Results tagged ‘ Tommy Hunter ’

Orioles Edge Yankees On Bloop Singles In Ninth

GAME 9

ORIOLES 5, YANKEES 4

With Mariano Rivera retired and his successor David Robertson on the disabled list the Yankees will admit that their bullpen is not as strong as it could be. Robertson’s replacement Shawn Kelley found out just how frustrating life can be pitching in the ninth inning.

Nick Markakis hit a bloop RBI single and Chris Davis later added a sacrifice fly off Kelley to break a 3-3 tie as Baltimore edged New York to win their three-game series in front of a paid crowd of 39,412 at Yankee Stadium.

The Orioles opened the ninth off Kelley(0-1) with a double off the bat of Ryan Flaherty and a bloop single by Jonathan Schoop. Markakis then muscled his single that scored Flaherty.

Delmon Young then dunked in another bloop single to load the bases and Davis smacked a deep fly ball to center that scored Schoop.

Brian Matusz pitched a scoreless two-thirds of an inning of relief to earn the victory. Tommy Hunter was credited with a save despite being tagged with a sacrifice fly off the bat of Brian Roberts that scored Alfonso Soriano, who doubled to lead off the frame.

The game actually was supposed to feature Japanese right-hander Masohiro Tanaka, who was making his debut at Yankee Stadium.

However, Schoop put a damper on that with two outs in the second inning.

With Matt Wieters on first and Flaherty at second, Schoop launched a 1-0 pitch high and deep down the left-field line for his first home run of the season and only the second of his career. That cast a huge hush over the crowd.

But the Yankees managed to recover against right-hander Miguel Gonzalez when Carlos Beltran led off the second inning with a his first home run as a Yankee and the 359th of his career, which pushed him past Yogi Berra on the all-time list.

Two batters later, Kelly Johnson hit his second home run in as many nights to make it  3-2.

Beltran also sparked the rally that tied the game in the fourth when he led off with a double, advanced to third on a flyout and scored on Soriano’s RBI groundout.

Although Tanaka gave up the three-run homer he ended up giving up seven hits and one walk but he frustrated the power-laden Orioles by striking out 10 batters, most of them on his signature split-finger fastball.

After striking out eight batters in Toronto in his first start, Tanaka became only the second pitcher in Yankee history to strike out at least eight batters in his first two games since Allen Russell did it in 1915.

With the defeat the Yankees fell under the .500 mark at 4-5. The Orioles have the same record.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Tanaka, 25, may still be learning that No. 9 hitters in the major leagues are tougher than those in Japan but he still pitched a quality game. He threw 71 of his 101 pitches for strikes. Tanaka also struck out Young, Adam Jones and Nelson Cruz twice apiece and Markakis, Davis, Wieters and Schoop once.
  • Beltran had himself a very nice breakout game in which he was 3-for-3 with a homer, a double, a single, two runs scored and and an RBI. With Brett Gardner on third and two outs in the eighth inning, Orioles manager Buck Showalter had Matusz walk Beltran intentionally in order to pitch to Brian McCann. McCann flied out to end the threat.
  • Johnson was 2-for-4 with a homer, a single, a run scored and an RBI. He has now raised his early-season average to .280. The Yankees need Johnson to provide power in the absence of first baseman Mark Teixeira and Johnson is proving that he can do just that.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • McCann’s struggles at the plate continue though he did do better than the his 0-4 indicated. He had one hit taken away by the severe shift the Orioles employed with third baseman Schoop fielding his ground ball in shallow right and throwing him out. His flyout to center in the eighth just missed the warning track and was well struck. Nonetheless, McCann is hitting just .152 and his struggles are hurting the offense.
  • After coming into the game as the Yankees’ hottest hitter, Jacoby Ellsbury was 0-for-4 in the game. In his defense, however, he lined out hard to left- and right-field in two of his at-bats. Ellsbury is still hitting a robust .364 and the Yankees seem to like him in the No. 3 spot with Teixeira out of the lineup.
  • Kelley gave up two runs on four hits in a very ugly ninth inning but he was not hammered all over the yard. The Orioles benefitted from three consecutive singles by Schoop, Markakis and Young that sounded like they were hit with a wet newspaper. Two out them came on two-strike pitches and the 1-0 pitch Markakis hit was ankle high. The point is that you can blame the loss on Kelley but he did not pitch poorly. The Orioles were more lucky than good.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees elected to option catcher Austin Romine to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Wednesday and they recalled right-hander Shane Greene from the same club. Greene, 25, was the Yankees’ Minor-League Pitcher of the Year in 2013 after he was 12-10 with a 3.38 ERA. Though Greene is starting pitcher he will pitch out of the bullpen for the Yankees. The move gives the Yankees 13 pitchers and 12 position players.  . . .  Jones, the Orioles’ loud-mouth outfielder got touchy when reporters asked him about having to face Tanaka. “Why don’t you ask Tanaka about me?,” Jones bellowed. “I’m the one who’s been over here in the major leagues for a while. Congratulations, he did it over there. Don’t make it like he’s the dirtiest guy in the world. He was 24-0-in Japan  . . .  At the end of the day, we’ve got to judge it off major-league hitters, not the Japanese hitters. We’re a little bit better over here as hitters.” Tanaka struck out Jones the first two times he faced him.

