Surviving Scoreboard Sabotage

August 15, 2012, Bronx, N.Y. – It’s not rare that a fan’s mood undergoes a sudden change during a baseball game, but it’s usually directly attributable to something that has taken place on the field of play. I was weary from the 100-minute rain delay Wednesday night, but with wins in two straight vs. Texas, the Yanks had just taken a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the third, and I was psyched.

Soft-tossing vet Freddy Garcia was in command for the home team, having retired nine of 10; then he got Elvis Andrus on a soft liner to second, a fine play by Jayson Nix, subbing for the ailing Robinson Cano. This brought up five-time (in five years) All Star and former MVP Josh Hamilton, a guy who cleared walls equally distant from home plate 40 times in the Home Run Derby in the Bronx in 2008, the old stadium’s final year. Then I read the stat the Scoreboard people chose to post during Josh’s at bat: “Hamilton has homered in every American League ballpark except for the new Yankee Stadium.”

A tasteless taunt? Foolish and fraught factoid? Senseless statistic? Hard to say, but Hamilton has been struggling of late, and came to bat with one single, one walk, and one strike out, with no rbi’s, in eight plate appearances this series, and Freddy got ahead 1-2. Cringing through another ball and strike, my shoulders slumped when Hamilton responded to the regrettable relevation by drilling Garcia’s next pitch over the wall in right. Staggered by the line shot, Garcia barely survived the frame, allowing a single and walk around a fielder’s choice to third on which Eric Chavez made a bad decision, trying for the lead runner first; neither was retired. With the tying runs in scoring position and one out, Freddy saved his night by getting Geovany Soto to bounce into a 6-4-3 twin killing.

But Hamilton not only duplicated his drive two innings later, he added another 50-60 feet of distance, narrowing the Yankee lead to 3-2. It was certain he would have at least one more at bat.

Coming off impressive fence-clearing game winners the last two nights, Nick Swisher, playing first for the DH’ing Mark Teixeira, once again had the key hit, only it was an opposite-field bloop double to left that plated the first run of the game. Nix and Derek Jeter stood on third and first, respectively, after an infield single, stolen base, and sharp single to right leading off the home third. The Swish looper scored one run and put the Bombers in business with runners on second and third, still with no one out. Struggling Curtis Granderson lifted a sac fly to center, and one out later Chavez used one of yet another three singles to earn the Yanks’ third score. The home team would collect 10 hits, four of them infield singles, and six walks, but they would not score again.

Garcia was quite good, as he has been of late, mixing not very quick fastballs, sliders, curves, changes, and his killer split-finger pitch to limit Rangers not named Hamilton to two hits, a walk, and no runs two outs into the seventh. The 63-36 strikes/balls ratio was acceptable, the 19 first-pitch strikes to 25 batters better, and he used a surprisingly high 15 swings and misses to strike out six batters. Boone Logan got one out, and David Robertson pitched a one-two-three eighth, with two strike outs on six called strikes, the last of which got Rangers second sacker Ian Kinsler tossed from the game for arguing.

But from the moment Hamilton drilled his second bomb in the sixth it was a one-run game, keeping the pressure on the Yanks and the hearty souls who had braved the long delay and the low-scoring battle. Rangers righty Scott Feldman deserved better for his efforts (seven hits, seven strike outs, three soft runs on 117 pitches through six frames), as was the case with southpaw Texas starter Matt Harrison Tuesday night.

But the issue was still not settled, and that Hamilton guy, the one who had stroked homers in back-to-back at bats, led off the ninth inning against Yankee closer Rafael Soriano. He battled through six pitches, but Raffy got him swinging. Adrian Beltre lined out deep to left, and Nelson Cruz reached on an error by Chavez, who had another superb offensive game, but not a great one in the field. The miscue just delayed the inevitable, however, and with the Rangers’ big guy finally retired, David Murphy grounded out, ending the 3:05-long Yankee 3-2 win.

There is no way to know from a grandstand perch if the scoreboard guys know the error of their ways in a game like this, if they noticed the result of their taunt at all. Were they nervous for two hours as I was? I’d like to think so. Will they remember what took place tomorrow? That’s not really important, as long as Hamilton doesn’t, as the Yanks go for the sweep Thursday afternoon.