Bronx, N.Y., April 16, 2012 – After winning a home series against a contending Anaheim team the Yanks were certainly not looking past Minnesota, lightly regarded both because they struggled through a horrible 2012 season, and because they have a dreadful history playing in the Bronx. But their fans may have been.
Freddy Garcia took the mound trying to forget his first start, a five-wild-pitch disaster in Baltimore that his team managed to win late. And conditions were ideal that he would be able to escape that problem and grip the ball, with temps in the 70s and clear skies. Which made the five straight hits allowed with one out in the first pretty disturbing. He was fortunate that shortstop Jamey Carroll was pegged out trying to steal before Joe Mauer, Josh Willingham, Justin Morneau, and Ryan Dounit hits produced two quick runs. Garcia escaped by fanning Danny Valencia, and pitched very well for three innings, but the 30 pitches the first frame cost him would haunt his night.
It takes Yankee fans no leap to root against one-time pinstriped signee Carl Pavano; a baby step would do. And the crowd lustily cheered the immediate response the Bombers greeted the one-time perpetually injured Yank with. Both Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson smacked 1-0 pitches for home runs for a tied game after four pitches. Then Alex Rodriguez slashed an infield single down third, and reached second on an error, and Mark Teixeira put the home team ahead 3-2 with a line single into the right field corner. Taking a page from Garcia’s repertoire, Pavano settled down right away.
A Russell Martin comebacker leading off the home second garnered the Twins righty his first ground ball out, and he produced 10 more outs in the same manner in the third through seventh innings to not only keep the Yankee offense at bay, but to virtually put their bats to sleep. A Rodriguez single leading off the home third was removed on a double play, and the only fly ball the Yanks hit from that point through the seventh, when Pavano left after throwing 97 pitches and allowing just the three first-inning runs, was a Raul Ibanez shot to deep center in the fourth.
Still, the early Yankee lead could have stood up. But after retiring 11 straight following Doumit’s early single, Garcia gave up three quick runs, two on two doubles and a single in the top of the fifth, and one more on Justin Morneau’s home run in the sixth. Nice plays by Brett Gardner and Granderson nullified Doumit liners in the fourth and sixth, and Curtis made a fabulous running grab on a Morneau shot to left center in the seventh, but the damage was done. Garcia was removed in the sixth, but the Yankee pen, superb through 10 games, was nicked late as Cory Wade surrendered two tallies in the eighth to forge the 7-3 final.
This last onslaught was produced when the visitors first beat, then outsmarted, the almost ubiquitous overshift the Yankee defense has employed recently, something they did not use at all when they were training in Florida. Southpaw swinger Doumit singled sharply through the shift, then Valencia, batting from the right side, helped himself to an unimpeded track to the right center wall on a run-scoring double the other way. Righty hitters Willingham and Valencia were defended with the shift, as were Morneau and Doumit from the port side.
Still, despite the spotty returns on the new Yankee defensive strategy, and the second subpar outing from yet another starter, the most disturbing failure of the night was the team’s inability to ignite any offense after the home first. While Garcia keeps hitters mostly offstride by throwing fastballs, sliders, curves, and splitters, the Pavano repertoire comes across like old business acronym “KISS”: Keep It Simple, Stupid. He almost exclusively throws fastballs (88-90) and change-ups, and dares you to hit the latter hard.
Pavano has taken a lot of heat in the Bronx and around baseball, and continues to, following his four wasted years collecting Yankee millions. He’s been called a lot of names, among them “Carla” and “American Idle” (please note, not “Idol”). But he bested his old squad Monday night by
Keeping Yankee bats idle.