The offense still remained toothless for the Yankees and the tone was set early. Hochevar has taken his share of lumps from the Yankees over the years and the first inning has been his trouble spot all season. He quickly fell behind Derek Jeter, who led off the bottom of the first, 3-0 and was not close with any of the pitches. But then Hochevar threw three perfect sinkers on the outside corner at the knees to strike Jeter out. Thus, the first batter of the game for the Yankees raises the question of whether the Yankees simply cannot hit or are facing an extraordinary run by the pitchers they face. Jeter’s strikeout was a microcosm of that debate. Hochevar could not have thrown three better pitches.
Hughes had an easy time of it through the first two innings, retiring the side in order in both frames. But he ran into trouble in the top of the third. Irving Falu led off the inning with a single. Humberto Quintero, with Mark Teixeira way off the line at first, hit the ball nicely the opposite way and over the first base bag for a double scoring Falu. But Hughes shut the door there with strikeouts of Jarrod Dyson and Eric Hosmer. Dyson whiffed four times on the night from the lead off spot and earned a golden sombrero. But the Royals were up, 1-0.
Meanwhile, the Yankees had managed to get the lead-off batter on base in the second and third innings but both were erased on double plays. The first by Mark Teixeira and the second by Derek Jeter.
Hughes retired the first two batters in the top of the fourth without a problem, but made his one big mistake of the night and gave Francoeur a fat fastball that Francoeur deposited in the left field bleachers to make it a 2-0 game. The homer was the 55th given up by Yankees’ pitching so far this season and the eleventh allowed by Hughes.
The Yankees got a run back in the bottom of that inning. After Curtis Granderson struck out, Robinson Cano hit a bomb to the Yankees’ bullpen to make it a 2-1 game. Then the runners-in-scoring-position-bug reared its ugly head again. Alex Rodriguez singled and stole second (his fifth this season) and was on second with one out. Raul Ibanez popped out to short and Nick Swisher struck out to fizzle that chance.
Hughes worked around a base runner in the top of the fifth but struck out two in that inning to keep the game at 2-1. The Yankees won the game in the bottom of that inning, but it was not the kind of inning that instilled a great deal of confidence. Mark Teixeira hit a single to right and then took second on a Jeff Franceour fielding error. Russell Martin was hit by a pitch and then Dewayne Wise bunted for a base hit to load the bases with no outs. Derek Jeter came to the plate and Yankee Stadium was an eerily quiet place. The Yankees had been in this same situation the night before and came up empty.
Hochevar battled Jeter with some nasty pitches and had a 2-2 count. He threw a fastball on Jeter’s hands and Jeter got just enough of if off the handle of his bat to dump the ball in right for a single. Teixeira scored to tie the game. Fortunately, Dewayne Wise was on first and can run because Francoeur almost threw him out at second. The bases were still loaded with no outs. Granderson then hit a slow roller to second and Falu’s only play was to first and Martin scored to put the Yankees ahead, 3-2. With men on second and third with one out, the Royals intentionally walked Robinson Cano to load the bases again and face Alex Rodriguez, who has been stuck one grand slam short of Lou Gehrig forever for the all-time record.
He is still stuck one short as Hochevar struck him out with some nasty stuff. You have to hat tip the pitcher there. It appeared that the first pitch was A-Rod’s best pitch to hit and he took it for the first strike. That made it two outs. Raul Ibanez then worked the count to 3-2. A walk would bring in another run. Hochevar threw a slider inside, off the plate and in the dirt and inexplicably, Ibanez swung at it for strike three. A chance to blow the game open went by and it became a nail-biter.
In the top of the sixth, Hughes loaded the bases with two walks and a single wrapped around two fly outs. But he got Falu to fly out to end the threat.
The Yankees would not get another base runner the rest of the game. Hochevar was perfect in the sixth and got the first two outs of the seventh. Jose Mijares threw a perfect inning and a third to finish out the seventh and the eighth.
Cory Wade relieved Hughes to start the top of the seventh and got two quick and easy ground balls for the first two outs. Joe Girardi then went with Boone Logan to face the lefty-swinging, Dyson who struck out to end the inning.
Girardi then went into La Russa-like overdrive in the eighth as he started the inning with Boone Logan. Logan got Eric Hosmer to ground to Teixeira at first, but Logan forgot to cover the bag. Oops. Girardi then popped out of the dugout to get Cody Eppley. Eppley just barely kept Billy Butler in the park with a fly to right. Girardi then brought in Clay Rapada to face Mike Moustakas. Moustakas drilled a line drive toward the first base bag, but Teixeira was standing right there and snagged it and stepped on the bag to get the double-play. Rapada will get credit for two-thirds of an inning and only made one pitch. It was a BABIP moment that smiled upon the Yankees.
Rafael Soriano had his first save opportunity in what seems like forever. Soriano got Francoeur to fly out to deep center. Then Alex Gordon ripped a ground rule double to right that dinged off the foul pole on a bounce. A ground ball to Jeter by Falu got Gordon to third but the Royals were down to their last out. Soriano and the Yankees got very fortunate after that. A-Rod was playing shallow at third for Alcides Escobar. Escobar hit a bouncer to third and A-Rod had to retreat a little to get it. Escobar can really get down the line. A-Rod knew he had to hurry and threw the ball as quickly and as hard as he could to first. The throw just barely beat Escobar to first as the ball hit Teixeira’s glove just as Escobar’s foot was about to hit the bag.
The game was a nail-biter that should not have been. But the Yankees won the game and are back over .500 for the season.
Phil Hughes: Hughes got a quality start and while he didn’t lower his astronomical homers per nine inning rate, he did strike out seven and earned the win.
Derek Jeter: The Captain did not have a strong night at the plate, but his little bloop hit to tie the game was as close to a clutch hit as the Yankees have seen in a long while.
The bullpen: Other than Logan’s bonehead mental mistake, the bullpen was terrific and are holding things together without Rivera and Robertson. They never make it look easy, but they threw zeroes.
Robinson Cano: The homer was nice to see.
Royal Pains in the patooty:
Nick Swisher: Another bad night at the plate for Swish. He is now down to .239 and again struck out with a runner in scoring position.
Raul Ibanez: That strikeout with the bases loaded on what was clearly ball four is enough reason to put him here.
The Yankees and Royals will play the rubber match of the series as Luis Mendoza will face Andy Pettitte at 7:05.