The A’s got out to a pretty good start in the first, when three consecutive doubles (Stephen Drew, Seth Smith, and Yoenis Cespedes) let them jump out to a 2-0 lead off Ivan Nova.
But the A’s were playing sloppy, bad baseball for much of the first few innings, their fielders choking on easy plays, their pitcher unable to find the strike zone, and, by the second, the bombers had managed to sneak out to an almost-accidental 4-2 lead after a wild pitch let A-Rod score. A’s starter Travis Blackley lasted all of two innings–but he threw 59 pitches.
But pitching wasn’t the story tonight. If we witnessed a couple of gems last night, then today we witnessed whatever the polar opposite of that would be. Neither pitching staff could do much to stem the bleeding–though Derek Lowe and Jim Miller did the best they could in the early going–and the A’s made things worse by misplaying balls with alarming frequency. But that was counterbalanced by both sides’ inability to hit with runners in scoring position: on a night when they each scored 9 runs, the Yankees went 4-for-17 (.235) and the A’s 3-for-16 (.187) with runners on second or third. It was a cacophony of mediocrity–and it was, frankly, hard to watch.
But both teams proved beyond any reasonable doubt that they could hit a baseball a long way–or, at least far enough to clear the walls at Yankee Stadium. First Ichiro Suzuki, then Stephen Drew and Raul Ibanez lined shots over the wall; with Drew’s going to center, and Ichiro and Ibanez’ going to right. But the real fireworks came in the 13th inning, after everyone had given up on the game: Jonny Gomes blasted a two-run shot to left, and was followed immediately by Yoenis Cespedes**, depositing his own monster blast into the second deck. A batter later,
ex-Vikings receiver Chris Carter dropped one in a similar spot.
[**Yoenis Cespedes is one of the most exciting players in baseball right now. I mean it. He's got an arm like a cannon (remember last night?) that has forced teams to respect him, he swings with this explosive fury at everything he sees, and when he makes contact he hits the ball hard. He's fast, athletic, and incredibly determined. He's a raw, less skilled but more powerful version of Mike Trout.]
The three homers came after five and a half innings of drivel, with the Yankees putting men on and being completely unable to score. They had men on second or third in the 12th, the 9th, and the 7th innings, and couldn’t get it done. It was pathetic.
And they went from having Derek Jeter (who, earlier in the game has extended his hitting streak to 16 games) batting with a man on third in a tie game in the bottom of the 12th to losing by four in the top of the 13th.
All of that is prelude, context-setting to what happened next: a series of singles by the top of the order–Ichiro, swinging an incredibly hot bat, A-Rod, and Cano–loaded the bases. Oakland reliever Pat Neshek threw a ball behind replacement catcher Derek Norris (in for George Kottaras who was leveled by Ibanez trying to score earlier in the game…those collisions are terrifying). Oakland by three. Eduardo Nunez came in and lofted a ball to center. Oakland by two on the sac. Then in stepped Raul Ibanez. A long drive to deep right field, screaming towards the second deck–tie game.
The stadium, emptied out after Oakland’s barrage, was a mob scene.
It would take the Yankees another inning to actually clinch the game, but it didn’t matter. The feeling of accomplishment, of battle, was hard to suppress: you could see it in the faces of the players in the dugout, it was etched onto each player that took a swing, and it imbued the stadium with an energy that had been sorely lacking.
This is not a perfect team. It’s probably not even be a great team. But it is a winning team.
They proved that tonight.