In addition, and perhaps more importantly, this game represented the first game in pinstripes for surefire Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki, whom the Yankees traded for a week ago, when it became clear that the injured speedy left fielder Brett Gardner would not be returning this year. A town that still worships Hideki Matsui for his work here was excited to welcome his countryman Ichiro, and we all wanted to be able to say we were in Yankee Stadium for his first game playing for the home team in the Bronx.
But New York is not that sentimental a town, and there was a game to be played. Things looked good for the home team with hard-throwing righty Phil Hughes, enjoying a bounce-back year, facing journeyman Aaron Cook, but the Red Sox came to play, and not only did they reach Phil for Dustin Pedroia’s home run three batters in, two more hits followed, with the visitors denied a second run because Cody Ross’s double to right center hopped the fence, holding Adrian Gonzalez at third. Still, although Hughes whiffed Jarrod Saltalamacchia to strand the two runners, the visitors battled him through 28 pitches that frame, and would reach Phil for singleton homers in the third and fourth innings too, interestingly each on first pitches, and each with one out.
The Yankee righty would not allow another hit through seven, and just one additional baserunner, earning himself a “W,” but the Yankees didn’t prevail in this one simply because Hughes toughened. The way they responded to each Boston score played a bigger part. Down 1-0 in the first, they were frustrated when Pedroia made a diving stop on Derek Jeter’s bid for a base hit toward right and pegged him out, but Curtis Granderson drilled, and did a superb job running out, a double to right, and Robinson Cano singled him to third. If first baseman Mark Teixeira, the most routinely disrespected 30/100-hitting, gold-glove-fielding player in the game, now pressed into cleanup duty in the wake of Alex Rodriguez’s broken bone in his hand, has a shortcoming, it is that he is slow of foot. He bounced a ground ball to second that had me resignedly writing 4-6-3 in the scorecard, but the glacially slow exchange from Pedroia to shortstop Mike Aviles to Gonzalez at first was not completed until the lumbering Teixeira had reached safely. Suddenly it was 1-1, and six pitches later, Raul Ibanez lined a homer to right for a 3-1 Yankee lead.
Two innings later, Jeter and Granderson followed a Carl Crawford home run that closed the gap to 3-2 with leadoff base hits, and Teixeira came through with that rarest of Yankee scoring plays, a sac fly, to reestablish a two-run lead with his second rbi of the game. Saltalamacchia went the other way with his home run in the fourth, but then the newest pinstriper Suzuki had a moment, singling with one down in the bottom half. With the whole stadium, including Cook, with repeated throws to first, wondering when and if Ichiro would bolt for second, the struggling-for-hits-but-not-power catcher Russell Martin blasted a 1-0 offering deep to left for a 6-3 lead.
There was still a loud inning to come, but with Hughes settling down, the game was pretty much over. Phil allowed but one walk through the seventh, and the Boston bullpen was reached for two walks and a single during that time, but just one baserunner per inning. David Roberston pitched around a Pedroia eighth-inning single.
But Boston brought in one of their 2012 experiments that has not panned out, one-time Yankee prospect Mark Melancon, to pitch the bottom half, and he had an inning his 7-plus era would lead you to expect. Andruw Jones doubled, and third sacker Eric Chavez, who will be called upon more often in A-Rod’s absence, took a fastball off his shin. Coming off a series where Alex was the third player drilled in a five-batter sequence and a fastball just missed Ibanez’s head, and in which Jeter was hit in the ribs the next game, the Yanks have to be excused for being suspicious as to motives on all the hit by pitches, and we may see repercussions in the next two days. Is the brittle Chavez a marked man? We’ll see. Melancon got two fielder’s choices but walked Jeter, and Granderson followed with a grand slam to right to forge the 10-3 final.
Other than the three long balls, Hughes’s numbers were superb, allowing just five hits and one walk in seven innings. Even when Boston threatened he threw strikes, leading to a 77/33 strikes/balls ratio, and although he coaxed just eight swings and misses, six of these came in his last three innings when he got four of his five strike outs. His first-pitch strike count was almost otherworldly; he found the zone on first tosses to 17 of the first 18 hitters, and 16 straight to start the game. Strangely, his best pitching came during Boston’s last time through the order, when he missed five of nine times. First-pitch strike efficiency is one of my favorite stats, but when you consider that finish, and that two of the three home runs came on first pitches, you have to realize that a strike is not always the best pitch to throw. Phil is a fly-ball pitcher, and he now leads the league in giving up home runs, but you can win that way, as long as you are generally pitching with the bases empty. He was not getting flailing misses with the curve, but he did get six outs on infield pop-ups, a domnating way to retire a batter.
But speaking of domination, and keeping the bases empty, that is exactly how the Red Sox lost this game. The three Yankee homers netted eight runs to just three on the same amount of long balls for Boston. July 27, 2012, would have been the 132nd birthday of Hall of Fame Cubs shortstop Joe Tinker. Although he was a quality infielder over 15 seasons, starting in 1902, one year after the Yankee franchise was established in Baltimore, and one year before it was moved to New York, he is most famous for the old baseball song about the pitcher’s best friend in any century, the double play – Tinker to Evers to Chance.
Yes, the home team smacked another three home runs Firday night, good for eight runs. They lead the league in long balls, but they have played the game well too. They don’t only hit the ball; they catch it, throw it quickly and accurately, and usually to the right base. There is no saying what would have happened in this game had the Red Sox managed to hold their early 1-0 lead, and added to it two innings later. But they didn’t. They learned the lesson of,
Tinker to Evers … or Else