Bronx, N.Y., September 25, 2009 — If the aim of the game of baseball is to have your team’s pitchers throw more pitches than the other team’s, then the Red Sox walloped the Yankees Friday night. Keyed by a superb start by Joba Chamberlain, who got through the first three frames on just 36 throws, and 86 to pitch through the sixth, the Yanks beat the visiting Sox 9-5. Even though his first-pitch strikes ratio was poor (11 of 24), Joba didn’t walk a batter until the sixth, struck out five, and didn’t allow a hit or baserunner until Victor Martinez homered to right center with one down in the fourth. Chamberlain’s fastball reached 95, but he was getting strikes with his high-70s curve, his 85-mph signature slider, and a mid-eighties change of pace as well.
Joe Girardi trotted five relievers to the mound to pitch the last three innings, but even then their total was 137, while Boston hurlers zoomed past 200 throws. As a group the Yankee pitchers walked just two and allowed eight hits while striking out eight. And this without using the best closer in baseball history, although no. 42 did throw a pitch. Only the guy wearing the number was Panama President Ricardo Martinelli, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Panama native Mariano Rivera, bragging to Mo that he got some movement on the pitch as they trotted off the field. The Yankee pitching was so effective that for a few embarrassing minutes in the top of the ninth, they didn’t bother having one on the mound. Phil Hughes, who had struck out Jason Bay to end the eighth, was called back when he started going out and apparently Phil Coke didn’t get the word. It took arm swinging and waving from all four umpires to get Coke’s attention so the game could be completed.
And if you’re thinking that Boston threw so many pitches because they didn’t have their starter out there very long, think again. Southpaw Jon Lester did have to be helped from the mound with one down in the third after Melky Cabrera drilled a single off his knee, but that mishap occurred on Lester’s 78th pitch, with 30 being tossed in the one-run first and 31 more in the fateful four-run third. If Lester hadn’t been knocked out of the game physically, he was about to be removed by Yankee hitting anyway.
And speaking of the third inning, if the aim of the game was to keep your defenders deployed around the field longer than those of the opposition, Boston would have won that way too. This game was just short of four hours because every Yankee turn at bat took lots of time. The Bombers saw 20 pitches or more every inning until the 12-pitch eighth, which probably explains why they didn’t have their pitching ready for the ninth. The bottom of the third inning took 32 minutes on its own.
Sloppy defense certainly doesn’t win games, but Boston was tops there too, despite the fact that the only official error was a Johnny Damon flub of a Kevin Youkilis single in the eighth. Playing first base, Victor Martinez homered, singled, and scored two of the five Boston runs, but he covered almost no ground at the first base bag, particularly on Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada singles in the third and fourth innings respectively. He also threw away a ball trying to catch Alex Rodriguez running to second, a play that got Alex a stolen base, though it would have been ruled a balk if Martinez’s throw had retired him. Jacoby Ellsbury made a long run chasing a Rodriguez rbi double in the sixth only to have it carom off the tip of his glove. And the Yankees ran at will, never being threatened by a close throw from Jason Varitek in six successful steals. Young righty Michael Bowden threw a wild pitch allowing two runners to move up a bag in the sixth inning as well.
The victory goes to Chamberlain, and rightly so. But if offensive performers were rewarded with W’s too, one would surely go to Rodriguez. The Yanks had the smallest of leads at 1-0 once A-Rod drove Derek Jeter in from second with a two-out single in the first. Then Alex drilled a 1-1 Lester fastball into the second deck in left field with Mark Teixeira on first in the third. He walked and scored the Yanks’ sixth run in the fourth, and when Boston crawled within 6-3 on a David Ortiz home run in the sixth, Rodriguez’s long double keyed a two-run rally that restored the lead to five runs. He was 3-for-3 with two walks, three stolen bases, three runs scored and four driven in.
The Bronx had that special feel this night, the way it gets when the postseason approaches. Stars and megastars from the entertainment industry and other sports were much in evidence, including Justin Tuck of the New York football Giants, and young quarterback Mark Sanchez and Kerry Rhodes from the Jets. Jay-Z was in the crowd, and Ronan Tynan did his usual touching rendition of God Bless America in the seventh. And there was the president of Panama, of course, his presence in honor of Spanish Heritage Month.
It comes as no surprise too that there have been some pretty big days in Yankee history in late September. They clinched the American League pennant on September 25 in 1926, 1960, and 1962, and the AL East in 1996, Joe Torre’s first year on their bench. And in 1998, they won their 112th game, breaking the American League record for wins in a season. September 25, 1917 was not only the day that the beloved late Scooter, Phil Rizzuto, was born, but All Star hurler Johnny Sain too, who spent almost five years with the Yankees in the fifties. Unfortunately, the day has a sad side, as the first Yankee manager to bring a Championship to the Bronx, Miller Huggins, died at 49 years of age back in 1929. There is no telling how many rings Huggins would have brought to the Pinstripers if he hadn’t been taken suddenly by food poisoning.
The aim of the game of baseball is to pitch, field, and hit the ball better than the opposition, something second-year Manager Joe Girardi has his Yankees doing more often than not. The aim is to score more runs too, and to make it to the postseason. Girardi has made the calls and pushed the buttons that got this team into the post first in 2009, and Friday’s victory leaves it just two short of 100, with a magic number of three to clinch the division. Joe made the decision that he could limit Chamberlain’s innings and still get him to the postseason ready to pitch, and well. The results of his experiment were impressive this time out. Maybe someday when they talk about Yankee skippers with lots of Championships with the first name of Joe, Girardi’s name will be mentioned along with Mr. Torre, and “Marse Joe” McCarthy.
But he does have to win one first. The adventure continues Saturday at 4:00 pm.