After getting blanked by Tommy Hanson and the Braves last Tuesday, the Yankees had lost three in a row and five of their last six. The bats were dormant, mustering only 13 runs over that stretch. Since then they've ripped off five wins in a row, outscoring their opponents 37-13. Not coincidentally, over that time, A-Rod has seemingly found his groove again, picking up 7 hits, 9 walks and driving in 9 runs during the streak.
The Yanks hit the ground running in the first inning against Livan Hernandez with a double by Derek Jeter high off the wall in left center field, a shot which would have left most other MLB parks. Next up, batting in place of the flu-stricken Johnny Damon, Nick Swisher pulled a ball to the right side which Daniel Murphy inadvisably threw to third in an attempt to nab the lead runner. Instead of taking the easy out at first, both runners were safe. Mark Teixiera took the opportunity to bust a double to left, driving in both Jeter and Swish. Still no one out.
A-Rod worked one of his three walks of the evening then Robby Cano bounced into a force out which moved Teixeria over to third. Jorge Posada brought him home on a sac fly and provided Chien Ming Wang with some room to maneuver.
Wang kept the Mets off the board until the 4th inning. Gary Sheffield worked a lead off walk and was driven home by a Fernando Martinez double two batters later. Luis Castillo then drove home Martinez with a single to left before the inning was over.
Wang wasn't very sharp, but made it to the sixth inning having thrown a reasonable 80 pitches and allowing only the two runs in the fourth. Sheff reached base for the third time in as many at bats against Wang, this time via a single to lead off the inning. In a rather sad testament to the state of the Mets line up right now, their number five hitter Fernando Tatis laid down a sac bunt to advance Sheff to second base down by one run in the sixth inning. Joe Girardi then called on Phil Coke to face Fernando Martinez, ending Chien Ming Wang's night short of that elusive quality start, but in line for a victory nonetheless.
Coke struck out F-Mart at which point Jerry Manuel called on Omir Santos to pinch hit for Brian Schnieder. Joe Girardi countered by calling on Phil Hughes. These kinds of "strategic moves" make me happy that interleauge play is over. I hate pinch hitters and excessive calls to the bullpen predicated on match ups. Managers feel obligated to respond to the opposing manager's moves, lest they open themselves to being second guessed. I personally think that a pitcher striking out the batter before is a better predictor of success than which arm he uses to throw the ball. This season (and pretty much every other one), the platoon splits amount to just a few percent, an advantage that could easily be negated by having to bring in a new pitcher out of the bullpen.
Managers are under pressure to make the decision that is perceived to be rational, not necessarily the one that is rational. If they fail making the conventional decision, it's much more tolerable than if they go against the grain and unfortunately, the former typically happens to be a giant waste of everyone's time. Anyway, the move worked out as Hughes retired Santos and came back out to pitch a scoreless seventh inning.
When people talk about this game months and years down the line, which they certainly will, no one will mention that Brian Bruney's inability to throw strikes set the table for one of the most memorable milestone achievement games I can remember. In the process of getting two outs, Bruney issued walks to David Wright and Fernando Tatis. With men on first and second, Mariano Rivera was called on for a four out save. After an 8 pitch at bat which included four foul balls, Mo caught Santos looking on a strike that just tickled the inside corner.
The pitcher's spot was due up 6th in the inning, but unlike when Mo batted in Atlanta, it was obvious he would stay in when it was his time to hop into the on-deck circle. However, with Jeter facing K-Rod, Girardi sent up Francisco Cervelli to pretend as if he was going to hit for Rivera, which didn't fool anyone. After curiously dropping the first pitch to DJ for a strike, K-Rod threw four straight balls (two intentional) to create the rare match up of a closer facing a closer.
Standing in the box wearing Cody Ransom's batting helmet, Mo took the first two pitches for balls, causing a collective groan at Citi Field. The next pitches were fastballs called as strikes, as Rivera didn't flinch; his clear intention was to get on base the easy way, if possible. With the count level at 2-2, K-Rod dialed it up a bit and tossed a four-seamer down Broadway. Mo unleashed a vicious cut, fouling it back. Perhaps the hack got in K-Rod's head because he failed to deliver another strike and instead walked Rivera to force in a run. It was the first RBI of his career.
Then came the bottom of the ninth, when Mo did what Mo pretty much always does.
In fitting fashion, it was a four out save with two strikeouts and only one hit. Trevor Hoffman might have 71 more saves than Rivera, but he hasn't had an appearance which lasted longer than one inning since 2004 (and that wasn't a save). Fitting too that Mo's RBI came against K-Rod, one of the few active relievers with a chance to compile career statistics anywhere near Rivera's. Even more so when you consider that it came via a walk, a demon that K-Rod can't quite seem to tame and one that is all but a non-issue to Rivera.
Even when it appears to be beyond his control, the moments seem to find Mariano. During the inning, promos for Mo's Sunday Conversation on SportsCenter ran and there was preemptive talk about what it would mean for Rivera to convert his 500th save.
You can tell yourself to savor this moment. You can remind yourself that 500 saves makes 300 wins seem commonplace by comparison. You can try to let the fact that we are watching the greatest of all time do his thing on a semi-nightly basis, but there's no way to fully appreciate someone like Rivera when he's actually in motion. Full reflection requires observation at a distance, something which we all hope doesn't come for quite some time.
Congrats Mo, and many more.