ON DECK

The Yankees open a four-game home weekend series against the Boston Red Sox on Thursday.

Right-hander Michael Pineda (0-1, 1.50) will make his Yankee Stadium debut in pinstripes. After missing two full seasons, Pineda yielded one run on five hits with no walks while he fanned five in six innings in a loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday.

The Red Sox will start right-hander Clay Buchholz (0-0, 12.46 ERA), who was hammered for six runs on 13 hits in 4 1/3 innings against the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday. He has not fared well against the Yankees. He enters the game with an ERA of 5.32 against them.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

Yankees, Rays Look To Be Class Of Tough A.L. East

The American League East is a division loaded with talent. It consists of a world champion, a playoff team, the winningest franchise in baseball history and two power-laden clubs with some pitching. Of those five teams it is possible that three teams could claim playoff spots. Let’s look into the magic ball and see what we can predict. In no particular order let’s look at the teams:

NEW YORK YANKEES

After an injury-marred 2013 season managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner loosened the pursestrings and allowed general manager Brian Cashman to throw out nearly $500 million to free agents. That brought in the best available pitching free agent in Masahiro Tanaka, the best in catcher available in Brian McCann, two All-Star outfielders in Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, a left-hander for the bullpen in Matt Thornton and two important infielders in Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts.

Needless to say the Yankees are not planning on winning 85 games and missing the playoffs as they did in 2013.

Added to what the Yankees already had, this team is loaded for a playoff run. The rotation is five deep with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Tanaka and the sensational return of Michael Pineda this spring has the other teams in the division worried. Only the Tampa Bay Rays can boast a rotation close to this and they only have four healthy starters at the moment.

The bullpen is missing Mariano Rivera and no one will tell you that David Robertson will make anyone forget the greatest closer in history. But no one can believe he can’t do as well as Rafael Soriano did in 2012. The rest of the bullpen has undergone a makeover because of the loss of Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain. Shawn Kelley and Thornton will handle the late-inning work. The addition of 6-foot-8 rookie Dellin Betances is going to give the bullpen depth because Betances might have the best stuff of the group.

Add to this corps three starting pitchers shifted to the bullpen, David Phelps, Adam Warren and left-hander Vidal Nuno. Phelps and Warren are holdovers from last season and Nuno, 26, gives the Yankees a second lefty to go with Thornton.

The Yankees only need to hope that Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter return to form. They both missed virtually all of the 2013 season and both are being counted upon to help the offense. They also are hoping that Johnson can fill in for the suspended Alex Rodriguez and Roberts can fill the huge hole left by the childish and petulant departure of Robinson Cano. The Yankees issued Cano’s No. 24 to spring training invitee Scott Sizemore. That tells you what they think of Cano after he left.

Ellsbury will combine with Brett Gardner to provide speed and daring on the bases. McCann and Beltran will join Teixeira and last season’s acquisition Alfonso Soriano to give the Yankees a lot of power in the middle of the lineup. Johnson and Roberts can provide double-digits power as well at the bottom of the order.

The bench features the catcher many teams wanted this spring in Francisco Cervelli, All-Star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and a pair of hot-hitting rookie infielders in Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte. Slick-fielding shortstop Brendan Ryan starts the season on the disabled list with an upper-back injury.

Top to bottom the Yankees are loaded with talent, power, speed, a great rotation, a solid bullpen and a versatile bench. They will go a long way in deciding who wins the division and who ends up in the playoffs.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

The Rays are a product of a similar model that used to keep afloat the small-market Minnesota Twins. You try and keep a small corps of good young players together long enough to win until they start leaving via free agency. Of course, this method requires that you keep all the plates spinning at once for a long, long time.

