Bronx, N.Y., May 25, 2011 – It was almost eerie how similarly Toronto lefty Jo-Jo Reyes and Freddy Garcia started their games in Yankee Stadium Wednesday afternoon. Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar pounced on Garcia’s not-too-fast fastball at 1:09, getting it by Andruw Jones in left center for a triple. And Derek Jeter doubled over Jose Bautista’s head on a 3-1 pitch to start the home first, crossing over to third with no one out on a wild pitch to Curtis Granderson.
But the paths of the two hurlers’ games couldn’t have been much more different. Garcia escaped his dilemma with uncommon ease, coaxing the meekest of bouncers back to the box and back-to-back infield popups. Reyes gave up a rocket run-scoring double to Granderson. He escaped the first on a Robinson Cano laser to right one out later because Bautista made a great catch, and then doubled Granderson off second, but the Yankee offense knew where he lived, so to speak, and would be knocking on his door shortly. Understanding his plight, the reluctant Reyes failed to throw a first pitch over the plate to any of the first eight Yankee batters, and just three of 16 while he pitched.
Garcia, on the other hand, proved his unlikely Houdini-like escape was no fluke, and that he was brimming with confidence, as demonstrated by the 21 first-pitch strikes he tossed while missing just six times, finding the zone exactly seven times all three times through the Toronto order. And despite his well-documented less than blazing fast ball, Freddy’s confidence was well placed. It wasn’t until the Jays followed a Corey Patterson double with a run-scoring Juan Rivera single with two down in the sixth that their hit total equaled the number of times they went down to infield popups (five). Mixing in the occasional “heater” and a change of pace, the Yankee right-hander dominated the Jays with a slider and split-finger pitch that not only coaxed seven ground-ball outs but four swinging strike outs. The confused Jays swung and missed at 11 of his 64 strikes, against just 26 balls.
It may have helped that Garcia had the early lead on the Granderson rbi double, or was it the Jones two-run homer in the second (3-0), or Mark Teixeira’s two-run shot in the third (5-0)? The latter followed another Granderson double, while Jones went yard after a walk, the offensive scenario he would duplicate after Toronto closed it to 5-1 with his second two-run homer in the sixth, this one an impressive moon shot to dead center field off southpaw Luis Peres, who actually did quite well over four frames after taking over for Reyes to start the fourth.
Jones’s second shot was fortuitous for a crowd that had been lulled into sitting back and enjoying a lead, because a three-hit uprising to open the top of the seventh got the Jays two runs, but David Roberston came on to put out the fire. He did so with a strike out, but only after Eduardo Nunez, at third for the DH’ing Alex Rodriguez, singlehandedly prevented a fourth Jays run with an unconventional (the strategy is usually to run force the runner to backtrack away from home plate) rundown of the speedy Rajai Davis, caught off third on a bouncer to Nunez by Jayson Nix. Davis thus became the second Blue Jay baserunner tagged out on the basepaths in a game where they were losing by five runs (Bautista caught stealing in the third) and four in the case of Davis.
Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera pitched scoreless innings in the eighth and the ninth around leadoff singles, with Brett Gardner, in left for defense in the eighth, holding Bautista at first on a ball that caromed off the wall in the corner. This set up the nifty 6-4-3 that Jeter began. And despite some recent defensive struggles, Cano made two nice catches on popups, incuding an over-the-shoulder running grab on Eric Thames in short right field in the second.
We could talk Yankee May 25 history but, aside from the fact that Babe Ruth, playing for the Boston Braves in Pittsburgh, hit the last three home runs of his seminal career this day in 1935, lots of history was made in Yankee Stadium this very day. With his nonsave one-inning outing the one and only Mariano Rivera became the first pitcher in major leaague baseball history to make 1,000 appearances with one team. Or how about this? Before taking the mound Wednesday, Freddy Garcia held the record as the hurler with the most innings pitched without ever having surrendered a grand slam home run. It stood at 1,973 innings at 1 pm, something 43,000 fans are glad extended six more frames this game.
But in a game where Jones’s two home runs supplied the four-run differential in a 7-3 win, the offense got its start when Jeter got himself into scoring position with a double to the wall in the right. This was not only the 2,976th hit of his career, however. When the Yankee shortstop scored to give his team the 1-0 lead, it was his career 1,773rd run (a number eerily similar to Garcia’s inning count, don’t you think?) This moved Derek into 23rd place all-time, slipping him by Hall of Famer Cap Anson, whose career spanned 27 seasons in the late 19th century. So the Captain passed the Cap. And it’s because of that stat that we credit the guy who scored today’s first run with the guy who drove in four:
Jeets and Mr. Jones