Saturday, September 26, 2009

CC, Cano Steal The Show

The Yankee offense put sixteen runners on base over the course of this afternoon. Yankee pitching allowed just two hits, two walks, and two hitbatsmen. Yet, today's game still managed to be a typical three plus hour Yankee-Red Sox nail biter.

The reason for that was that the Yankees left eleven runners on base and went 1 for 15 with runners in scoring position. That one hit didn't come until the bottom of the eighth, and it provided some needed insurance for what proved to be a tense ninth inning.

CC Sabathia was masterful on the hill: perfect through three and two thirds, a no hitter through four, and just four baserunners allowed while fanning eight through seven shutout innings on just 96 pitches. Yet he wasn't in position for the win until his final frame.

When Robinson Cano came to the plate leading off the sixth inning, it seemed as if his season long troubles with runners in scoring position had rubbed off on his teammates. Through five innings, the Yankees had put 10 runners on base and had left nine of them there, the tenth being erased on a batter's obstruction call against Alex Rodriguez. Of the nine men left on base, seven were left in scoring position. The inning before, the Yankees loaded the bases with no one out, then went down in order without striking out but without plating a run.

With the score still knotted at zero, Cano gave the Yanks the lead they had failed to grab so many times, as he put a 1-1 pitch over the left field wall for his 24th home run of the season.

After Phil Hughes worked a perfect eighth in relief of CC, with some help from a brilliant defensive play by Mark Teixeira, the Yankees added two insurance runs in the eighth using some daring base running from Brett Gardner, a lucky break on a run down, and a broken bat bloop two run single from Johnny Damon.

Mariano Rivera closed it out in the ninth, but not before Victor Martinez ran his hitting streak to 25 games and Kevin Youkilis became the fourth hit batsmen of the game, forcing Mo to face Mike Lowell as the potential tying run. Lowell fanned, giving the Yankees the series win and dropping the magic number to one.

We'll be back tomorrow afternoon as the Yankees go for the sweep, attempt to keep the Red Sox from clinching a post-season berth at Yankee Stadium, and attempt to clinch the AL East for themselves.

Game 155: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

With the magic number for the Yankees to clinch the AL East and the one for the Red Sox to secure a playoff spot both sitting at 3, last night the Yanks took an important step towards preventing the Sox from sullying the visitor's clubhouse with celebratory champagne. With the Rangers' win last night, the Yankees can ensure that the Sox don't pop the bubbly at the New Stadium with two more victories and in the process, wrap up the division for themselves. The Yanks seem to be taking that apporach seriously, as they trot out the "A" line up again, including catching Jorge Posada in a (late) day game after a night game. [UPDATE 2:53 P.M.: According to LoHud, Posada has been scratched with a stiff neck. It's been bothering him since the Jesse Carlson incident nearly two weeks ago]

Unlike last night, the starter climbing the mound for the Red Sox is the one with something to prove. Daisuke Matsuzaka has managed to generate a lot of buzz during the two starts he's made since emerging from his exile in Fort Myers but objective observers still have some questions as to whether he's really "back and better than ever".

His first start was quite excellent but his last one against the Orioles was a lot closer to the old Dice-K: decent results but inefficient with his pitches. He threw 110 of them over 5 1/3 innings, allowing 8 hits and three runs. He walked away with the win, but the myth of the new and improved Matsuzaka took a bit of a hit down in Baltimore.

For whatever reason, Matsuzaka is being discussed as a "weapon" in the postseason, but CC Sabathia is considered more of a liability. CC is 8-0 in his last 10 starts dating back to the beginning of August and the Yankees have won every single one of those games. Over that time he has an ERA of 2.24 and struck out 77 while giving up just 55 hits and walking only 17. You'd think that that people might be making a bigger deal out of this. After all, he just signed a monster contract this offseason and plays for the best team in baseball.

However, just like Zack Greinke's terrible team makes it harder for his great season to be recognized, the fact the the Yankees have already pulled away from the pack means that Sabathia's great stretch gets largely swept under the rug because it doesn't appear to factor into the playoff race either. The problem with this logic is that if CC was pitching poorly, his team would be a whole lot closer to the pack.

Part of the equation is that Sabathia is as pure of a late-season pitcher as there is in the game. His career ERA in September and October regular season games is 2.67 and his next closest month is August at 3.14. His ERA in all other months is 4.01. Maybe writers feel like they've heard the story before. But more likely, it seems that they want to talk about his lack of success in the 5 starts he's made in the postseason. It seems he's a choker until proven clutch; guilty until proven innocent.

Look in my eyes dog, right in my pupils
If I'm your rival, why would I have to do you?
Press try to throw dirt on my name, disturbin' my game,
Seemed happy when they heard he was arraigned.

Yanks Flip The Script On The Sox

After a week of people declaring that the Yankees weren't built for success in the postseason, it was the Red Sox last night who took some hits - both literally and figuratively - to what John Kruk thought was the only team "ready for the playoffs". Now Boston's rotation is under the microscope.

It was a tough night for Jon Lester who was getting hurt by the Yankees even before Melky Cabrera ripped that line drive that hit him just above his knee in the bottom of the third. It was a scary moment for all baseball fans when Lester hit the deck. He was on his back for quite a while, appeared to be in serious pain and had to be helped off the field. However, X-Rays were negative and Terry Francona thinks Lester will make his next start.

Last night was the young lefty's worst outing since May 9th against the Rays, as he allowed 11 baserunners in just 2 1/3 IP, four of whom scored on his own watch and the last who probably would have came to the plate regardless of who was pitching. His post game comments sounded like something Joba Chamberlain might have said: "I felt like I had good stuff tonight, but it was one of those nights where [the Yankees] made it seem like I didn't."

Marc Carig of the Newark Star-Ledger declared early on last night that it was backwards night at the Stadium and instead of his usual routine Chamberlain has decided to pitch well but then rip himself to the media after the game. That latter part didn't come true, but Joba's final line of (6IP, 5H, 3ER, 1BB, 5K) probably undersells his performance last night just a bit. He'd retired every batter he faced until allowing a solo shot to Victor Martinez with two outs in the fourth inning. As Michael Kay endlessly reminded us, the long bottom of the third due in part to Lester's injury delay probably didn't help much.

The other two runs Chamberlain allowed come via an opposite field 2 run homer by David Ortiz with two outs in the 6th, so he very nearly escaped with only one earned run. Even still, Joba needed only 86 pitches to do his work and there was plenty to be encouraged about.

Chamberlain got into trouble in the fifth inning with men on 2nd and third with no one out but squeezed out of the jam without allowing a run by getting Jason Varitek to pop out to third, striking out Alex Gonzalez swinging and inducing a grounder to Jacoby Ellsbury.

Speaking of the Red Sox' Captain, the Yankees ran absolutely wild against him tonight, stealing a season high 7 bases. It started when Derek Jeter singled and immediately took of for 2nd in the bottom of the first, setting the tone for the rest of the game. The inability to prevent runners from stealing could turn out to be a tragic flaw for the Sox when they match up with the Angels in the ALDS. The Yanks did their part to expose that tonight with Robinson Cano even getting in one the action, picking up just his 5th SB of the year.

A-Rod was the biggest thief of the night, swiping three bags but that only begins to describe his contributions. Alex didn't make an out all night, going 3-3 with a HR (off of Lester), a double, two walks and 4 RBIs.

It was an excellent night for the Yankees and a terrible one for the Red Sox. It was a testament to how quickly things can change. Which of these two teams looks primed for the playoffs now, pundits? Let's not get too excited though because things will probably change a little more today when CC and Dice-K take the mound at 4:00.