If you don’t you lose.

The Rays were fortunate to keep left-hander David Price off the open market for a year. He will join left-hander Matt Moore and right-handers Alex Cobb and Chris Archer to provide the only rotation in the division that can rival the Yankees. Jeremy Hellickson begins the season on the disabled list but he has not been real effective when he has been healthy so I am not sure how his season will go.

The Rays dumped Fernando Rodney because he blew too many saves and was shaky in those he did save. Enter former Rays right-hander Grant Balfour, who was not signed by some other teams because of some medical questions. Balfour has only had one season as a closer and there is no guarantee the Rays can get another season out of him.

The rest of the bullpen is good. Balfour’s fellow senior citizen, Joel Peralta, is the setup man. He is joined by lefty Jake McGee and former closer Heath Bell. Right-handers Josh Lueke, Brandon Gomes and lefty long man Cesar Ramos round out a pretty solid corps.

The Rays are really lacking speed this season. Their only real base-stealing threat is Desmond Jennings, who is been doing a very bad imitation of Carl Crawford since he arrived.

Now the Rays are looking to generate lots of power with Evan Longoria and Will Myers in the middle of the lineup. The problem is Matt Joyce is coming off a disappointing season and he has not lived up to expectations at all. They also have to hope an aging Ben Zobrist can bounce back after a down 2013 campaign.

The additions of James Loney at first base and Yunel Escober at shortstop helped the offense and defense last season. They hope Ryan Hanigan can provide defense and leadership behind the plate this season.

As always, manager Joe Maddon will mix in spare parts like Sean Rodriguez, David DeJesus and Jose Molina. In addition, he will shift his defense to drive opponents nuts, But if the Rays should falter, Price will be on the trading block before the league deadline. If that happens, the Rays season is over.

In any event, this will be Price’s last year with the Rays and the Rays have to roll the dice they win the division this year. Otherwise, it’s lights out at Tropicana Field for their fan base of 7,500. If things don’t pick up at the gate the team could be headed elsewhere.

BOSTON RED SOX

Most Yankee fans forgot what happened in 2013 so we will leave it at that.

The Red Sox prospects for 2014 would seem to be bright. After all, they hope to have the same rotation they finished with back this year.

They are counting on Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront to be just as good in 2014. Problem is Lester is notch below what an ace should be. Look at most fantasy drafts this season and you will find Lester going in the middle rounds because of his high ERA and even higher walks-to-innings-pitched (WHIP) ratio.

Clay Buchholz also is going late in drafts because he has had a hard time staying healthy. His recurring back problems are not going away. He can only treat it to stay on track.

Lackey and Peavy are also on the north side of their usefulness. Both are crafty veteran pitchers and they will win their share on guile. But this group pales in comparison to the Rays and Yankees. That does not even take into account Doubront, who if you look as his 2013 numbers you wonder why the Red Sox like him so much.

To be sure, Koji Uehara was a miracle worker for them after the Bosox tried a number of unsuccessful closers since Jonathan Papelbon left years ago. But Uehara turns 39 on Wednesday and there is no net for him if he fails to do what he did late last season.

Boston does have lefty Andrew Miller and Junichi Tazawa back and they added Edward Mujica. But they do not have Craig Breslow at the start of the season and this bullpen is just a lot less deep than it was in 2013.

The same can be said for the starting lineup. Instead of bringing Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Daniel Nava off the bench they will have to play to fill holes when Ellsbury, Stephen Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia left the team.

Grady Sizemore actually beat out Bradley in center but the Red Sox know they can’t just run the oft-injured former All-Star out there every day. Bogarerts at short, Will Middlebrooks at third and center are unsettled positions with unknown quantities in them. A.J. Pierzynski takes over behind the plate and should be an offensive upgrade from Salty but teams are going to run wild on him on the bases.

The Red Sox just hope they can get another year out of fading DH David Ortiz, who at age 38 is well beyond borrowed time. He had a horrible spring and players at 38 do not get better. They fade.

The Red Sox will still revolve around Dustin Pedroia at second and they just hope that Shane Victorino (who begins the season injured), Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp can still do what they did last season. But as we know it is hard to repeat as champion. The last team to do it was, well, the New York Yankees in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Red Sox Nation remembers that period of time.

