(Photos courtesy of here)
The new Yankee Stadium has been a home run haven thus far. Tonight, the Yankees built a comfortable lead on the strength of the long ball and would have hurled a shutout had it not been for three Oriole dingers.
For the third consecutive night, the Yankees took the lead in the bottom of the first as a double from the red-hot Mark Teixeira scored Johnny Damon from first. Teixeira's double hit off the base of the death valley wall (doesn't really seem to be a death valley at the new place), falling just short of giving Teix five HRs in as many games.
The Yanks would get all the extra oomph they needed in the second. The slumping Nick Swisher led off the inning. Monday night, a Swisher fly ball was caught on the left-field warning track immediately after Teix and A-Rod had gone back-to-back in left. This time, Swish wouldn't fall short, depositing his first HR in the new Stadium about two rows deep in right field. Robinson Cano followed with a HR of his own, landing slightly deeper than Swisher's, then Melky Cabrera ensured that the Yankees went back-to-back-to-back this time, his blast landing in the right field mezanine. Melky would not be quite so fortunate during his next AB.
On the other side of the ball, Phil Hughes had his best outing since beating Detroit three weeks ago. Hughes righted his K:BB problem from his last three starts, striking out a career-high nine against only one free pass. Relying almost exclusively on his four seam fastball and curveball, Hughes showed good velocity and movement, sat at 92-93 MPH, and touched 94. He gave up six hits, and allowed all three of his runs on long balls by Ty Wigginton and Adam Jones. If it was in fact his final MLB start for the time being, it was a helluva good one.
The only potential knock on Hughes' performance is that he once again failed to pitch into the sixth. This time that's on Girardi, not Hughes. We've hypothesized before that Girardi reads Fack Youk. Perhaps trying to prove that he is every bit the poor bullpen manager that Joe Torre was, Girardi pulled a dealing Hughes after five innings and 89 pitches. At least he had the good sense to call on Alfredo Aceves.
Aceves pitched a scoreless sixth and seventh, giving up two hits and striking out two. Aceves continues to impress and now stands at 10.1 IP, 2 ER, 7 H, 2 BB and 11 K over 5 appearances this year. He's been a very reliable bullpen arm since his recall and should continue to be used as such until he proves otherwise.
Phil Coke came on for the eighth. Adam Jones lined an infield single off Coke's elbow to start the inning. Had Coke been able to locate the carom more quickly, he likely would have retired Jones. His inability to do so would turn out to be somewhat important.
Coke then got lefties Nick Markakis and Aubrey Huff to fly out. Had he recovered in time to get Jones earlier, the inning would have been over. Instead, Melvin Mora came to the plate as the tying run with two men out. With Jose Veras and Mariano Rivera warming in the pen, Dave Eiland came to the mound. Then Coke threw to first a few times. Then he stepped off. Then Girardi came out and called for Mo.
Now I don't have a problem using the closer in the 8th. In fact, there are times when I think it's actually the smart thing to do. This was not one of those times. For the life of me, I have no earthly clue why Girardi made this move. Let's attack this bullet point style, with questions for Girardi:
- Do you not remember this technique failing last month?
- Mariano is 39, one of the team's most valuable assets, and coming off shoulder surgery. Do you really want to use him this way unless it's absolutely necessary?
- Though the sample sizes are small, Phil Coke is getting both lefties and righties out. Why couldn't he face Mora? Remember when this move blew up in your face earlier this year?
- You trust Coke to get two of the Orioles best hitters in Markakis and Huff, but not Mora, who is hitting .253/.309/.333 and has no platoon advantages in his splits?
- If you really felt the game was on the line, why didn't Mo come in to face Markakis?
- If you insist upon bringing a righty in there, and you choose Mo, why was Veras even warming up?
- You realize there are two outs and no runners in scoring position, right? Not exactly the highest leverage situation here. But we've seen this before too.
Yet as the ninth inning started, in spite of the half hour long bottom of the 8th, Mariano Rivera was standing on the mound. Are you kidding me?!?! Nevermind the fact that there's no need to risk Mo in this situation. The baseball gods had given Girardi the gift of an eight run lead in the ninth with the bottom of the order coming up. Rather than calling upon one of the assorted turds (Veras) or career mop-up men (Tomko) left in the pen so that maybe they could work on some of their issues, Girardi chose to let the greatest closer of all time pick up a meaningless save with an eight run lead. Mo responded by giving up his 5th HR in 17.1 innings of work before closing it out.
Since being converted to a full time reliever in 1996, Mo's season high for HRs allowed is 5, in 1997 and 2005. On May 20th of 2009, he's already tied that mark. I might be concerned about this were I not so stupified as to how Mo was utilized tonight.
Despite my being confounded, it was still a good night. The bats stayed hot, Hughes turned in a great start, Aceves continued to pitch well, and the streak reached 8 games, tying last season's high. Here's to hoping they make it 9 tomorrow.