Bronx, N.Y., May 24, 2008 — Any expert on labor law and how it affects the dead working overtime might want to get in touch with the Yankees following the team’s second straight drubbing of the Mariners Saturday afternoon. At 4:16 Jose Veras poured a breaking ball by Seattle third baseman Adrian Beltre, home plate ump Larry Vanover punched him out, and the Scoreboard trumpeted Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York. The players made for the dugout, and fans began filing out, paying no attention to the argument Beltre was making to Vanover. Ballplayers argue about called strikes all the time, don’t they?
Only this argument was a bit different. Seems the indicator on the big board in center field was wrong, and the strike Adrian took was the second of his at bat, not the third. Fans booed loudly and serenaded the officiating crew with an unpleasant term for animal waste, but they shouldn’t have. After all, we had all just sung that “it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out at the old ballgame” two innings before. So the rules were clear.
Vanover gesticulated, sending the Yankee players back to their positions, and a clearly upset Veras resumed pitching to Beltre. The third baseman fouled two back around a ball at him, then another over his head. Beltre pushed a hard grounder to the second-base hole, and Robbie Cano nabbed it and threw him out by several steps. Players and fans started heading their separate ways yet again, and the mellow tones of Mr. Sinatra wafted skyward for the second time, three minutes after the abbreviated first try.
Beltre’s passion for his at bat, and his ensuing run to first with his team down 12-6, was actually refreshing. One gets a sense of a lost team with the Mariners. With June a week away, the play of their star center fielder Ichiro Suzuki seems uninspired, and it’s a given that if Seattle is to succeed, he will have to lead the way. He took strike three in his first two at bats Friday, and did so leading off today’s game. He was retired his next three times up on four pitches, and almost seemed annoyed that he had to chase a Bobby Abreu ground rule double in the five-run home seventh that really decided this game. He beat out an infield single in the eighth, it’s true, but was his zeal to record a hit for his team, or for himself?
The Mariners did mount one dangerous comeback this day though, pounding two long home runs to right in the top of the third that tied matters once the Yanks scored their first four batters in the bottom of the second. Ex-Minnesota righty Carlos Silva got the Seattle start this day due to a leg injury to young star Felix Hernandez, and the Yanks seemed glad to see him. Silva held the Yanks scoreless through two in the Bronx 20 days ago, leading 2-0 on a Beltre home run against Darrell Rasner in his first 2007 start. But the Yanks erupted for six hits in the third in an eventual 8-2 win. Today they did the same one frame sooner, taking a 4-0 lead on Jason Giambi’s three-run home run and a Melky Cabrera single following Cano’s double the other way.
Mike Mussina pitched around two first-inning singles and retired six of eight early, but although he had the whole arsenal going, the Mariners were able to find the hittable fastballs in the mix, as the Orioles had when Moose was driven from the mound after just two outs Tuesday. The hit count against Mike through his five innings would be just seven, but they were more threatening than the ones he was surrendering while winning four straight. Jose Vidro homered for three runs with one down in the third, and one out later Beltre tied the game with an opposite field fence clearer to right.
Hideki Matsui, Jason Giambi, and Robbie Cano keyed the offense Friday night, and today as well. In the second and the third, Matsui doubled, singled, and scored, Gaimbi homered to left center and doubled to right center, and Cano doubled and walked. When Cabrera stroked a two-out single to center in the third, the 5-4 lead it gave the home team would afford Mussina a win. Mike retired six of seven with this slim lead, doing his best work after Jose Lopez doubled leading off the fifth for his third hit. It took Moose eight pitches to coax a groundout and popup around a taken strike three by Raul Ibanez, and he left the game after 74 pitches and five innings.
Fortunately, the five innings were just what the Yanks wanted, and the reliever-to-starter Joba Chamberlain transition took its second step. Mussina got through his five throwing strikes, 14 out of 23 times on first pitches, and all told to a 54/20 ratio. He walked one and struck out four. Chamberlain came on to raucous crowd approval, of course, and they roared when he opened the sixth with a 96-mph called strike on right fielder Jeremy Reed. But he missed with three straight, one on the curve ball that will be part of the starter’s arsenal he is building. But Joba is indeed the golden boy, and he leaped to snare a high hopper and throw Reed out to get the inning off right.
Two swinging strike outs on heat that reached 99 mph closed that inning, the last time he would have to pitch protecting just a one-run lead. The still struggling at bat Derek Jeter reached on an infield error with two down in the home sixth, and Bobby Abreu drilled a Silva fastball over the wall in left center, the second impressive opposite-field blast by a lefty Yankee batter on the day. The padded lead was a comfort because Chamberlain allowed a hit and a walk in a 24-pitch seventh. It’s clear the Yanks will not be rushing Chamberlain, and they settled for the 40 pitches through two frames. He led with the fastball and featured his slider, but he needs to work on his control. Despite throwing seven of eight first-pitch strikes, the 22/18 strikes/balls ratio needs work.
Giambi’s third hit, Cano’s fourth, and Abreu’s long double to center keyed a five-run bottom half of the seventh, fortunate because Kyle Farnsworth had a bad eighth inning that included a Richie Sexson two-run bomb. That ended all the scoring and most of the excitement, at least until the top of the ninth and its two endings. The Yanks face the struggling M’s again on Sunday, again under pleasant skies that are expected to match today’s 70 degrees. It’s hoped the long-awaited offense of the last four days continues, not only tomorrow, but on a brief seven-game road swing to Baltimore and Minnesota.
The scheduled start of staff ace Chien-Ming Wang was pushed from today to Sunday with what is being called a minor leg tweak, but pitcher, leg injury, and minor are three terms that rarely go together. Darrell Rasner has been stellar, and Ian Kennedy and Andy Pettitte finally had quality starts. But Joba’s transformation from relieving to starting will take time, and Moose was not quite on his game today, again. Explosive offense fed by the consistent Matsui, and the until recently struggling Giambi and Cano, could go a long way toward allaying any pitching concerns.
It was 382 years ago today that Peter Minuit paid some Native Americans a handful of trinkets to buy Manhattan, and that borough’s value has skyrocketed for years. But with the Yanks well over 4,000,000 in ticket sales for 2008 in the old ballpark again, and proceeding apace to excite interest (and lots of money) to the new Stadium, the Bronx is finally catching up. A resurgent 2008 team will go a long way to ensuring that that holds true.
On May 24, 1969, the Beatles’ hit single Get Back zoomed to first place on the pop charts, and stayed there five weeks. After more than five weeks of struggles, perhaps we can sing of the Yankees,
- Get Back, Get Back,
Get Back to where you [often have] belonged