So I do not think there is going to much in the way of magic at Fenway this season. It just not in the cards.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

The Jays are all about redemption.

They gave a fading infielder out of Pittsburgh Pirates and a disappointing third baseman out of the Cincinnati Reds a place on the team and they were rewarded with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Those two players form the most feared middle-of-the-order pair in baseball. Both could easily hit more than 40 homers apiece.

The Blue Jays even rehired manager John Gibbons even after they fired him three years ago.

So the Blue Jays were the cool team to pick in 2013 after they added Melky Cabrera and Jose Reyes to what they already had in Adam Lind, Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus. But their recipe for success did not count on a complete meltdown of their starting rotation.

Ace R.A. Dickey pitched with a bad back, Brandon Morrow was also hurt and former ace Ricky Romero forgot completely how to pitch successfully. Last season was just not pretty for the Jays.

But they have renewed hope in 2014. Dickey is healthy again and Mark Buehrle can still eat up innings with his soft-tossing junk. Add to that a healthy Morrow and you have the makings of a staff, But the other two spots will go to Drew Hutchison, who at 23 hopes he can establish himself as a starter this year, and an old friend Dustin McGowan, who last pitched as a regular in the Jays rotation in 2008. he is now 32 and he is an expert in rehabs.

Now that is some reclamation project.

Casey Janssen fell into the closer role when Sergio Santos was injured and now both form a nice tandem at the end of the game. Lefty Brett Cecil and hard-throwing righty Steve Delabar make the Jays bullpen one of the best in the division this season.

But bullpens have a way of wearing down when the starters do not succeed and have to be taken out early. In the rough and tumble American League East, the Blue Jays rotation just lacks the ability to hang with the big boys.

There is no doubt their offense is impressive. They will hit their share of home runs. But they also will lose a lot of games by scores of 9-7 and 8-5 because of this shaky rotation.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Cashman pointed out this spring what was painfully obvious. The luck the Orioles used to make the playoffs in 2012 was bound to be paid for in 2013. Orioles manager Buck Showalter took offense. But the truth always hurts, Buck.

The Orioles did not win those one-run and extra-inning games they won in 2012 and they finished with the Yankees in a tie for third place in 2014.

It is hard to see how the Orioles make it much better in 2014 even with the addition of right-handers Ubaldo Jimenez and Bud Norris and outfielder Nelson Cruz.

The issue with the Orioles is the same as last season. The starters Jimenez, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen and Norris are all fine pitchers in their own right but who, for Pete’s sake, is the ace? And is that ace better than the pitchers they face routinely like David Price, Masahiro Tanaka, Clay Buchholz, R.A. Dickey or Matt Moore?

The answer is no and Showalter will learn that quickly.

Jimenez is just a middling starter and Norris just looked good compared to all the awful pitchers the Astros kept running out there. Neither make the Orioles much better.

The addition of Cruz is curious because the Orioles are loaded with offense in mega-power threat Chris Davis added to Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and J.J. Hardy. Cruz adds to that power but it is hard to see how that helps keep runs of the board.

The Orioles bullpen also took a major hit when Jim Johnson left for Oakland and took the 101 saves he recorded for the O’s the past two seasons with him. The Orioles are asking journeyman right-hander Tommy Hunter to do a job he has never done before and close games.

They did not add much around him either. They still rely on right-hander Darren O’Day and left-hander Brian Matusz to set up. Getting to them may be an issue because none of the rest of Orioles bullpen is really proven.

So Showalter just has to hope that his team can score runs in droves night after night to cover for a weak pitching staff. The mix of this starting staff and bullpen may be the worst in the division because the Blue Jays actually boast a much stronger bullpen.

Showalter may be an excellent manager but he can’t turn cubic zirconium into diamonds. There just no magic left for the Orioles.

 

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

 

1) NEW YORK YANKEES

2) TAMPA BAY RAYS 

3) BOSTON RED SOX

4) TORONTO BLUE JAYS

5) BALTIMORE ORIOLES

 

I see a close race between the Rays and Yankees and both will easily make the playoffs. The Red Sox will not collapse but I do see them fading as the season progresses when their rotation routinely starts breaking down. The Blue Jays will win their share of games with their offense and bullpen. But there will be days when good pitching will beat good hitting. On those days the Blue Jays will lose. The same for the Orioles. If they do not average seven runs a game they are in a heap of trouble. No team can do that consistently enough and no one can in this tough division. They will fall to the basement with a loud thud. Sorry, Buck. The truth hurts, huh!

