AJ, A-Rod, A-OK

AJ Burnett and Mark Teixeira

Despite the fact that AJ pied Mark Teixeira a week ago, the entire Yankee hurling staff should chip in and buy Tex and his family all the pie they can eat. He saves runs every day at first base.

Bronx, N.Y., October 17, 2009 — You could look at Game 2 of the ALCS as two games. The first one was mostly dry, and Joe Saunders and AJ Burnett battled superbly to a seven-inning 2-2 tie. Then the Yankee bullpen beat the Anaheim pen 2-1 in a sloppier but still well pitched contest through six innings more.

The Yanks couldn’t have been happier early, jumping out to a 2-0 lead on a Robbie Cano triple in the second and Derek Jeter’s home run in the third. But Saunders toughened, accounting for four following singles and an infield error by coaxing, and playing a part in, double plays in three consecuive innings. Burnett, meanwhile, was mowing the Angels down, retiring 12 of 15 visitors through the first four innings while allowing a walk, a hit and a hit by pitch. The first two times through Anaheim’s order he pounded 14 first-pitch strikes to 18 batters, and on the day his 75/39 strikes/balls ratio was superb.

But AJ surrendered hits to two of three batters starting the fifth, the second and third (and last) hits he would allow all night. Pitching more carefully, he found the first-pitch zone just once to the next nine hitters, hit a batter, issued a walk, and surrendered the tying run on a two-out wild pitch. The inning cost him not only two runs but 33 pitches, hastening his exit with one down in the seventh. But Brian Cashman would sign on for this start in a second, and if Saunders hadn’t shut the door so completely, we’d be feting AJ as the game two winner now (or maybe about two hours earlier).

Joe Girardi followed AJ with his powerful young pen, and his plan worked. Phil Coke, Joba Chamberlain, and Phil Hughes got the game to Mariano Rivera with two down in the eighth with the game still tied. Mo did his part for the next seven outs, but the home team couldn’t score. Girardi even got to group his speedsters, Brett Gardner and Freddy Guzman, working in tandem in the ninth, with Guzman zipping to third when Gardner singled through the shortstop hole Erick Aybar had abandoned to cover second. But the Yanks didn’t get a hit with men in scoring position the whole night, and this threat came up short as well.

Anaheim got to show off hard-throwing righty Kevin Jepsen following Saunders. Despite the Gardner/Guzman tandem he was impressive, retiring Cano with the winning run 90 feet away on 98-mph heat. Veteran Darren Oliver, who had worked in a losing cause with Texas against the Yanks back in the 1996 ALDS, pitched around a single and a middle infield miscue in the 10th, as second base ump Jerry Layne ruled that Aybar was off the bag in the middle of what seemed to be a 4-6-3 dp. But Oliver retired Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira following an intentional walk of Jeter, and the game went to the 11th still tied 3-3.

Alfredo Aceves, who barely pitched in the ALDS, took the ball in the 11th, and his rustiness got the Yanks in trouble right away. He walked Gary Matthews, Jr., who had hit for Mike Napoli in the ninth. leading off, and the 0-for-the-postseason (though he had walked twice and reached on a hit by pitch this night) Chone Figgins came up once Matthews had been sacrificed to second. Ace went up 0-2 but Figgins lifted a single to left, and the Angels had a 4-3 lead. An intentional walk and dp grounder ended the frame, and southpaw Brian Fuentes came on to close out the win.

Only A-Rod had other ideas. Other ideas even though home plate ump Laz Diaz called strike one and strike two on the first two throws Fuentes made. With half the Stadium anticipating a breaking ball in the dirt and hoping A-Rod would not swing, the Angels closer tried to elevate a fastball instead. In the span of four postseason games, Rodriguez has come up as the tying run in the bottom of the seeming last inning twice. And just as he had eight days ago, he equaled matters with a home run to right field, as his liner the other way cleared the wall by a row or two. It was 3-3, and the Yanks were alive.

The Angels threatened on a Jeff Mathis double off David Robertson in the 12th; the Yanks loaded the bases against Ervin Santana in the bottom half. And the Angels were back in the 13th when Cano made his second error of the game on an Aybar grounder leading off. But Robertson survived and the Yanks countered with Jerry Hairston, Jr., an 11-year vet in his first postseason, leading off the bottom of the 13th hitting for Guzman, who had run for Hideki Matsui back in the ninth. The veteran Hairston singled to center, and Gardner bunted him to second, a very well executed bunt. When Cano was walked it brought up Melky Cabrera who, although he had struck out three times, stood with Damon as the hits-in-this-game coleader with two. Melky smacked the first pitch to the second base hole, and Izturis snagged it. Rather than taking his sure out at first, though, he tried for the force at second in the sloppy conditions. His throw bounded past Aybar, and when Figgins couldn’t control the wayward bounce, Hairston scored the game winner an even 5:10 after first pitch.

This one was decided in the driving rain on an error, the second by Anaheim. And the Yanks has three. But Anaheim’s infield defense stymied viable Yankee threats all night, and the Yankee “D” sparkled as well. The sometimes maligned Damon made fine catches on ex-teammate Bobby Abreu in the first and the fifth, and a tumbling grab in short left against Figgins in the ninth. Teixeira showed disregard for his body in snaring throws from Burnett in the second, Jeter in the third, and A-Rod in the fourth, and Jose Molina made a nice recovery and throw to first once Vlad Guerrero struck out swinging in the fourth. The boxscore bunch will be lamenting the state of defense in the game come morning. I’m here to tell you, these guys all played pretty well in extreme conditions on a long night.

So the Yanks are up 2-0 in games, with Game Three looming in sunny California Monday afternoon. Conditions weren’t pretty in New York this weekend, but 20 years ago today was the day the World Series was suspended for a week due to a major San Francisco earthquake. And in 1962 it poured on both coasts as the Yanks and Giants struggled to get in games in their World Series. October 17 marked a pretty messy day in Yankee lore as well, as on this day 45 years ago Yogi Berra was fired from his job as Yankee manager for the crime of winning the pennant but losing the World Series.

Speaking of the manager, the Girardi-led Yanks may struggle in California, but it’s pretty certain five games into their 2009 postseason that his team will battle too. They’ve been three outs from a loss two times already only to be rescued by Rodriguez huge-moment home runs.

Elliot Ness finally nailed gangster Al Capone 78 years ago today, sending him to jail on October 17, 1931. It was not for the bribes, the speakeasies, the flaunting of Prohibition or the violence either. It was for tax evasion, pretty mundane sounding stuff. If you want to characterize what the Yanks did better than the Angels in their Game Two win, this is one way to sum it up.

They were better at loss evasion.