, and Chris. Sabathia and Stewart.