 

 

Yankees Suffer Another Afternoon For The Birds

GAME 3

ORIOLES 5, YANKEES 1

Brian Roberts doubled twice and scored two runs and left-hander Brian Matusz pitched two scoreless innings as Baltimore defeated New York in front of a crowd of 7,335 at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, FL.

Roberts’ doubles sparked the Orioles to an early 2-0 lead. He stroked a one-out double in the first, advanced to third on a balk and scored on a two-out RBI single from Adam Jones. Roberts slapped another one-out double in the third and scored on an RBI single by Nick Markakis.

Matusz (1-0) gave up two hits to the first two batters he faced but retired the next five to earn the victory. Left-hander Vidal Nuno (0-1) took the loss despite the fact that five of the six batters he retired struck out looking, including Markakis, Matt Wieters, Chris Davis, Conor Jackson and Manny Machado.

The Yankees’ scored their lone run in the ninth inning on a walk and stolen base by Corban Joseph and an RIBI single by Walter Ibarra. The run broke a string of 19 consecutive scoreless innings for the Yankees.

The Yankees fell to 1-2 in Grapefruit League play while the Orioles are 3-0.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Leadoff hitter Brett Gardner was 3-for-3 with three singles and second batter Jayson Nix collected two singles in three at-bats. The rest of the Yankees were 3-for-28 (.107). Gardner, who missed virtually all of the 2012 season with a right elbow injury, is hitting .667 in the early going. Nix is hitting .750 in the two games he has played.
  • Though Nuno was touched for Roberts’ double and Jones’ RBI single, he certainly looked impressive in striking out five batters in his two innings of work. Nuno, 24, was signed by the Yankees last winter off the independent Washington Wild roster and he’s been dominating minor-league hitters ever since. At Double-A Trenton Nidal was 9-5 with a 2.45 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 114 innings in 20 starts last season. Since he has learned a change-up he being tabbed as an older version of Manny Banuelos, who will miss the 2013 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
  • Josh Spence, a 25-year-old Australian left-hander, was the only Yankee hurler to pitch a perfect 1-2-3 inning and that was in the ninth. The Yankees claimed Spence off waivers from the San Diego Padres in early November after he was 4-2 with a 4.20 ERA 31 games at Triple-A Tucson.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • For the second straight day the Yankees’ offense was pretty much missing in action. If Ibarra had not driven in Joseph in the final frame the Yankees would have been 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position in their last two games.
  • If Matt Diaz and Juan Rivera are seeking to stake a claim to replace Curtis Granderson as the team’s starting left-fielder as he recovers from a broken right forearm they have got to do better than they did on Monday. Diaz was 0-for-3 and stranded six base-runners. He hit into a double play and did not get a ball out the infield. Rivera also was 0-for-3 including a strikeout.
  • Before you get too angry at the Yankees’ pitching staff for giving up five runs just remember that pitchers such as Nuno, Bryan Mitchell, Corey Black, Shane Greene, Ryan Pope, Kelvin Perez and Spence are not battling for roster spots. They are all headed back to the minors. The Orioles, in contrast, threw veterans like Matusz, Tommy Hunter, Pedro Strop and Mark Hendrickson.

BOMBER BANTER

With the Yankees looking to replace Granderson, veteran outfielder Johnny Damon told ESPN Radio’s Michael Kay that he would be interested in returning to the Yankees if he got a call to come to spring training. Damon, 39, said he is willing to fill in for Granderson for the six weeks he will miss, he would play for the minimum salary and would need about three or four weeks to get in shape. Asked about the possibility of bringing Damon to camp, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said, “We will focus on what we have at this time.”  . . .  Mariano Rivera threw 32 pitches in a live batting-practice session on Monday, and CC Sabathia threw batting practice to hitters for the first time this spring as the rehabbing hurlers continue prepare for Opening Day.  . . .  Manager Joe Girardi said that outfield prospects Tyler Austin and Slade Heathcott will not be considered to open the season in New York.  . . .  Yankees outfielder Melky Mesa said that even after Granderson’s injury, he still plans to leave camp to play for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic.  Bench coach Tony Pena will be managing the Dominican squad.

ON DECK

The Yankees will travel to Clrawater, FL, on Tuesday to take on the Philadelphia Phillies.

