Through the first five innings, Thursday night’s contest between the Yankees and the Orioles unfolded in about as unsurprising a manner as possible. While I had high hopes that Phil Hughes would be able to put his ugly first two starts behind, #65’s struggles continued, as he only made it through 4.1 innings, giving up five runs on seven hits and only striking out two. Hughes has yet to complete five innings in a start.
There were a few batters here and there in which he almost looked like the Hughes of old — and in fact, he actually registered negative linear weights on three (four-seamer, curve and change) of his four pitches — but his fastball velocity still hasn’t returned (89.1mph average four-seamer; 90.9 max), and despite only throwing seven (per Brooks) his cutter got demolished for a third straight game, racking up 2.7449 linear weights. That’s actually a pretty impressively awful number considering how little he threw the pitch, and clearly Hughes is not fooling anyone with a cutter that averages 85mph.
On the flip side, Jake Arrieta continued his dominance of the Yankees, no-hitting the Bombers through four innings until the scalding-hot Alex Rodriguez hit a double to lead off the fifth. Alex had himself another insane game, going 3-3 with a walk and sac fly, and is now hitting .412/.512/.882 (.566 wOBA) on the young season. With the way things have been going for Alex, I figured for sure he’d be blasting the game-winner in the bottom of the 10th, but he had to settle for another double. Instead, with runners on second and third and one out, Nick Swisher hit a walk-off sac fly, and the Yankees had battled all the way back from the 5-0 hole that Hughes had put them in to beat the Orioles 6-5 in 10 innings and claim sole possession of first place.
Of course, they couldn’t have gotten there without more stellar relief work from Bartolo Colon, who, aside from letting his inherited runner score, was great, tossing three scoreless innings and striking out three. Joba Chamberlain tossed 1 2/3 innings of scoreless ball, including a huge block of home plate preventing the Orioles’ sixth run from scoring, and Mariano Rivera once again threw a scoreless frame of his own in the 10th to keep the game tied. And they definitely wouldn’t have gotten there if the Yankee bats hadn’t been able to slowly chip away over the latter innings and Jorge Posada didn’t lead the bottom of the ninth off by taking closer Kevin Gregg yard on the first pitch he saw to knot the game at 5 apiece (at a mammoth .424 WPA, it was the biggest swing of the game by far).
All in all it was terrific to see the team be able to battle back after Hughes dug them an early hole, and, if I’m not mistaken, this marked the team’s first five-plus run comeback since last June in Los Angeles in that wild game against the Dodgers. Though a few areas of concern linger — Brett Gardner struck out three times, is hitting .150, and just looks completely overmatched right now and seems to find himself in an 0-2 count before he even steps into the batter’s box; Derek Jeter grounded out three more times and really hasn’t hit any balls with authority whatsoever; and the Player Formerly Known as Phil Franchise still isn’t going deep or keeping the team in any of his starts — nothing can put a damper on a win like this one.