Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, when I was convinced the team was ready to turn things around and right the ship, the Yankees (and Joe Girardi) managed to find an even tougher way to lose.
Prior to the most obvious walk-off home run in the world to Yankee-murderer Reid Brignac, served up by Sergio Mitre — who hadn’t pitched since September 5 — in the 11th inning, this was one of the most riveting games the Yankees have played all year. The starting pitching from both teams was simply outrageous in this one. Just absolutely, jaw-droppingly droolworthy. CC Sabathia and David Price put on dual clinics, with each pitching eight full innings, Sabathia striking out nine, Price four and neither yielding a run. Sabathia gave up two hits and Price three. Talk about a pitcher’s duel. As much as I love offense, you really can’t ask for much more as a baseball fan than a thrilling 0-0 game heading into the ninth. Well, I suppose you can ask for your team to be at home, or for them to win the game, but that’s really about it.
As one would expect from an outing as dominant as Price’s the Yankees had nothing going on offense, and have now scored one run in their last 21 innings. Not only that, but the Yankees haven’t hit a home run in their last 42 innings. Combine that with stranded baserunners, horrendous in-game management and Cliff Lee, and you have all the makings of the team’s first four-game losing streak of the season.
On one hand, it’s fairly impressive that the Yankees managed to go all the way until mid-September until they lost four straight games. They also had opportunities to win all four, and actually held leads in all three Texas games.
On the other hand, losing a scoreless game in extras after getting eight insanely strong outings from your ace (.571(!) WPA, Sabathia’s highest of the season), who is desperately trying to halt your losing streak, stings.
In the 10th inning the Yankees had a chance to break through, but Brett Gardner was overly aggressive after stealing second base and got picked off trying to snag third with two outs. It was a close play but replays showed he was clearly out, and it was essentially a microcosm of the Yankee offense in this game. They skied a ton of fly balls off Price, but nothing all that deep — despite eight flyouts, the Yankees didn’t even hit a single ball to the warning track.
Joe Girardi didn’t exactly help matters in this game by continuing his recent spate of head-scratching moves. After Kerry Wood pitched a stellar ninth and Boone Logan retired Carlos Pena, Chad Gaudin was brought in. Gaudin struck Yankee-impaler Matt Joyce out, then walked Dioner Navarro, gave up a pinch-hit single to Dan Johnson and walked B.J. Upton to load the bases. Gaudin somehow pulled a Houdini act, getting out of trouble by striking Brad Hawpe out despite the fact that every single person on earth figured the game was over right then and there.
Joe then managed the Yankees out of the top of the 11th, having Curtis Granderson gift-wrap an out to Joe Maddon and the Rays by bunting — on a 2-0 count, no less. You’d think Joe would’ve learned after having Francisco Cervelli bunt on 3-0 on Saturday — and moving Austin Kearns, who had led off the inning with a single — only the second time all game the Yankees got the leadoff man on — to second. Down to only two chances at plating the run, Colin Curtis and Derek Jeter flew out to end the threat.
And of course, this led to the most head-scratching move of all, calling on Mitre in a 0-0 game in the 11th inning. Mitre of course immediately gave up the game-winner, handing the Rays a 1-0 victory.
In the postgame, Jack Curry and Bob Lorenz sort of inferred that prior to the game Girardi and the coaching staff knew they only had a select group of relievers available, and weren’t going to deviate from that plan no matter what. I will say that I appreciate the value of ensuring that everyone is ready for the postseason, and in doing so, I think Joe’s also made it fairly clear that the division isn’t quite as important to him as just getting in. I suppose if it means a few more tough losses but a rested bullpen for the postseason, I can live with it, but it doesn’t make an extra-inning loss with your worst pitcher on the mound (shades of Joe Torre in Game 4 of the 2003 World Series) any less frustrating.
Despite the variety of shenanigans occurring in this game, I do think some positives can be drawn. For starters, these two teams should provide some incredibly exciting baseball should they meet up in the postseason. While this game didn’t do anything to alleviate concerns regarding the Yankees’ pitiful road offense and equally pitiful performance at the Trop this year, I still feel strangely optimistic about their ability to best the Rays in Tampa Bay in the postseason. Sure, they weren’t able to plate any runs, but the lineup remains sub-optimal (Greg Golson started for the second straight game, for crying out loud) due to various injuries, and though the Yankees refused to use most of their top bullpen pitchers Tampa Bay was still only able to score one run in 11 innings.
A couple of housekeeping notes: This was the eighth time the Yankees were shut out this season. They were only shutout 5 times all of last season. It was their second 1-0 loss of the season (the first, as you’ll recall, was at the hands of former number-one draft pick Bryan Bullington), and their second straight shutout at Tampa Bay, which means they actually haven’t scored a run at the Trop in 20 innings. I wonder if I need to rethink my unfounded optimism regarding the Yankees being able to beat the Rays on the road.
The Yankees are now a 1/2 game out of first place, but they can turn that right around with a much overdue win tomorrow. As good as the Rays are, I don’t think I’d want to be facing the slumbering giant that’s due to break out from its execrable play any day now.