Thursday, August 03, 2006

Yanks 7, Jays 2 -- Did You See That Slide?!?

I was elated in the eighth inning of the Red Sox-Indians game last night, when David Ortiz – two nights removed from yet another walk-off homer – struck out, covering his head with the shameful Golden Sombrero. After Manny Ramirez and Mike Lowell were retired behind him, I came to a glorious realization: Papi wouldn’t be up in the ninth. The 6-7-8-9 hitters were due up, so it would take the Indians loading the bases, allowing the tying run to score, and recording two outs for the feared marauder to appear again.

Thankfully, he never got that chance. Mark Loretta took care of business one batter before him, slamming a bases-loaded double off the Monster, giving the Red Sox another come from behind victory against Cleveland, 6-5. That’s twice in the three games that the Red Sox mounted a ninth inning rally, a fact that just makes me sick. The first one hurt because it was Papi again. The sting in this one came because Eric Wedge seemingly doesn’t care anymore. Why Fausto Carmona (A+ for the name, F for the performance) was left in after beaning two straight batters is beyond all comprehension.

I know, I should be focusing on the Yankees and their second straight thumping of the Blue Jays, further widening the gap between first (second? whatever) and third place. As on Tuesday night, the Yankees struck hard enough in one frame to live comfortably for the rest of the game. And it all started in the sixth.

Alex, in the midst of another hot streak, hit a screaming low liner to left field. From the replay, he looked to be going hard from the get go, ostensibly thinking double all the way. The only problem is that he no longer poses the speed threat of his youth. Many moons ago in a place, now extinct, known as Seattle, Alex hit 42 home runs and stole 46 bases in a season. He was young, athletic, and powerful. Well, now he’s a lot more powerful, and still just as athletic. Problem is, with all the bulk he added during his years in Texas and New York, he’s lost significant speed. It’s evident when he grounds out to deep short; he runs hard out of the box, but when the out is recorded, he’s still two or three steps away. But speed be damned, Alex wanted a double on this one.

The throw came in from left, and before the camera panned to second base, I just figured Alex would be safe. But when the bag was in the center of the screen, only his fingers were visible. It was a scene reminiscent of Willie Hayes’s failed steal attempt for the Indians (I believe they only showed him getting caught once in the whole movie, aside from the Clue Haywood pickoff on Opening Day). But instead of sliding in short and allowing Aaron Hill to lay on an easy tag, Alex played trickery, lifting his left hand, shifting his weight, and planting his right hand on the bag, untouched by Hill. There is no doubt it was an excellent reaction by Alex, but I wonder how much of that was planned. Heading towards second, he had a clear view of the ball being fielded and thrown, so he must have known he was toast. I postulate that he began his slide early on purpose, figuring his best way of reaching safely was to head in slow, giving him more time to react.

Posada wasted no time in putting two more runs on the board, taking Ted Lilly’s second offering to the back of the netting over Monument Park. After Craig Wilson’s inaugural hit as a Yankee and a Melky ground-rule double, Lilly was finished, meaning John Gibbons’s overmanagement seminar was about to begin. He tried Dustin McGowan (no relation to Rose, I think), but to no avail; walking Miguel freakin’ Cairo to load the bases is a sure sign that you don’t belong in the game. Johnny Damon whacked one into center field, plating Wilson. Derek Jeter drew a walk for another RBI, and McGowan was done, though he was really done before he started. Scott Downs fared a bit better initially, striking out Bobby Abreu on a five-foul, 10-pitch at bat. But then came Alex, still riding that adrenaline high like it was black tar heroin. His rip shot to left-center plated two more, giving the Yankees a 7-0 lead.

It was Jorge’s turn next, and even though he had started the scoring, I was disappointed when he came up. Downs is a lefty, meaning Jorge was batting from the right side, the side from which he homered earlier in the inning. It would have been sweet as hell had he batted and gone deep from the left side, which would have made him the third player in Major League history to accomplish that feat. It was first done in 1993 in Yankee Stadium, of all places, by Carlos Baerga, of all the random people. I actually remember watching that game; it was a total blowout, so much so that I’m not even going to look up the gory details on Retrosheet. Eventually joining Baerga was Mark Bellhorn in 2002, while playing for the Cubs. After reading that, I’m not so disappointed that Jorge didn’t get his chance; I mean, would you want to be categorized with Baerga and Bellhorn?

Do I even need to make mention of Wang's outing? I mean, we can all read a box score, and that pretty much tells the story. Though, I should make note of the nastiest pitch of the game, his sixth inning strikeout of Lyle Overbay. Wang delivered an inside fastball that looked to be just a hair off the black of the plate. But wait for it...wait for it...BAM! The ball took one of the nastiest right-hand turns I've seen, freezing Overbay and ending the inning. If Wang can hone his slider and develop an off-speed pitch over the winter, he could be one of the dominant pitchers in the game. He trows hard, has a nasty, ground-ball inducing sinker, and a two-seamer that has some nice movement to the right. A honed slider would give him a pitch that breaks to the left, and an off-speed delivery allows him to keep hitter off time.

I was kind of surprised to see Villone in the ninth, considering he had pitched an inning and two thirds on Tuesday. I guess Torre is being cautious in using his mop-up guy, since Lidle is starting today. Of course, making sure a mop-up guy is there to pitch you three or four innings isn’t merely predicting the worst. It’s just that no one knows what to expect from Lidle, so having a break glass in case of emergency plan is strategically sound.

Oh, and on that Glaus shot in the ninth: I was a little surprised and confused when I saw 30-something man (he was at least 30, though could have been older; I didn't get the best look) sprinting into the black seats to recover the ball. I thought about the games I've seen at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, where swarms of kids would race to any home run hit onto the grassy knoll in center. And here we are in New York, with a middle aged man racing the kids to get the ball. I have to say that I was at least a bit relieved to hear a roar from the crowd, followed by the camera panning to the ball, now lying in center field. Kudos to that guy; you ALWAYS throw it back. I just wish he didn't have a pansy arm.

Day game today. I hope all you bored suckers at work can get the streaming audio from wcbs.com. I wouldn't want any of you to miss the triumphant debut of Cory Lidle. Okay, maybe I'm getting just a little too excited.