Bronx, N.Y., June 6, 2008 — I’ll say this for Kyle Davies, he holds a grudge well. Of course, I have no idea if the young Kansas City righty holds grudges at all really. But until Friday night, he was probably more famous, in New York at least, for having been the pitching victim of Alex Rodriguez’s 500th home run in August 2007 than anything else. Although few sensed it at the time, that he coaxed a 6-4-3 double play grounder from Rodriguez in the first inning of Friday night’s Royals/Yankees game in the Bronx became a pivotal play.
Fresh off back-to-back wins over East rival Toronto, the Yankees have had reason to feel lately that a somnolent offense was finally coming alive, but Davies quieted them with low nineties heat. Back-to-back, one-out singles from Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu in the first inning looked to have things going the Yankees’ way. But once Davies survived on the A-Rod dp, he didn’t throw another pitch with a runner in scoring psoition until his teammates had eked out a 1-0 lead against Yankee righthander Darrell Rasner in the top of the fifth.
The unfortunate Rasner was superb, throwing 118 pitches over eight innings. The nine hits he allowed added up to two runs, and that sadly was enough to beat him. Darrell’s fastball tops out at or near 90, and he used it, a cutter, and a slow curve to garner 13 ground ball outs of 24 Royals hitters retired. Sometime catcher and Friday DH Miguel Alivo and veteran outfielder Jose Guillen teamed with young shortstop Mike Aviles, playing just his second big-league game, to notch seven of the nine hits Rasner allowed; Guillen and Aviles each scored one of the two runs.
Aviles led off the third and fifth innings with doubles. That he failed to score after the first one is largely attributable to Joey Gathright’s failure to bunt him over. The KC centerfielder bunted foul twice in four pitches, then bunted another back where Jose Molina gloved it. (It’s paperwork, really, but to me that was a strike out the second Gathright fouled it, though it was scored as a popout.) Gathright bunted to a charging Giambi the second time in the fifth, and David Dejesus singled sharply to right against a drawn-in infield for a 1-0 lead. Robbie Cano, in one of his best nights of the year, started a dandy double play after Guillen doubled and Olivo singled leading off the sixth, but Guillen crossed with the eventual deciding run nonetheless. Cano’s play was quick and crisp, by the way, but Friday defensive honors go to double-play teammate Jeter, who made up tremendous ground in snaring an Alex Gordon soft liner to short center in the eighth.
Cano, who opened some eyes by taking the first pitch in all four of his at bats, led off the home fifth with a double off Gathright’s glove in deep center, but Melky Cabrera fouled out after a Molina sacrifice, and Johnny Damon rolled out to second. Rodriguez followed a third-inning single with a two-out double into the left field corner in the sixth, only to die there when Hideki Matsui grounded out. The Yanks finally broke through when Cano doubled again with one down in the seventh. Wilson Betemit lined to left pinch-hitting for Molina, but Cabrera singled hard to right this time, and Cano scored to close the KC lead to 2-1.
Southpaw Ron Mahay escaped the frame on a Damon foul out, but after Jeter flied deep to right leading off the eighth, Abreu reached on a single to left. A free agent reliever rumored to be on the Yankee radar months ago, Mahay signed for big bucks and several years with KC, while New York settled for less money and one year in securing Latroy Hawkins’s services for the year instead. It was hard not to think that each team got what they paid for when this one was over. But the Yanks did not go quietly. KC stuck with their lefty against A-Rod and he went down swinging on four pitches. But the reliable Matsui singled Abreu to second, and Thursday hero Giambi came to bat.
The wily Yankee first baseman worked the count full, and fans cheered loudly both over thoughts of Jason’s heroics the day before, but also because the finally hot Cano stood in full view in the on deck circle. Mahay broke off a slider that darted low and well outside, and Giambi abandoned a swing long before his bat approached the plate. But inexplicably, home plate ump Ed Montague ruled that he had swung, never pausing to make the characteristic move of consulting with the third-base ump who had a much better view of where Jason’s bat action ended. Montague had relied on his base umps to make similar calls no less than three times this night, but now with the game on the line, he went for his hasty, and incorrect, impression. The best Yankee chance for a comeback was over. It’s ironic that on the same night that San Diego lefty Randy Wolf would best Johan Santana and the Mets 2-1 on the West Coast, Montague would refuse to consult Randy’s brother, Jim Wolf, umping third base, on this game’s biggest call.
None of which takes away from what young Davies achieved this night. He came into the Bronx pitching for a team that hadn’t won on the road in close to a month and largely shut the vaunted Yankee offense down. He whiffed three, walked one, threw 16 of 27 first-pitch strikes, and allowed seven hits and just the one run. Against Davies, Mahay, and the electric KC closer Joakim Soria, the Yankee batters managed one hit in seven tries with a runner in scoring position. Levi Stubbs of Motown’s legendary Four Tops celebrates his 72nd birthday Friday, and Yankee fans can be forgiven, I suppose, if they hear strains of It’s the Same Old Song when pondering that sobering stat.
But Mr. Rasner had himself a pretty dandy night on the mound as well. He was solid, as he has been almost every time this year, though not spectacular. He struck out four (five if you score Gathright’s failed sac bunt my way), and walked none. His strikes/balls ratio was 74/44, he threw 17 of 31 first-pitch strikes, and he managed to last eight innings because in just two of them did his pitch count exceed 15. He did allow the nine hits. But surrendering just two runs over eight innings should be a recipe for success, and Yankee fans hope they can get as good a start next time. They also hope that they get an umpire who allows the best calls to be made by the people in the best position to make them. Montague did so for 292 pitches. Too bad there were 293 thrown.