Bronx, N.Y., July 16, 2007 — The second- and third-place teams in the AL East battled in the first of four in the Bronx Monday night when the visiting Blue Jays took on the Yanks. It was a gorgeous evening. The teams evenly divided six loud hits for a 4-4 tie midway through the sixth inning, but it was one of the quieter safeties of the game that sent the crowd home happy.
Southpaw Kei Igawa got the start, with high hopes that this would be the quality start that turned the season of the free agent signee from Japan around. But although he notched seven big strike outs that kept him in the game, and actually emerged after five with a chance at the win, it was really more of the same. I love my time in Yankee Stadium, and enjoyed 14 years of rooting for a playoffs-denied Bronx team leading up to the Joe Torre years, but it seems to me now that rooting for the Bombers with Mr. Igawa is the one time that I have felt that the team’s business plan is all wrong. In these games, it is the fans who should be paid to root: It is hard work.
Kei gave it all he had, striking out at least one Blue Jay per inning, and interspersing the four walks allowed around five small and two big hits to efficiently limit the damage. He struck out Frank Thomas in the first with two on, induced a harmless Alex Rios popup to short right with the sacks filled in the second, and struck out the last two guys he faced by coaxing the 12th and 13th Toronto swings and misses he garnered among 69 strikes. But the 19 pitches he threw in the fifth inning represented his only sub-20-throws frame, and it took 114 tosses to complete the five innings. Still, he could have left with a shutout if not for the power bat of Toronto third baseman Troy Glaus.
After failing to score against Blue Jays righty Josh Towers in the first once Alex Rodriguez bounced to Glaus for a 5-4-3 dp, the Yanks pounded the Toronto righty for two singleton home runs and a 2-0 lead in the home second. And it could have been worse (better?). Hideki Matsui, who will have interns scrambling for the old “Gone-zilla” scoreboard graphics if he keeps up his current power surge, started matters with a no-doubt-about-it leadoff blast to right center for a 1-0 lead. Jorge Posada missed the foul pole in right by just a foot or two on the next pitch before bouncing to short, and Robbie Cano then started a great night at the plate with another drive to right for the 2-0 lead.
But the only Igawa free pass that hurt him followed, as he walked Vernon Wells leading off the top of the third, and Glaus tied matters with a line drive the other way to right. Jeter’s second hit, a one-out single in the home third, preceded a fielder’s choice and A-Rod’s first-pitch blast to left and the Yanks had a 4-2 lead. Igawa took 27 pitches to subdue the Jays around a walk and single in the top of the fourth, but Glaus closed the margin to 4-3 with a drive to left leading off the fifth, his second fence-clearing drive. A followup deep Frank Thomas fly to center and first baseman Lyle Overbay’s second of three singles had pitching coach Ron Guidry visiting the Yankee lefty for the third time, but Kei pounded two K’s and left after five with a slim one-run lead.
Towers, who had allowed a rare walk to Bobby Abreu in the first, settled down and retired six of seven Yanks through the fifth, and Scott Proctor was rudely greeted subbing for Igawa to start the sixth. Royce Clayton, on via a leadoff single to right that Abreu held to one base on a fine play in the corner, was removed on a well-turned 6-4-3, but Alex Rios gave the teams a flat-footed 4-4 tie with a home run to left. All eight runs had scored on six home runs, three apiece, a two-run shot and two singletons on each side.
Proctor escaped the sixth after another single, and allowed another one-base hit and a walk in the seventh, but he notched his only strike out against lefty pinch hitter Matt Stairs to get the game to Luis Vizcaino in the eighth. Scott earned the whiff on just the second offering on which the Jays had swung and missed against him, and it ended the top of the seventh. Proctor’s work, though challenged, was important, and it got him the win, because the Yanks had taken a 6-4 lead in the bottom of the sixth.
Things started inauspiciously that inning, as Towers retired A-Rod and Matsui on routine grounders, while a clueless home town crowd waved themselves into a frenzy. But crowd inattention notwithstanding, Posada singled the other way to left and Cano sent him around to third with a line double off the base of the wall on a 2-2 count. Robbie had lined hard to right center after his second-inning homer, and he fouled off a tough Towers pitch before the big two-base hit. With Posada running, there was no chance to score him, and at 0-for-2, Andy Phillips came to bat with ducks on the pound and two outs. He got ahead on ball one, but took two straight outside on the black for 1-2. Towers tried the same location one more time and Phillips “served” a soft liner in front of Wells in center. Phillips was a key performer on the road in Tampa Bay, and his quiet hump-back liner was the night’s biggest hit, despite all the long drives that preceded it.
The talented Blue Jays pen held the hometown boys right there, as lefty Scott Downs struck out Johnny Damon after Melky Cabrera pushed Phillips to second with an infield single, sending Towers to the showers. Hard-throwing sidearmer Brandon League struck out two in a one-two-three seventh, but let me clear up one ugly moment here. Yes, the Stadium fans actually emitted a low “boo” sound as Jeter struck out for the second time after he had started his night with two hits. But it did appear that many in the “wave”-fatigued throng had no idea what Yankee player it was who had taken League’s 2-2 bender, if that helps. Lefty Brian Tallet allowed a Matsui eighth-inning single, but used a dp grounder to escape the threat while facing just three batters.
But the Yankee pen responded in kind. Vizcaino pitched to the mnimum three batters in the eighth, and Mariano Rivera used two strike outs to keep Glaus pinned to third base after the Blue Jays slugger tripled over Cabrera to start the ninth. Defensive kudos go to the revived Matsui, who made a very good play in tracking down an Aaron Hill drive near the wall in the seventh, and also charged and snagged Rios’s liner to short left in the eighth.
July 16 is a day packed with significant Yankee history, much of it good. Babe Ruth set a new season home run record with 30 on this day in 1920, in his first year in New York, and Joe DiMaggio extended “The Streak” to 56 games on July 16, 1941. Mickey Mantle hit game-winning blasts on his day in 1959 and 1961, though July 16 was also the day he was sent to the minors in his rookie year of 1951. And finally, Don Mattingly hit his fourth 1987 grand slam this day, extending his consecutive-games-homering mark to six in the process. In two games he would tie Dale Long for the all-time record of eight straight, though Junior Griffey matched them both years later.
But as we all know, the game is not just about the loud hits, or the long-distance ones. U.S. novelist Thomas Berger will celebrate his 83rd birthday in just a few days. Among his 24 published books, Little Big Man stands out because it was made into a hugely successful movie starring Dustin Hoffman.
Among all the Monday night thunder in the Bronx, recent returnee from the minors Andy Phillips came up with:
Little Big Hit