June 9, 2012, Bronx, N.Y. – If there is a lesson issuing from the 4-2 Yankee victory over the Mets in the Stadium Saturday night (aside from “What? We have to prove ourselves against these guys again?), it might be that it’s time to stop obsessing about the unbelievably bad record the Yanks have batting with the bases loaded, and except our “homer-ness.” It hasn’t been that consistent failures with the bases packed look bad, or that thiis phenomenon leads to play that can be described as inelegant. It has simply been a concern whether or not the team can win that way.
But the way that Phil Hughes and the rest of the Yankee rotation have been throwing for the last couple of weeks, it seems that team does not have to excel in situations ripe for rbi’s to prevail over their opponents a significant majority of time. In Saturday’s game, the home team had young Mets righty Dillon Gee on the ropes in the bottom of first, with a run across and the bases loaded with one down on three singles, a balk, and a hit by pitch. But how many Yankee fans, really, were surprised when Raul Ibanez bounced into a tailor-made 5-4-3 double play five pitches later?
It was yet another wasted opportunity, but even though Gee immediately righted himself and did not allow another hit through the next 14 outs, Hughes held the lead for two innings, until Mets shortstop Omar Quintanilla tied it with a homer in the third, then held the tie for two frames more. By the time David Wright led off for the Mets in the top of the sixth, all the Yanks had collected after the first inning was two walks, one of them removed on yet another Ibanez dp grounder. When Wright gave the Mets their first lead of the weekend series with a long home run to left, the joy among the visiting fanbase was palpable, but the concern on the faces of the hometown fans didn’t quite equate to panic, or even deep concern. Have Yankee fans become suddenly classy and above the fray? Of course not; just listening to them when they fail to score off a good opportunity can answer that.
But even if this team continues this disturbing trend and flops with bases loaded, and rarely hits with runners in scoring position, confirming the worst we hear; and even if they rarely (OK, never) win when they don’t hit at least one home run; the fact is they do hit home runs, in bunches, and almost all the time. Gee responded to being handed his first lead by walking Curtis Granderson to lead off the bottom of the sixth, and the Yanks actually – incongruously – moved him to third base in small-ball fashion, on a long fly and a fielder’s choice grounder. But it was just for show. When he scored in front of Mark Teixeira’s ensuing line drive home run to right, he could have done so from first base. The Yanks led, 3-2, and the Mets were already running out of time.
Hughes did not match the work he put in in Detroit last Sunday with the complete-game, four-hit shutout, but following up on the superb outing by Hiroki Kuroda Friday night, he was plenty good enough. Staying out of trouble by pounding first pitches for strikes (to 20 of 26 batters), he elevated his low nineties fastball to 94 and 95 when needed, mixed in what has been a very good curve, and even chose some good moments to work in his change of pace. The 71/37 strikes/balls ratio was almost a solid 2/1, he walked just two while using eight swings and misses to record six strike outs, and surrendered six hits one out into the seventh inning.
If there is anything more inexplicable than a team that can’t hit when rbi opportunities are manifest, it’s the fine work the Yankee bullpen has turned in, this from a group that has lost the greatest closer of all time for the year, and one of the top setup guys in the game the last few years for more than a month. Once Hughes allowed his sixth hit one out into the seventh, Boone Logan, Corey Wade, and Clay Rapada effectively carried the lead for the next five outs, and Rafael Soriano converted his ninth save (in nine chances) by pitching a scoreless top of the ninth. Two men reached against Raffy, but the close was not as stressful as it could have been, because Granderson had extended the Yankee lead by depositing a Bobby Parnell fastball into the right field seats in the eighth for a 4-2 lead.
So the Yanks have guaranteed themselves a series win against the visiting Mets with wins the first two games, and the string of great starts is expected to contnue when Andy Pettitte takes the mound Sunday. The Yanks stand at 4-1 in the homestand after winning two of three from Tampa Bay, and now they hover behind the Rays in second place in the East by a half game, the thinnest of margins.
One strange thing about this day in Yankee history is that 20 years ago, the Bombers carried out a true rarity, a one-for one trade with this night’s opponent, the crosstown Mets. Southpaw reliever Lee Guetterman was sent to Flushing in exchange for righty Tim Burke. Retainng the bizaarre element, on this day in 1984 offbeat pop star Cyndi Lauper recorded her very first No. 1 hit. The title reflects an accurate decription of the incidence of Yankee victories in these crosstown battles with the Mets. The question is, will the continued Yankee use of the long ball to turn in victories work out for them all season, and in the playoffs? If they continue to fail to produce the little hit, but often come up with the long ball, will they be able to win in the post, as they do in intramural New York battles,
Time After Time?