Bronx, N.Y., May 5, 2009 — Of all the negatives that could and will come out of yet another Yankee loss to the Red Sox Tuesday night, one argument will be no closer to being settled. Should Joba start or should he relieve was a beside-the-point calculation in this one, because the 21 pitches the Red Sox punished for five hits and four runs starting the game were poor-quality pitches. The mounting losses point to several Yankee season-long concerns, like a devastated bullpen, their two most expensive free-agent signees stumbling badly out of the box, a weak bench, and an offense that seems always to be waiting for a long ball to score the next run.
The least of the concerns, perhaps, was the weak Chamberlain start. He’s been good this year, and has been automatic before from pitch one with games on the line. And after the five safeties it was like a button was pushed; Chamberlain became a fireballing warrior, and the Sox were dead in the water. Had all those season concerns not been a problem, the Yanks would have won this game, but despite how dominant Joba became, the four-run hole was too deep for the squad to climb out of. Joba got the loss, because Joba lost this game.
After surviving the first, sort of, Chamberlain powered his way to 12 strike outs of the next 17 batters. And with the early deficit, the Yanks did not waste too much time before mounting a comeback. They started reaching Josh Beckett for hits almost right away, and when Jose Molina and Derek Jeter singled leading off the home third, they had five hits while Beckett had retired just six guys. Johnny Damon tied the hits/outs count on the next pitch, seering a sizzling liner into the second deck in right to close the gap to 4-3. One wonders how different things might have been if the runs count could have been equalled as well. As it was, that tiny one-run deficit was a mountain the home team would never successfully climb.
They kept peppering the Boston hard thrower, and got oh, so close in both the fourth and sixth innings. Starting yet again in center, Melky Cabrera doubled down the right field line following a Nick Swisher strike out in the fourth. Melky gambled on making third, but J.D. Drew and Dustin Pedroia made great throws, and Melky was out on a bing-bang play at third. It didn’t soothe the pain of this call that Jerry Meals, who so enraged Yankee players and their fans with some questionable strike three calls from behind plate the night before, made this pivotal call at third. Ramiro Pena’s ensuing bouncer to first got past Jeff Bailey for an error that would have knotted the score. Then Molina struck out to end the threat.
Chamberlain’s early woes and all the strike outs wreaked havoc on his pitch count, and Joe Giradi pulled him after he struck out Bailey swinging for his 12th punchout for the second out of the sixth. Jose Veras got two outs, and Phil Coke two more around a Pedroia double to hold the Sox through the seventh, after the Yanks failed at yet another great chance in the sixth. The game had started under relatively dry skies, with plenty more rain coming, and it arrived with a vengeance in the mid-innings. With the field conditions worsening, Robbie Cano started the frame by bouncing out to first, but Swisher worked a walk, and Cabrera doubled down the left field line this time. An unlucky last bounce, however, carried the ball into the stands, eliminating any chance Swisher could have scored.
Beckett’s best pitch of the inning followed, the one he made to the umpires after he fell behind Ramiro Pena 2-0, that he needed the footing on the mound improved. The umps and grounds crew complied, and three pitches later, Pena was struck out. Molina bounced to short, ending the last real Yankee chance. The Boston righty came on for the seventh as well, but a leadoff Derek Jeter single, the 10th hit Josh allowed, ended his night. Southpaw Hideki Okajima came on to retire the next six, and Takashi Saito put the Yanks down in the ninth one-two-three.
We’ll skip some ugly bullpen work in the eighth and the ninth when Boston added three runs for the 7-3 final, except to mention that David Robertson almost pulled off the near-impossible by wiggling out of a bases-loaded, no-outs mess when he came on with a 2-0 count on the fourth batter in the ninth. The pen is a problem, no doubt. The fact that Mark Teixeira is below .200 batting in the third hole is as well, as is C.C. Sabathia’s bad start, Jorge Posada’s hamstring, and the fact that the first hitter off the bench is an outfielder who lost his job because he wasn’t hitting. Also disturbing is that this team sruggles so to score runs unless they hit home runs; all seven tallies against Boston in these two losses came that way. One idea often employed when the offense is stagnant is to run more, even in the muddy conditions, which didn’t stop Boston from copping three stolen bases. Why not run Jeter, for instance, after the leadoff single in the seventh of a one-run game? Okajima was dominant, yes, but he was throwing curves in the seventies and changeups at 80 mph almost exclusively. Who knows how the dynamic changes with the Captain on second?
Of course, he could have been thrown out. But if your team is struggling to score, what else do you do? Waiting for the home run isn’t winning games. But then again, maybe it was just a bad day. The Yanks’ best player returns to the fold, probably this week, and the closest thing the team has known to an automatic victory in three seasons, Chien-Ming Wang, is building strength in rehab. Setup man Brian Bruney is hopefully just a week or two from returning. An active running game, a big bat, an automatic starter, and a stud in the pen solves lots of problems. With the team turning a corner, perhaps Teixeira and Sabathia find themslves as well.
It might even be enough to make the team strong enough to survive “bad” days. Like May 5, 1955, when Damn Yankees opened on Broadway. The death of Charles II, King of Sicily, often referred to as “Charles the Lame,” falls on May 5 as well. The Angel of Death visited this monarch exactly 700 years ago. One other thing that can carry the Yankees to a successful season? Not seeing that guy from this night’s first inning, “Joba the Lame,” have another start like that again.