Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Yanks 7, Angels 2 -- That Rocked, Just a Lil Bit

Blah blah blah, it was nice to get a split with the Angels, blah blah blah, they're the only team with a winning record against Torre's Yanks, blah blah blah. True, this is some solace to be taken from a split with the Angels, but the story focuses more on last night.

We're at the point where there is no telling what Randy Johnson we're getting on any given night. He surely has some implosions left in him this season, but he'll have a few more stellar performances, a la last night, when he didn't give up a run until there were two outs in the second. The brightest spot in the evening for Johnson came in the fourth, when he whiffed Tim Salmon for his 4,500th career strikeout. He received quite the standing ovation, and was greeted loudly again after he retired Robb Quinlan to end the frame. Three innings later, and Johnson exited as the pitcher of record, not only giving his team a chance to win but giving Proctor and Villone the night off.

I'm a pitching guy, and whenever a starter goes seven innings and only allows two flukey runs, he's going to get the lede. However, there is one name that I seriously considered supplanting Johnson at the top of the article: Alex Rodriguez. As you all know, I've become Alex Apologist No. 1, going so far as to avoid calling him that abbreviated moniker. Last night wasn't the best of his games, going 0 for 2 with a walk. However, in the bottom of the seventh, with the Yankees having just surrendered their 2-0 lead, Alex shined.

The inning was abnormal to say the least. It all started with a Damon bloop single behind third base. D-Rock stepped up next, and he was prepared to sacrifice. Normally, I totally disagree with such strategy, since Jete is batting .345 with a .420 OBP. But it was the seventh, and you gotta score that leadoff run. So he laid one down the third base line, hustled his ass off, and beat the throw, giving the Yanks first and second with none out. With Abreu, Giambi and Alex due up next, the probability was high that Damon would score from second.

Much to the surprise of about everyone at the Stadium, Abreu stepped into the box also ready to bunt the runners over. So many things seemed wrong about that scenario, yet so many things seemed right. Farnsworth and Mo were fresh for the eighth and ninth, so a run there could have been lights out for the Angels. Swinging away left open the possibility for a double play, so Torre decided to play for the one run. Abreu was successful, coming within a stride of beating the throw to the bag. Second and third, one out, Giambi up.

And Giambi walk. John Lackey wanted no part of him, opting to pitch to Alex with the bases loaded and one out. Big mistakey. I know Alex hasn't been as threatening a presence at the plate this year, but you simply do not walk the bases loaded for the man. I guess Mike Scocia was thinking...hell, I don't know what he was thinking! But Harry Doyle aside, he simple thought that pitching to Alex with a force at all bases was a better option than going at Giambi – who apparently owns Lackey – with a base open. After all, we've seen Alex ground into a big double play here and there.

The tension in the crowd was palpable as Lackey got ahead 1 and 2. A strikeout would be detrimental; a grounder to short worse. But these are all things many Yankees fans have come to expect of Alex when he's put in a big spot. Lackey delivered the 1-2, and as if answering directly to the fans, Alex took a mighty swing and hit one high and deep down the right field line. There were gasps in the crowd, because that one came rather close to getting out (it was in the corner and my view was obstructed, so I can't really speak to how deep it truly was). But it did the job, as Damon was able to score from third, and the Yankees took the lead for good, 3-2.

This hit was especially relieving, since it was down the right field line, a place Alex hasn't hit many balls this year. That could be due to altered mechanics in his swing, which is described in the linked article. From that article:

Notice how there's nothing down the right field line. His ability to slap hits there may determine his success from here on out.

I'm not going to wrap this up until I officially congratulate Jorge Posada on breaking out of his slump in a big way. He singled twice and should have been credited with an RBI on the first one. Problem was, Giambi was the runner, easily thrown out at home plate. This sparked a discussion between my buddy Jon and I about which diet would work best for Giambi, South Beach or Zone? Anyway, Jorge officially kicked the slump to the curb with a laser home run to lead off the eighth, giving the Yanks a two-run cushion. They blew it open from there, and went on to finish off the Angels 7-2.

Boston dropped to Detroit, putting our lead back at two games. They have two more games against Detroit this week while we're facing Baltimore for three. Hopefully Torre can give some guys a rest on Wednesday and Thursday (night game-day game), because they're going to be facing Boston for two on Friday. Oh yeah, and the Sox get Thursday off, which completely sucks. The good news: we'll get to face Josh Beckett, who was the pitcher of record last night.

This is the money week, folks. Shitty team followed by the rivals. How the Yanks come out of the weekend may indicate where they come out on September 31.