Hot prospect right-hander Jose Ramirez will draw the start for the Yankees. He will be opposed by veteran right-hander Kyle Kendrick.

The Yankees will send Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner to play in the game. Relievers Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson are also scheduled to make the spring debuts.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast live on the MLB Network.

 

Orioles Step On Their Johnson To Lose To Yankees

ALDS GAME 1: KEY MOMENT

Orioles closer Jim Johnson entered the American League Division Series against the Yankees with a pretty imposing collection of stats from the 2012 regular season.

In the 54 games he had been called upon to save this season he had a major-league best 51 saves. He also was 2-1 with a 2.49 ERA and he only coughed up three home runs in 68 2/3 innings.

It was against this backdrop that manager Buck Showalter summoned Johnson into a 2-2 contest in the top of the ninth inning in Game 1 of the best-of-five series at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Showalter was doing what most managers do when the home team is in a tie game in the ninth: Call in your closer to pitch a scoreless inning to give them a chance to win it in the bottom of the ninth.

The right-handed Johnson was the perfect choice to pitch the ninth because two of three scheduled batters bat right-handed and Johnson also is known around baseball circles for his devastating two-seam fastball. On a cool, brisk evening like Sunday in Baltimore, hitting Johnson’s sinker is like trying to hit a bowling ball.

Hitters generally hit lots of weak ground balls against Johnson because it is so hard to get any lift on the pitch when it is located down in the strike zone.

The first scheduled hitter for the Yankees was Russell Martin, who was 0-for-2 with a walk in the game. Martin suffered through his worst season at the plate in 2012.

After spending most of the season hitting well below .200, or the so-called “Mendoza line,” Martin caught fire and hit .258 with seven home runs and 17 RBis after Sept. 1 to raise his season average to .211, 49 points below his career average.

Johnson threw his first pitch, a two-seamer, that ended up low.

It must have taken Martin all the strength in the world to lay off Johnson’s second pitch, another two-seamer that was close to the knees but home-plate umpire Tony Randazzo called it a ball.

Catcher Matt Wieters questioned the call without turning around as Johnson emitted a blank stare. Johnson wanted the pitch because he did not want to have to give in by throwing a fastball a bit higher in the strike zone on an 0-2 count.

Johnson also throws a nifty change-up and a curveball, however, Wieters called for a third sinker and Johnson nodded his OK. With many in the paid crowd of 47,841 in the ballpark cheering wildly for a team that had not played in a postseason game since 1997, Johnson went into his windup and threw the ball as Wieters set up his glove low and outside.

However, Johnson’s sinker not only did not sink, it also rode high and right to the middle of the plate. Martin saw the 93-mph fastball was up and swung his bat. Though Martin has been a poor hitter most of the season, there is one pitch he handles exceptionally well: The fastball.

He swung, the ball hit squarely on the sweet spot of the bat and it rocketed into the air on a line into left-field. Oriole left-fielder Nate McLouth, hearing the sound of the bat immediately, started moving back to the wall close to the left-field line. But the trajectory was high enough and the ball was hit hard enough that it carried well above his head and six rows deep in the bleachers.

Martin knew he had hit the ball it well.

 

“It’s a big lift. It kind of sparked us, it seemed like. A pitcher of that caliber, you’re not expecting to hit home runs against him. I was just trying to hit the ball hard, and luckily he left a pitch over the middle of the plate for me.”

 

Johnson knew immediately he made a big mistake. He hung his head as he rubbed up a new baseball. The Yankees now led 3-2 and Johnson’s task was to keep the score where it was to give his team a chance to either tie or win it in the bottom of the frame.

But Johnson’s evening fell apart after the Martin blast.

He would throw 14 more pitches in the inning and record only one out.

Raul Ibanez singled. Derek Jeter followed with a hit-and-run single to advance Ibanez to third. With Eduardo Nunez running for Ibanez, Ichiro Suzuki scored him with a swinging bunt down the first-base line that he beat out for a single.

After Johnson struck out Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano sliced a four-seam fastball to the opposite field in the corner in left to score two more runs.

Showalter bounced quickly out to the mound to remove his closer and Johnson left with Cano on third on a throwing error by shortstop J.J. Hardy trying to throw out Suzuki at the plate.

Reliever Tommy Hunter came on and Nick Swisher lifted 3-1 fastball to deep center to score Cano. The Yankees had turned a 2-2 nail-biter into a 7-2 laugher in the blink of an eye.

