Tampa, Fla., March 5, 2011 — After spending four days lamenting the lack of Yankee offense, on Saturday afternoon the team broke out for 10 hits and eight runs, with all of the latter bunched into a wild and fun home fourth inning, even if two Washington miscues got the rally ball rolling. Staff ace CC Sabathia failed to go three innings in his second start, and was tagged for five runs and six hits and a walk before handing the ball off to Joba Chamberlain.
And although Joba did escape the third on three quick tosses, it would be him being bailed out by David Robertson two outs later, but not until the rampaging Washington Nationals scored two more on two hits and a walk. Having watched the “Bombers” scratch all week to get as many as seven hits in a game, never mind seven runs, things looked bleak. And the fact that ex-Yankee sometimes punching bag Chad Gaudin retired nine straight over three innings (Nick Swisher did reach on an infield single in the first but was erased on a Curtis Granderson double play) as the Washingtons belted Yankee pitching upped the frustration level.
Brett Gardner to the rescue, as the speedy Yankee keyed the rally that changed the score and ruined Gaudin’s day with a leadoff double down the left field line in the Yankee fourth. With the team having scored just one run as early as the fourth inning since Granderson hit a two-run home run in that frame last Sunday, the prospect of a speedy runner in position with no outs, forget the score, was noteworthy. Perhaps sensing the excitement buzzing through the crowd, the Nationals immediately lent a hand, as Swisher’s first-pitch bouncer went right through second baseman Brian Bixler for an error, with Gardner scoring. Granderson drew a full-count walk, but DH Jorge Posada bounced back to the box. Still reacting to the buzz, perhaps, Gaudin threw wildly past first, scoring Swish with Curtis moving to third.
With the helping hand from the Nats, Yankee bats took over, as Eric Chavez, Jesus Montero, and Eduardo Nunez followed with consecutive rbi singles, and Jorge Vazquez doubled for two more runs. The Chavez safety ended Gaudin’s day, but Josh Wilkie failed to stem the tide. One out later (a Ramiro Pena strike out after failing to bunt Vazquez to third), Gardner tripled for a one-run Yankee lead and his second extra base hit of the frame, this one a liner he pulled to right field. Being either a realist or a doomsayer, I’m not sure which, I knew the home team would rue that they failed to score Gardner from third with one down, as both Swish and Granderson bounced out unassisted to first.
Still the team had a lead and had exploded for eight runs, and life was good. Righty Craig Stammen, a nondescript righty with a two-year mark of 8-11, who got his first career win by shutting out the Yanks 3-0 in Yankee Stadium in June 2009, came on next, and a one-out walk and Montero’s second hit put him in trouble, but Nunez bounced into a twin killing. Vazquez singled off Stammen to lead off the home sixth, but the righty struck out the subbing outfielders Justin Maxwell and Colin Curtis to escape yet again.
The Yanks have two rule-5 draftee pitchers in camp, a route the Yanks rarely follow, as a player they take from another team in this manner has to make the big-league squad and spend the whole season with them. Joe Girardi has been routinely using them in succession, with good results on Saturday to start, but not to finish. Lefty Robert Fish, not a hard thrower but a guy with some skills whom the Bombers claimed off the Angels, walked DH Derek Norris to start the fifth, but he got out of that with a double play ball, and set the Nats down 1-2-3 in the sixth, on just eight throws. All rule-5 picks are long shots, but Fish, who allowed two runs to the Tigers on Monday, but came on to strike out Casey Kotchman of the Rays Thursday in a 10-inning tie, has an outside chance to make this team, given Boone Logan’s struggles. Nonroster invitee Andy Sisco, along with the chance that Logan will turn things around or that the team takes just one lefty north, is his only competition, so effective appearances like today’s are worth paying attention to.
Daniel Turpen, the right-handed rule-5 the Yanks got from San Francisco, came on for the seventh, and it didn’t go well, as he allowed the tying and go-ahead runs, even if the second run was unearned due to third baseman Bradley Suttle’s one-out error. Turpen allowed one-out doubles around a hit by pitch, then he and Suttle both recovered on a 5-4-3 dp from left fielder Jeff Frazier, who had homered and doubled (off Sabathia, then Chamberlain). But the Yanks were down 9-8. Romulo Sanchez, who pitched well in two appearances in the Bronx last year, pitched an ugly eighth, allowing Washington run No. 10 on two singles and two walks with the run scoring on No. 1 pick Bryce Harper’s base hit, and Ryan Pope worked around a two-out double in the ninth.
The baby Bombers, who rallied for a late win against Houston three days ago, and two late runs against the Red Sox Friday night, had no mojo this time, and the Yanks went down as nine straight were retired to close the game, although catcher Austin Romine doubled to lead off the eighth, and was inexplicably thrown out trying to stretch it to three bases.
We all know these are exhibition games, that the outcomes are meaningless, no matter how much fans want to win. But a Yankee fan seated next to me who needed my help describing which pitchers were in the game because he had now developed cataracts after undergoing chemotherapy, gave me a new perspective on games like this. When I told him that following the two-run top of the fourth, Yankee pitchers had thrown 93 pitches, while Chad Gaudin had flexed is right arm just 32 times, he replied, “Well, they lose. They’re here to throw pitches and get ready. The Yanks are killing them in that respect.”
My reply was identical to what I would say four batters later, after two Nats errors got the home team back in the game.
“I’ll take it.”