May 10, 2012, Bronx, N.Y. – A creepy feeling of deja vu hovered over Yankee Stadium with two outs in the first inning Thursday night. The “feared” Sean Rodriguez reached with one out, on via a CC Sabathia hit by pitch rather than an intentional walk, as happened on Opening Day in Tampa. Three batters later Carlos Pena strode to the plate with bases loaded once Yankee third baseman Eduardo Nunez booted Brandon Guyer’s two-out grounder toward the bag.
The error was a physical one this time, and not a major strategic blunder by the manager as happened on April 6. And the punishment was less, an rbi single to short right rather than a grand slam home run about 200 feet further. The Rays tried to score two, but Nick Swisher pegged the following runner out, and the Rays led by an unearned run.
Having watched the Yanks fail to score after a first-inning tally Wednesday night, and facing Tampa lefty phenom David Price, this could have been huge, but although the home team failed to score in their half, back-to-back two-out base hits and a long fly to center bespoke a team ready to battle. And this was a good thing, because Nunez was back to his bumbling ways in the second inning, throwing away a sure double-play ball after a leadoff single. A following single scored Tampa tally No. 2. Down 2-0, CC had not allowed an earned run. He wouldn’t allow any the next six frames either.
The Yanks responded immediately this time, with Nunez’s help. First, Curtis Granderson drilled his 11th home run leading off the bottom of the second, cutting the lead in half, and the bumbling New York third sacker reached on a walk and stole second. Chris Stewart knocked him in with a single for 2-2, and reached third on a throwing error, but the home team failed to take the lead because Swisher lined into a double play. A single and long drive in the third came up empty as well, with Alex Rodriguez drilling a hard bad-luck liner to third. Still, Price wasn’t fooling many hitters.
CC escaped early trouble in the fourth, about the last he would see. A leadoff walk to Elliot Johnson, the Yankee lefty’s only free pass allowed on the night, was followed by a Chris Gimenez single to left. But a double-play grounder to short and a liner to left closed it out, and an inning later, the Yanks took control. The initial outburst took just four pitches, a 1-1 single by Swisher and a first-pitch Robinson Cano bomb over the Yankee bullpen in right center. Doubles by A-Rod and Andruw Jones stretched the lead to 5-2.
Two-out infield singles were all that remained of the Yankee offense, but it did not matter; CC was in control, and wasn’t about to let go. He struck out the side in the sixth, and three more K’s in the seventh and eighth finished his night, with Pena the swinging victim two times. Sabathia went eight throwing a season-high 119 pitches, with an 81/38 strikes/balls ratio; he pegged 20 first-pitch strikes to 33 batters, including 14 of 18 the first two times through the order. All seven hits allowed were singles, and neither run was earned. And he allowed just the one walk with 10 strike outs, nine of them swinging, with Rays players swinging and missing 16 times in this game.
The Yankee bullpen got a much-needed rest, and Rafael Soriano got the save against his old team with an inning of relief, even if a leadoff infield single did lead to a run, and the 5-3 final. Paired with Sabathia’s 10 strike outs were 10 ground ball outs, six originated by Jeter, one by Cano, and one by CC himself. The other two were grounders to Jayson Nix in the top of the eighth; he took over for Nunez at third to start the sixth.
Of many May 10 events that recent Yankee fans might recall, David Cone underwent aneurysm surgery on this day in 1996, a bump in the road that called long-term success for that team into serious doubt, a question that, nonetheless, was answered quite happily. The same can’t be said for the 1913 American League representative, the first one to go by the official name “Yankees.” The team outlasted the Detroit Tigers on May 10, 1913, 10-9 in 10 innings, despite committing eight errors, three by shortstop Claud Derrick.
So errors can be overcome. And Nunez’s defensive work, though alarmingly troubled, is not unprecedented. Derrick posted a very low .872 fielding percentage in 1913, much lower than Eduardo’s mark of .913 at short, and .919 playing third, in 2011, the year when he began getting significant minutes, and making miscues in alarming numbers. But Nunez needs to be aware of two things: If Price threw up to his phenom reputation, the two unearned runs might have been enough to beat CC. And Derrick? The Yanks traded for Roger Peckinpaugh to take his place at short 10 days after his three bobbles.