Johnson gave up five runs on five hits in just one-third of an inning.

On July 16, Johnson was similarly tagged for five runs on four hits and a hit batter by the Twins in a game in Minneapolis. However, the Twins already led the game 14-5 at the time.

On July 27, the Oakland Athletics rallied from a 9-8 deficit against Johnson to score six runs on five hits and a walk in one-third of an inning at Camden Yards to defeat the O’s 14-9. That was Johnson’s only loss of the season.

If you take away those two appearances, Johnson’s season ERA would been 1.02 instead of 2.49.

So the fact that the Yankees even got to Johnson for a run is remarkable. The fact that they scored five runs against him was just unreal.

Yankee first baseman and Maryland native Mark Teixeira summed it up the best:

 

“Johnson has been so great all year; eventually you’ve got to get to him, right? And tonight was that night.”

 

CC, Yankees Ride 5-Run Ninth To Soar Past Birds

 

Well now C., C.C. Rider, well now see 
See what you have done 
Well now C., C.C. Rider, well now see 
See what you have done 

 

                 – Lyrics to “C.C. Rider” by Chuck Willis and Ma Rainey

 

GAME 1 – AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES

YANKEES 7, ORIOLES 2

Before this series began, the Orioles were counting on the fact that CC Sabathia came into Sunday’s game with an 0-2 record and a 6.38 ERA in the regular season against the Orioles after posting a spectacular 16-3 mark against them in his career.

They also believed their vaunted bullpen, led by closer Jim Johnson and his 51 saves, would hold the Yankees down long enough for the Orioles to sneak off with another one of their patented one-run victories at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Neither of those two things happened, however.

Sabathia pitched a brilliant 8 2/3 innings and the Yankees pounded Johnson in the ninth inning for five runs on five hits, including a tie-breaking leadoff home run from Russell Martin, as New York clipped the wings of Baltimore to take a pivotal 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series.

The game was tied 2-2 when Orioles manager Buck Showalter elected to bring Johnson into the game to attempt to hold the Yankees scoreless in the top of ninth. However, Johnson elevated a sinker on a 2-0 pitch to Martin and the veteran catcher blasted a long line drive into left-field that landed six rows up into the bleachers.

You could hear a collective gasp in the crowd because the deluxe sinker-baller Johnson had only given up only three home runs all season and none after June 5.

Raul Ibanez followed with a sharp ground single into right and Derek Jeter then executed a perfect hit-and-run single into the hole between first and second to advance Ibanez to third. Eduardo Nunez was inserted into the game to run for Ibanez.

Ichiro Suzuki then delivered a swinging-bunt single that scored Nunez and one out later Robinson Cano, who came into the game hitting .615 in his last nine games but was 0-for-4 on the night, slapped an opposite-field double to score Jeter and Suzuki. Cano advanced to third on a throwing error by J.J. Hardy.

Johnson (0-1) left in favor of right-hander Tommy Hunter and Nick Swisher was able to loft a fly ball into center to score Cano with fifth and final run charged to Johnson.

Meanwhile, Sabathia (1-0) pitched skillfully and came within one strike of pitching a complete game against a team that was playing in its first postseason since 1997 in front of a raucous towel-waving paid crowd of 47,841.

The Yankees actually broke open the scoring in the game before some of those fans had enough time to dry off their seats after a two hour and 21 minute rain delay had pushed back the first pitch to 8:42 p.m. EDT.

Jeter, who led the major leagues in hits this season with 216, stroked a hard-hit single up the middle off Orioles starter Jason Hammel. Suzuki, playing in his first postseason game since his rookie season of 2001 with the Seattle Mariners, then laced a double to the wall in left-center that scored Jeter standing up.

That run stood until the third inning when Chris Davis lined a single to center off Sabathia and Lew Ford followed with a single in the hole between shortstop and third into left-field. Robert Andino laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance them a base and Sabathia perhaps made his only real mistake of the whole evening.

Sabathia hung a first-pitch slider and Nate Mclouth slapped it into right-center to score Davis and Ford to give the Orioles a 2-1 lead.

The Yankees tied it up in the fourth by taking advantage of some wildness on the part of Hammel, who had not started a game since Sept. 11 because of a recurrence of a right knee injury that landed him on the disabled list early in the season.

