Bronx, N.Y., July 16, 2012 – It was good to see on Monday night that the powers that be at Yankee Stadium, while of course being mindful of a series starter against the division rival Toronto Blue Jays, were also looking back two years to, excluding Game 6 of the 2009 World Series, my favorite game in the new Yankee Stadium. The July 16, 2010, tilt against the visiting Tampa Rays was the first home game in the Bronx after not only having lost George Steinbrenner on July 13, but also the “Voice of God,” Bob Sheppard, three days before that. It was a very emotional night, the Yanks played a thrilling come-from-behind game, and Nick Swisher provided big moments, including a game-tying homer in the eighth and the winning base hit in the bottom of the ninth.
Swisher had his chances to play the hero this time around as well. He had a base hit, but he also twice came to bat with the bases loaded, and each time took a called strike three. Luckily, a couple of guys who were not with the team 24 months ago, and two players who were, provided all the offense the team would need, again, much of it late in the game.
This one started out well for the home team, as the Yanks all but buried young Toronto starter Henderson Alvarez, loading the bases against him in the first and scoring single runs in the second and third innings; his pitch count hovered at 68 after three frames, with his team down, 2-0. Phil Hughes, meanwhile, was off to a good start, retiring nine of 11 Jays through three, and escaping a leadoff Edgar Encarnacion double in the second for the two-run lead on 45 throws.
But although Phil was throwing a one-hitter, he was struggling mightily with his control, and 20 of those 45 throws missed the zone. And the wildness would cost. When he fell behind 3-1 on back-to-back hitters in the fourth, once Encarnacion lined hard to Raul Mondesi in left, lefty DH Adam Lind made him pay, drilling a homer three rows deep over Swisher in right to halve the lead. Two frames later, the Jays struck again. Colby Rasmus fooled Swisher, who broke in then out, making the catch deep in right to start the top of the sixth, and Phil lost Jose Bautista, throwing three straight out of the zone once he had him on a 1-2 count. Two pitches later Encarnacion tied the game on a hard double to left center, with a close play at the plate that might have been closer had Mondesi’s throw in to cutoff man Derek Jeter not drifted toward second base.
Still, the game-tying double was just the third hit Phil would allow. Rajai Davis would double in the seventh for the fourth and last hit off Hughes, but he would not score. And if the focus was now on the tiny slips in Phil’s armor, it was simply because the Yankee offense had disappeared. Once Russell Martin homered with two down in the second, and Alex Rodriguez scored on back-to-back doubles with Robinson Cano in the third, Alvarez retired the next nine in a row. He walked Mark Teixeira in the sixth, followed by the Swisher single, but Ibanez grounded meekly into a 4-6-3 to end both Alvarez’s night and the inning. The offense became so predictably anemic that, when Martin struck out against righty reliever Chad Beck for the second out of the seventh, the Scoreboard queued up the organ fanfare that greets the end of the seventh a full out too early. Three pitches later, Jeter gounded out, and the inning actually did come to a close.
The two runs he did allow cost Hughes a win on a night where he pretty much dominated Toronto except for Encarnacion, with two doubles and a liner, and the one Lind home run. He was done after seven, having surrendered two runs on just four hits and three walks. He struck out four, threw first-pitch strikes to eight of his last 10 batters to bring that count up to 16-12, but the 61/45 strikes/balls ratio left him at under 60 percent strikes, much less the 2-for-1 pitchers aim for, and that pitching coaches dot their resumes with.
David Roberston came on for the eighth, and walked one of his own, but not until he collaborated with Teixeira and Cano on a remarkable play to get the first out of the frame. Tex barely missed on his patented dive into the hole on a Rasmus base-hit bid, deflecting the ball toward the hole. But Cano stayed with the play, ran down the ball and fed Roberston at the bag for a rare 3-4-1 putout. The play, and the scoreless inning, would get D-Rob the win, even if the powerful Jose Bautista followed by threatening to give the Jays the lead with a vicious one-out drive just foul to left. Bautista hurt himself on the swing and had to leave the game, with Ben Francisco coming on and walking in his stead.
With one down in the inning’s bottom half, Rodriguez started his second rally of the night with a hard single to left off southpaw Aaron Loup. A well-placed Cano roller past the mound made clear just how lucky we are to have Robbie on defense. Jays second sacker Kelly Johnson corraled the ball up the middle, but could not make the turn and throw. Veteran reliever Jason Fraser came on, hit Teixeira with a pitch to load the bases, but then won his eight-pitch battle with Swisher when he froze Nick looking on an offspeed pitch that caught plenty of the plate. But Fraser made the same mistake Hughes had several innings earlier, falling behind Ibanez 3-1, and when Raul deposited the next pitch into the second deck in right, the night was largely over.
After a strike out, Toronto reached Cody Eppley for a walk and single in the ninth, which brought Rafael Soriano on for his 23rd save, though the Jays would tally one run on another base hit and a Dewayne Wise error in left. So on an anniversary of a huge emotional win in the Bronx, Hughes kept his team in a tight game, and the pen did their jobs. And the third and fourth batters in the lineup, multi-year pinstripers, came though big, starting two rallies with two hits apiece, three runs scored and an rbi. Alex had an extra base hit for the third straight game, and Robbie extended his hitting streak to 19 games.
But two years after the inspiring win and tribute to Yankee immortals, it was two guys who hadn’t been here two years ago who started and finished the Yankee scoring in this victory. On July 16, 1951, one of the novels of several generations became available when the late J.D. Salinger published Catcher in the Rye.
Monday night the Yanks prevailed by scoring first and last, thanks to
The Catcher and RAUL!