Bronx, N.Y., September 7, 2010 — From a Yankee fan perspective, Tuesday night’s loss to the Orioles in Yankee Stadium was more unpleasant than weird, despite a cool breeze after yet another pretty hot day in New York. But it did have a very odd moment as the teams prepared to play the top of the ninth. This was when public address announcer Paul Oldin regaled the paying crowd with the information that when the Yanks took the field, Brett Gardner would be playing left.
Nothing strange in a defensive replacement, particularly late in a game. The O’s had inserted a replacement at short just three outs before. And the Yanks had sent Eduardo Nunez out to play third three outs prior to that once Alex Rodriguez hit for Ramiro Pena. No, it wasn’t strange because the Yanks were replacing their left fielder, but rather because they weren’t. Gardner had played the position all night, and the reason for Oldin’s bizarre replacement announcement evades me to this moment.
Not that there wasn’t any reason to replace any hometown players in this 6-2 stinker, with three outfielders sitting on the bench as balls unexpectedly landed on the outfield grass, though none of that was Gardner’s fault. A crowd of 46,000-plus had come out primarily to see Yankee ace CC Sabathia cop his first ever 20th season win in a year where the Cy Young Award in the AL appears to be his for the taking. Some, too, had come to see the Yanks punish the Birds for their one-run victory the day earlier. The baseball world is abuzz over the job one-time Yankee skipper Buck Showalter has done to turn around the losing visitors’ squad the last month. Yankee fans were delighted that the Orioles had taken two of three from division rival and second place club Tampa over the weekend, but beating the Yankees in New York was a whole different matter.
But whatever the Yankee fan majority in the crowd came to see, it evaporated almost instantly in the opening frame. CC is as prone to a minor struggle in an opening inning as any dominant pitcher, but the way the first inning played out was frankly embarrassing for the home-standing veteran Yankees, and had to be uplifting for the Birds. Sabathia pounded two straight fast balls to Brian Roberts, second baseman and leadoff hitter for the Orioles. He took the first for a strike, then flicked the second into short center for a pop fly single.
Whether Curtis Granderson was playing too deep a center field or just got a bad read on the ball, I can’t say. But no ball like that fell in in front of a Baltimore fielder all night, while this was only the first of two similar popups off Orioles bats to fall for hits that inning. Felix Pie followed the Roberts “single” by walking after a seven-pitch battle, and Nick Markakis’s sharp single to left loaded the bases with no outs. Ty Wigginton lofted another soft fly to short right center to follow, and when it landed it scored the first Orioles run. CC could easily have had two soft outs and two one, but instead he was down 1-0 with the bases loaded and no outs. It got quickly worse when Adam Jones singled to left for a second tally and Jorge Posada could not handle Gardner’s throw at the plate as a third run scored. Little did we know it, but this game was largely over.
The Yanks attempted an instantaneous comeback, as Gardner thrilled the crowd (and his coaches I’m sure) with a perfect bunt single toward third leading off the bottom of the first. Derek Jeter grounded sharply almost past first, but as he had done several times in the game before, Wigginton made a fine play knocking it down; he then shoveled the ball to O’s righty Jake Orrieta as he covered first. Robbie Cano singled in Gardner following a strike out, but the recently banged up Nick Swisher bounced into a 4-6-3 on a 2-0 pitch to thwart Yankees and Yankee fan hopes. Making matters worse, DH Lance Berkman led off the home second with a single, the first of his three hits, but Posada bounced into a 6-4-3 to blunt the second of four threats built on a leadoff hit.
To sum up, the first five visitor batters used two sharp singles, two popups to short center and a walk to produce three runs and no outs; the Yanks had a bunt single and three hard singles from their first six batters, and ended up with one run, and five outs, two of them in the second inning with nobody on base.
I’m sure CC would tell you that he didn’t have his best stuff, but it seemed he deserved to escape the first inning unscathed; what’s worse he would be further “scathed” two innings later when DH Nolan Reimold would follow a Wigginton double with a long home run one pitch after Poasada and Sabathia talked things over. If it hadn’t been over at 3-1, it was at 5-1.
The Yanks closed it to 5-2 when Posada doubled in Berkman with no one out in the fifth, but Granderson popped out to short center, Pena popped to left and Gardner struck out. Jeter led off the home sixth with an infield single and stole second but died there. Batting first in the seventh, Berkamn doubled to the wall in left center and Posada walked, but Curtis lofted yet another harmless fly to short center. It became a threat only because it was in the air so long that three different defenders closed on it, and it fell in among them, but Adam Jones was able to force Posada at second. A pinch-hitting Alex Rodriguez slashed a hot shot off Josh Bell’s glove at third, but shortstop Robert Andino forced a slow-breaking Granderson at second. Worse still, Berkman failed to head for home and score, although we can hardly blame this one on Lance, who has come back hot from the DL, and had three of the eight Yankee hits this night.
The Orioles added an unearned run after Granderson dropped Bell’s drive leading off the eighth. Granderson has taken a lot of heat for his subpar offense in his first Yankee season, though he has been showing some promise with the bat of late, though certainly not in this game. But he has been solid in center, and grouped with the speedy Gardner in left and hard-working Nick Swisher in right has given the Yankees outfield “D” that rivals any the club has had for years. And to top that off, Curtis was nominated for the Roberto Clemente award before the game this night. He unfortunately did not have his best game after receiving the nod.
David Steele, one-time bass player for the Fine Young Cannibals, celebrated his 50th birthday this day. The group had quite a bit of buzz when they recorded the song and album that skyrocketed them to fame back in 1985. The title of that song is a close approximation of the effect some less than stellar Yankee outfield play has on me to this day.
[It] Drives Me Crazy