Clearwater, FL., March 25 — My first major league game of 2005, and it goes an extra inning and has a balk call too. And with the Yanks ready to trot out a totally revamped rotation, this one featured newbie (to Pinstripes) Carl Pavano vs. Jon Lieber, who made a mark in the Bronx last year before signing with the Phils.
Mr. Lieber is the anti-Forrest Gump on the mound. You pretty much know what you’re going to get. His pitches find bats often, and they did this day in a way that suggested a potential Yankee blowout early. Tony Womack (leading off with A-Rod back in Tampa) smacked an 0-2 single past third, and Jeter deposited the next pitch over the wall in left center. Matsui singled off second baseman Chase Utley’s glove, and when Posada lined a one-base hit to right, the Yanks had a 2-0 lead with two on after having seen but seven pitches.
But Lieber escaped on a double play ball to Tino Martinez and a fly ball by Ruben Sierra, and the Phillies responded immediately. Pavano’s stumble off the mound on a one-out bouncer toward first by Utley got the youngster an undeserved single. Bobby Abreu delivered him on a booming double to right, the first of his three hits, and a near-blowout had become a 2-1 game.
Lieber would go six, Pavano five, with the Yank lead at 4-2 when each left the field. Lieber threw first-pitch strikes to 22 of 28 batters, walked one, struck out three, and allowed nine hits. Pavano’s numbers were better (17 of 22, no walks, five K’s, five hits). Neither would figure in the decision. Pavano was good, not great. He finished strong, striking out two to escape a no-out, man-on-third situation in the fifth. But he allowed mini threats in the second, third, and fourth despite retiring the first two Phillies each time.
Among the highlights from a Yankee fan perspective was that we got to see five Yankee relievers, and also that all three players vying for the backup position in center played. Doug Glanville was glad-handing many former Phillie teammates and fans pregame; he played a few innings in right and singled in his one at bat. Damian Rolls pinch-hit and took a strike three, while Bubba Crosby played center all game, going one-for-five at the plate. (We were surprised to hear that Glanville was released after the game.)
Also worthy of mention was Colin Porter’s fine day once he subbed for Matsui in the fifth. He scored a run, singled in two at bats, and made some good (and one very good) plays in left field. Robertson Cano, who started at second and switched to third, showed good glove work and singled twice with a walk. Tom Gordon, who has struggled, and Tanyon Sturtze (who has not) were sharp. On the Phillies side, Ryan Howard (first base) and Anthony Madrano (a mid-game sub at third) played well afield, and Madrano collected the game-winner off Scott Proctor in the 10th.
Which brings me to the worst and the best. Rocker Nick Lowe turned 56 this hot (87 in Clearwater) March day. He is perhaps best known for his oldies hit Cruel to Be Kind. On a day when ex-Yank Lieber started for the Phils and longtime Phillie Doug Glanville appeared with New York, some focus fell on new Yankee bullpenner Felix Rodriguez, a hard thrower who starred in San Francisco but who flopped as a reliever for the Phils last year. It’s hard to not be cruel when describing his appearance.
Felix followed a scoreless sixth by Gordon by throwing ball one, two and three to Jimmy Rollins leading off the home seventh. He followed the walk by falling behind Utley 2-0 before a fly out, then went 2-0 on Abreu. Bobby singled on a 3-2 offering. Rodriguez was throwing hard, but he couldn’t find his control. The next three were off the plate to Phillie left fielder Pat Burrell, who lined almost as hard as one could, foul down third on the 3-0 pitch. The word “almost” is well chosen because Burrell straightened the 3-1 drive over the wall in left center for the 5-4 Phillies lead. The line from Bull Durham (“anything flying THAT fast should carry a stewardess”) truly fit the scene. Felix throws hard. Let’s hope he throws strikes this season, today notwithstanding. The game felt over, although the Yanks got a reprieve on a ninth-inning opposite-field homer by another Felix, shortstop Escalona. But the Phils scratched a 10th-inning score for the 6-5 win.