As the first inning unfolded late last night, I was already cursing Sergio Mitre for what appeared would be another lackluster start. Ichiro led off with a tough hopper to Robinson Cano, who despite playing Gold Glove level defense this year, failed to pick the shorthop, placing Ichiro on second base. A groundout and flyball later, the Yanks were already down 1-0.
In the second inning, the Yanks responded. Robinson Cano, partially atoning for his error, led off with a single. With one out, Melky Cabrera lofted an easy fly ball to right center, one that clearly belonged to center fielder Franklin Gutierrez. But Ichiro closed in on it as well, and in the confusion, Gutierrez dropped the ball. A Jose Molina single plated Cano and moved Cabrera to third. Derek Jeter hit fly ball that should have ended the inning, but thanks to the earlier error it became a sacrifice fly, giving the Yankees the lead. Nick Swisher followed with a two run home to make it 4-1 and the Yanks never looked back.
With a three run lead, Mitre had a little more margin for error, and he used it to his advantage. He faced the minimum in the second, erasing a single on a double play, and gave up just another single in the third. The M's cut into the lead in the fourth, using a walk, a base hit, and an infield single to make it 4-2, but Mitre responded by with a scoreless fifth, allowing just another single.
In the sixth, Mitre pitched himself out of the game. After striking out Ken Griffey Jr to start the frame, he surrendered a single, a walk, and another infield single to load the bases. Joe Girardi called upon David Robertson, who continues to ascend the bullpen depth chart. DRob got Jack Wilson swinging and Ryan Langerhans looking on a questionable pitch to end the threat.
It was the start of outstanding night for the Yankee bullpen. DRob started the seventh, working his third K between two singles. With two on and lefties Griffey Jr and Russell Branyan due, Girardi went to Phil Coke. Coke fanned Griffey, giving him the silver sombrero for the night, then Molina gunned down Ichiro on an ill-advised stolen base attempt, ending the threat.
Coke worked a 1-2-3 eighth, whiffing two more. Jeter closed the scoring with a solo shot in the ninth, his 15th of the season and his most since 2005. Mariano Rivera worked around a ninth inning single and walk to record his league leading 35th save, giving the Yanks the first three games of this four game series. With a Texas win over the Red Sox, the lead in the AL East is now 7.5 games.
It wasn't a great start for Mitre, but it was his best thus far. Though he once again failed to make it through six, he allowed only two runs, just one earned. The nine baserunners in five and a third is still too much, but he did limit the damage by not allowing any extra base hits. I'm not sure how much of that is a function of Mitre's skill as opposed to Seattle's anemic offense.
Regardless, the night was a success. The Yankees ensured yet another series victory, widened their lead, and the bullpen looked great, going 3.2 shutout innings, giving up three hits, a walk, and fanning eight. We'll be back in a bit as the Yanks look to bust out the brooms.