Bronx, N.Y., 2011 – For the majority of the 46,000-plus populating Yankee Stadium on a glorious Wednesday night, the Yankee 5-2 win over the visiting Milwaukee Brewers was an enjoyable win over a team the Yanks rarely see. The Bombers have played the Brew Crew two straight, faced back-to-back 7-2 aces, and have beaten both. And they moved two more games up on the Red Sox in first place in the AL East.
A pleasant outing for most, but not I and a few fans like me. No, we had bigger fish to fry. We remember when the words “AL East” comprised a division that included Mlwaukee’s team, a team that had lots of power, enough pitching, and a few great players that had it all over the Yankees in some very lean years. They may think old wounds were healed because the Bombers ultimately returned to the limelight by clinching the 1996 AL East title by sweeping a double dip from Milwaukee, one year before they took their old, then new, ballpark and decamped to the NL Central. Joe Torre’s first year at the Yankee helm, 1996 was indeed a special one, but some wounds don’t heal that quickly.
This time out, the Yanks received no gift from shoddy Brewers fielding that gave the home team an early lead the night before, quite the opposite. Taking advantage of a first-inning walk to center fielder Nyjer Morgan, one of two A.J. Burnett walks in seven-plus frames, the visitors used the free pass and a single to right to take an early lead. And although Burnett made it clear that this would be a quality start while striking out four in the second, third and fourth innings, Brewers righthander Shaun Marcum was handling the potent Yankee lineup with apparent ease. As a matter of fact, Brett Gardner’s leadoff third-inning double was the lone Bomber safety, although Marcum was having long innings because he walked one batter each in the first three frames.
So although the former Toronto and current Milwaukee righty Marcum was handling the Yanks on just 88-mph cheese mixed with a slow curve and a killer 80-mph change of pace, it cost him an average of 20 throws per to navigate the first three frames. And worse still, the next 20 pitches he threw to start the home fourth defined the game, and made him a loser. Robinson Cano tripled to the center field wall to start the Yankee fourth and, following singles by Nick Swisher (the Yanks’ first rbi) and Jorge Posada, the latter to conclude an eight-pitch battle, Russell Martin blasted Marcum’s 0-2 fast ball over the wall in left for a 4-1 Yankee lead. Nine more throws got Marcum through the frame, much as had been happening earlier, but the sudden damage was done. The Brewers would punch one across on three singles in the sixth, and Posada would equal it with a singleton jack just over the wall in right that same frame, but the four-at-bat stretch in the Yankee fourth decided the 5-2 win.
Burnett, who got a big assist when Curtis Granderson tracked down a vicious Mat Gamel line drive toward the NYY Steak sign just to the right of center in the second following Corey Hart’s leadoff single – Curtis’s relay to Robinson Cano to Mark Teixeira easily doubled Hart off first – threw a superb game, mixing mid-nineties heat with a darting curve that was effective from the first time he threw it in the game’s opening frame. That, and an effective change of pace, kept the visting batters on their heels. A.J. threw 15 of 28 first-pitch strikes, fashioned a fine 64/38 strikes/balls ratio, and handled eight of the Brewers (aside from the 3-for-3 Ryan Braun) on just four hits and two walks in seven-innings-plus.
Once Eduardo Nunez’s 10th error on a Rickie Weeks grounder started the eighth, David Robertson came on and did his usual fantastic job, turning in a scoreless inning around a Fielder single on two strike outs and a fly to short center. Mariano Rivera was happily welcomed to the mound seeking his 21st save, and Mo retired the side in order in the top of the ninth, ending this one at three hours’ length exactly at 11:09. No one has to tell me that continued success in interleague games has propelled the Yanks past Boston, a team that has now lost three straight series against NL opposition while the Yanks are currently 5-0 in that scenario, with a weekend seriies against a suddenly potent Mets lineup up next in Flushing over the coming weekend.
The Tuesday and Wednesday wins were not the first time that the Yanks have had the opportunity to extract a little revenge against Milwaukee since the seemingly forever-lasting late eighties and early nineties when the Bombers were fielding some pretty mediocre squads, but with exciting new talent on the way. On May 25, 1992, for instance, the Yanks handed the Brewers a 13-9 loss once Matt Nokes, Dion James, Charley Hayes, Pat Kelly, Mike Gallego, Don Mattingly, Roberto Kelly, Mel Hall and Danny Tartabull all reached safely and scored to start the bottom of the eighth, as they pounded a Brewers team that would finish second, 16 games ahead of the struggling New Yorkers.
And on this exact day, June 29, one year earlier, the visting Yanks scored three in both the eighth and ninth innings on long balls by Kevin Maas, Jesse Barfield, and Mel Hall to beat the home-standing Brewers 9-8, in 1991. Three months later, Milwaukee would occupy fourth place in the AL East, while the Yanks finished 12 games back of them.
It’s been a long time. A sweep may not make it feel even, but I’m willing to see if it will.