Thursday, July 9, 2009

Twin Sweeps

(Photos via AP/ESPN)

Well it wasn't pretty, but the Yankees cobbled together enough offense and pitching this afternoon to complete their second sweep of the Twins in as many series.

After a scoreless first, the Yanks jumped out to an early lead in the second. Alex Rodriguez drew a lead off walk then stole second base. He was then joined on the bases by Jorge Posada as a 3-2 offering from Francisco Liriano hit Posada atop the foot. Robinson Cano then bounced an easy one to second baseman Matt Tolbert, who may or may not have been screened by the advancing Posada. Either way, Tolbert booted the ball, loading the bases with no one out. Melky Cabrera flew to right, but not deep enough to score A-Rod. Cody Ransom followed with a walk, forcing in the first run. A fielder's choice from Brett Gardner erased Ransom at second but plated Posada, then Derek Jeter dropped a bloop single into short right-center to make it 3-0. The Yanks then ran themselves out of the inning. A pick off attempt from Liriano had Jeter caught between first and third. Gardner broke for home, and the throw from Justin Morneau was in plenty of time to get Gardner. It wasn't quite as bold as Gardner's mad dash against the Twins in May, but it was close.

Alfredo Aceves gave two runs back in the second. After an efficient first that saw just a single, Alf jumped out 0-2 on leadoff hitter Jason Kubel. But his third pitch, a fastball that was supposed to be outside, caught too much of the plate and was bombed out to deep centerfield to make it 3-1. Things got a little rough from there. Michael Cuddyer walked on five pitches, then advanced to second as Alf threw away a pick off attempt. With one out, Mark Redmond grounded to third. Cody Ransom made a nice play on a tough hop off the lip of the carpet, but struggled getting the ball out of his glove and threw away his rushed throw to first, allowing Cuddyer to score and Redmond to advance to second. Alf then got the next two batters, but his own struggles and the error forced him to use up 26 of the roughly 65 pitches he had in the tank.

Both starters threw perfect third innings, then the Yankees struck again in the fourth. Posada led off with a single, despite a brilliant play by Nick Punto to field the ball deep in the hole. Cano promptly doubled Posada to third. After another Melky flyout, Cody Ransom atoned for his earlier error, collecting his second RBI of the afternoon by driving in Posada. Gardner followed with his second RBI, singling in Cano to make it 5-2.

Just as he had in the second though, Aceves struggled after his offense gave him some runs. Kubel led off again, and this time Aceves retired him on a little nubber in front of the plate. Cuddyer doubled and moved to third on a Brian Buscher single. Alf then plunked Redmond to load the bases, and was at his 65 pitch limit.

David Robertson had the uneviable task of entering a bases loaded one out jam. He struck out Punto for the second out, but proceeded to walk Denard Span and Tolbert to force in two runs. Robertson rebounded to retire Joe Mauer to get out of the jam, but the Yankee lead was down to one.

Mark Teixeira pushed the lead back to two in the top of the fifth, knocking his first HR in 95 at bats. That closed the scoring on the afternoon, but the adventures were not over yet.

Robertson fanned Justin Morneau leading off the fifth, but then issued his third walk in just one inning. Girardi yanked D-Rob in favor of Jonathan Albaladejo, who sandwiched a walk of his own between two Ks to end the inning. Albie then worked a perfect sixth, convincing the official scorer to award him the "W".

Girardi got a little match-up happy again in the seventh. With lefties Mauer, Morneau, and Kubel due up, Phil Coke was the obvious choice to start the inning. Mauer led off with a bunt single, was erased on a fielder's choice from Morneau, then Coke fanned Kubel. The Yankees had a two run lead in the seventh, two outs, a runner on first, and Michael Cuddyer coming up. The Twins run expectancy for the inning was just 0.2255 at that point, while the Yankees win probability for the game was 72%. While Cuddyer is a good hitter, he's not as a good as Mauer nor Morneau, and this year at least, he's even a tick below Kubel. But he's right handed, so even though Coke has held righties to a line of .167/.297/.296 - even better than what lefites are hitting off him - Girardi saw fit to make a pitching change.

Phil Hughes was summoned. I understand Hughes is probably the best non-Mo arm in the pen right now. I understand that Girardi loves him. But as discussed at several points earlier, Fack Youk is starting to worry about the way Hughes is being used. If Girardi absolutely needed to deploy Hughes mid inning, the bases loaded one out jam in the fourth was a much more opportune spot. Instead, Girardi brought him in to replace Coke, who's likely just a peg below Hughes in the bullpen pecking order. Hughes didn't even have to retire Cuddyer, as Morneau was thrown out at second trying to advance on a pitch that skipped away from Posada.

Hughes returned for the eighth. After retiring the first two batters, Ron Gardenhire set up a pinch hitter for Redmond: Jose Morales. So we have a close game, bottom of the eighth, two outs, and the mighty Jose Morales coming up to pinch hit. Sound familiar? While this was a Mo worthy situation on Wednesday night, apparently the extra run lead and the lack of a runner on first was enough to make Girardi comfortable to allow Hughes finish the inning himself this time. And that he did.

Mo pitched the ninth, working around a two out single for his 23rd save. In all it was a good day. It was a game in which the Yankees squandered some offensive opportunities and made a couple costly errors. It was a game in which they sent a spot starter to the mound, with a low pitch limit, and he didn't pitch particularly well, yet the still escaped with a win. Still they managed to go through five relievers, leaving mop-up man Brett Tomko and the struggling Brian Bruney as the only guys not to pitch. Tomorrow they send arguably their least reliable starter to the mound. I hope they have enough of a pen to piece that one together too. We'll see you then.

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