Lowe Down on a Big Win

August 13, 2012, Bronx, N.Y. – It would have been easy to hype the first of four games between the two-time AL Champion Texas Rangers and the most successful franchise in the game in Yankee Stadium Monday night, but the record took care of that. Texas had the best record in the league by half a game to start, and the Yanks had the same lead at the end.

Prospects for the game did not bode particularly well for the home team, as rookie reliever David Phelps was pressed into service starting in place of newly DL’d staff ace CC Sabathia, as Texas trotted out their trade deadline pickup, Ryan Dempster. This 15-year veteran with 118 wins had posted a 5-5 mark with a minuscule era for the lowly 2012 Cubs, and had won his lone decision with a higher earned runs line with the Rangers. And the vaunted Texas lineup made Phelps’s early innings a tough slog, reaching him for two hits, a walk, and a run in a 26-pitch first inning to start, and upping the early edge to 2-0 four pitches later on David Murphy’s line home run to right. Phelps was having trouble throwing strikes with his fastball, and the two best throws he made in the first few frames were to bases, ending rallies with pickoff throws to first and second, respectively, in the second and third innings.

The latter ushered in the bottom of the third and the Yankees, whose first six batters had succumbed to 25 pitches from Dempster, with Curtis Granderson’s liner the opposite way to deep left in the second the only hard-hit ball. But Joe Girardi’s circular lineup produced immediate results, and Russell Martin and Raul Ibanez reached the Texas hurler for singles; an Ichiro Suzuki sac bunt pushed the base runners into scoring position. Dempster got up on Derek Jeter 1-2, but walked him to load the bases, and one pitch off the plate later Nick Swisher drilled a grand slam home run to right, Swisher’s 200th career fence-clearing blast. The onslaught continued, as a walk and two singles loaded the bases again. Granderson’s fly to center carried 400 feet and, once Josh Hamilton ran it down, all three base runners advanced. The Yanks had a sudden 5-2 lead.

Phelps pitched around a one-out double in the fourth and a long Elvis Andrus fly to center in the fifth, getting him into the dugout seven pitches under the 85 tosses that was his expected limit, and the game went to the bullpen. The rookie had allowed just the two runs on six hits, threw 12 first-pitch strikes to 22 batters, and struck out three while walking one and hitting a batter. The 51/27 strikes/balls ratio was effective, and kept him in the game long enough to get a win.

But there was plenty of baseball to be played, and the Rangers offense had time to chip away. The Yankees trotted out their newest signing, 39-year-old vet Derek Lowe, a guy who was giving up hits in bunches when Cleveland released him a week ago. The plan, one assumed, was to eke an inning or two out of Lowe, hopefully retaining a lead until the back of the pen took over.

And one offense did continue to chip away, only it did not belong to the Rangers. The Yanks extended the lead off Dempster to 6-2 with an Eric Chavez home run to right center in the sixth, then drove him from the mound when Suzuki and Jeter reached him for a triple and then a double to start the seventh. Swisher knocked in Jeter against lefty reliever Michael Kirkman, and the Yankee lead was 8-2.

So how long would Lowe pitch? He surrendered a one-out single in the sixth, and another two innings later. The wily vet knew he had a lead, and he threw strikes, 11 of 14 on first pitches, and 33 of 44 overall. He wasn’t pitching under quite the pressure Phelps had, down from the outset, and it showed. But perhaps the most remarkable thing about the rookie and the veteran lines was that, aside from a huge Lowe edge in low number of pitches, their outcomes were almost identical. Of the 15 outs recorded by Phelps, four were on ground balls, three on fly balls, three via the strike out, with three infield popups. The two pickoffs got him out of a couple of tough innings. Lowe, meanwhile, recorded 12 outs, four of them on grounders, and three on fies, same as with Phelps. The vet outdid Phelps in strike outs with a fourth, while he coaxed just one infield popup to three by the rookie. For their trouble, David earned a third win, and Derek his first save since 2001.

August 13 has had some sad poignant moments in Yankee history, none of them more noteworthy than the death of Mickey Mantle on this day in 1995. But the Bombers have lost two other Hall of Famers this day too, GM George Weiss in 1972, and shortstop and long-time broadcaster Phil “The Scooter” Rizzuto in 2007.

But the day has had a few Rangers/Yankees moments as well. On August 13, 1980, the Yanks traded young righthander Ken Clay to Texas for 41-year-old veteran Gaylord Perry. Not an earth-shaking move, but the 4-4 Perry mark in the Bronx easily outdistances that of Clay, who went 4-10 the next two years before leaving the game. And on this day in 1998, Yankee Orlando “el duque” Hernandez, not the youngest of first-year players, set a franchise rookie strike out record against Texas, beating them 2-0 while whiffing 13. And now 2012 joins the club, another day when the Bombers have gotten the better of their Western Division rivals, regardless of which team is using “younger” pitchers, and which older ones.