Old Friends

August 24, 2015, Bronx, N.Y.; Yankees 1, Astros 0 — If you attended the Monday night Yankee game hosting the Astros hoping to see signs of a resurgent offense, you had a tense, unsatisfying night, at least until the final moment when Brett Gardner scored the game’s lone run. But if a classic pitcher’s duel is more your cup of tea, you were in for a scintillating experience, and one tremendous ballgame.

Righthanders Scott Feldman of Houston and the home team’s Nate Eovaldi could hardly have been more evenly matched. They both went eight innings, each utilizing 109 pitches to get the game to the ninth scoreless. Feldman struck out six, walked none, and allowed six hits; while Eovaldi, while throwing much harder, whiffed seven and surrendered just four hits. But Nate walked three, two of them in a very dangerous fifth inning. The comparable first-pitch-strike numbers — 17 of 28 for Feldman, 22 of 32 for the Yankee righty — show that the Yankee pitched to four more batters, a number resulting from the one Yankee error, the walks, and the fact that Houston turned two double plays, one that nullified one of two Yankee scoring chances.

Nate established his pattern, and had all his pitches, from the get-go, striking out Jose Altuve on an 84-mph splitter, a heater traveling 100 mph, then a breaking pitch floating over at 76. He routinely hit 101 on the gun, but mixed all the speeds all night, and coaxed 19 swings and misses. The ‘stros had three hits in the first two frames, and would get but one more until the ninth inning. Eovaldi’s 71/38 strikes/balls ratio, though not the ideal 2-to-1, was more than good enough.

Feldman’s pitches were dancing as well, although they ranged from 75 or so up to 90. But how much of the Yanks’ failure to score was him and how much a currently inept offense that scored 2, 3, and 3 runs in losing three of four to Cleveland the last four days is hard to determine. The Yanks had leadoff hits in four innings, and first and third with one out in the third, and again with no outs in the seventh. Both times Feldman got his strike out, first of Brett Gardner before a fly to right, then of Greg Bird. The latter gave him one down in the sixth, and once Chase Headley lined to medium center, Carlos Gomez threw out the lumbering Brian McCann at the plate.

But on yet another night where the Yanks got very little from the top of their order, McCann was an offensive highlight, going 3-for-3 with a walk. And Carlos Beltran singled McCann to third in the sixth, and came through with a 400-foot or so sac fly to win it. You can rightly credit the offense to them.

But the only real heroes of this one were Feldman and Eovaldi, each giving their squads every chance to win through eight tense innings. The Yanks have had close battles with Feldman several times in the stadium over the last few years, battling him as a Texas Ranger, a Baltimore Oriole, and now an Astro. In June 2009, the year of the Yanks’ last championship, Scott beat them in the Bronx twice in June, first 4-2, and then 2-1. The Yanks evened the score by beating him two times in following Augusts, 3-2 in 2012, and [now with the Orioles] 2-0 in 2013. And it’s fitting that two days after Jorge Posada was honored in the Bronx we mention the only time the Yanks handled Scott fairly easily, a 7-3 win behind A.J. Burnett in 2010. Jorge started two rallies in that game with singles, one of them his 1,500th career hit.

So the game went to the ninth scoreless, with Yankee closer Andrew Miller surviving a leadoff Evan Gattis single on a 3-2 pitch by getting Luis Valbuena to strike out on a full count as well, with McCann gunning down pinch runner Jake Marisnick trying to steal. The inning-ending strike out of Chris Carter was easier, coming on four pitches.

The Astros countered with veteran Oliver Perez, a southpaw seen in the Stadium years back during some heated crosstown battles with the Mets. When Oliver had issues in the past, it was with his control, and tonight was no exception. Perez walked three batters, throwing one strike and four balls to each, with the second free pass intentionally given to Alex Rodriguez after Gardner, celebrating his 32nd birthday, was wild pitched to second. Given little choice, manager A.J. Hinch brought in Chad Qualls to face Carlos Beltran with no outs and the bases juiced. Qualls, who pitched to a 6+ era in a pinstriped cup of coffee in 2011, grooved one and Carlos ended the game with a sac fly to deep center.

When the Bombers won the first of a three-game sweep over Minnesota exactly one week ago, a 10th-inning miscue by ex-Yank Eduardo Nunez handed them the victory. And tonight, an Oliver Perez that perhaps more veteran fans than current Yankee players are familiar with set them up for the win, once Feldman had given them all they could handle. And Carlos drove the winner in off an ex-Yank. Nothing wrong with winning games with some help, help from,

Old Friends