Alex Rodriguez drew a walk to lead off the frame and one out later Swisher was walked on a 3-2 pitch. Mark Teixeira followed with a towering shot that hit the top of the scoreboard in right-field to score Rodriguez, however, Teixeira was thrown out trying to stretch the hit into a double on a bullet throw from Davis.

The game remained tied until the ninth but Sabathia earned the victory by turning away several serious Oriole scoring threats.

The Orioles mounted a rally in the fifth when Davis led off with a broken-bat single to right and one out later Andino rolled a ball just past a diving Jeter into left. However, Sabathia fanned McLouth looking and he retired Hardy on inning-ending groundout.

The Orioles put two men on base with two out in the sixth on a Mark Reynolds single and an error by Jeter on a short-hop grounder off the bat of Manny Machado. But Sabathia got Davis to fly out to center to end the threat.

In the eighth, Hardy led off with an opposite-field double to right. But Sabathia struck out Adam Jones swinging, got Matt Wieters out on a foul pop to Teixeira and Reynolds rolled out to Jeter to strand Hardy and set the stage for the Yankees five-run explosion in the ninth.

Sabathia surrendered two runs on eight hits and one walk while he fanned seven batters in a gutty 120-pitch outing. He left with two out in the ninth after Ford hit a two-out double on a 1-2 pitch.

David Robertson came on and struck out pinch-hitter Ryan Flaherty swinging to end the contest in front a quiet and dispirited Camden Yards crowd.

The Yankees had some chances to score more runs earlier in the game off Hammel. But base-running blunders and the fact the team was 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position until the ninth saved the Orioles.

After Suzuki doubled in Jeter in the first he was thrown by Wieters trying to steal third. Teixeira getting thrown out trying to stretch his RBI single in the  fourth also short-circuited a potential big-inning.

Hammel gave up two runs on four hits and four walks while he struck out five in 5 2/3 innings.

Reliever Troy Patton escaped a two-on, two out jam in the sixth on a running catch of a ball off the bat of Curtis Granderson in foul territory in deep right by Davis.

The Yankees mounted a threat against Patton in the seventh when Martin and Ibanez drew back-to-back walks to start the inning.

After reliever Darren O’Day gave up a sacrifice bunt to Jeter that advanced Martin and Ibanez, Suzuki hit a hot smash to Andino and he threw Martin out at the plate. Rodriguez ended the threat by striking out swinging.

The ninth, however, would prove to be a much different story against Johnson.

The Yankees hold a vital 1-0 lead, having taken a game on the road in the best-of-five series. Since divisional play began, teams with a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five sets have won 48 of the previous 68 series.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Sabathia shook off the long rain delay and retired the first six batters he faced. He threw 80 of his 120 pitches for strikes (67 percent).  Sabathia also redeemed himself after pitching so poorly this season against the Orioles in his three starts and the 6.23 ERA he recorded in the best-of-five ALDS loss in 2011 to the Detroit Tigers.
  • Martin has been delivering clutch home runs lately and this one was probably even more important than his three-run home run in the sixth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays on Sept. 28 that broke open a game the Yankees eventually won 11-4 to keep their lead in the American League East. Though Martin hit .211 this season, a hot final month allowed him to post a career high 21 home runs.
  • Though Suzuki’s base-running foray in the first hurt, he delivered for the Yankees in the game by going 2-for-5 with a double, a run scored and two RBIs. He also combined with Jeter to reach base six times in 10 plate appearances.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Rodriguez is virtually useless to the Yankees. He did draw a walk and score the tying run in the fourth. However, in his other four trips to the plate he struck out three times and rolled out weakly to short. After another disappointing season, Rodriguez is continuing his inept hitting in the playoffs.
  • Granderson was not much better. He was 0-for-3 with an intentional walk. He hit into a fielder’s choice, fouled out to right and struck out. That is odd for Granderson because he entered play with a career average of .313 in division series play. In the seventh inning reliever Brian Matusz deliberately walked Teixeira on four pitches to face Granderson with two out and he struck him out on three pitches.
  • The runners-in-scoring-position curse that has followed the Yankees much of the season almost sunk them against the Orioles. The Orioles were 3-for-8 but those five times they did not deliver against Sabathia cost them the game. The Yankees were very lucky to have won.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees posted a 25-man roster for the series that included some surprises. The Yankees found out middle infielder Jayson Nix was healthy enough to put on the roster. His left hip flexor injury he sustained in game on Sept. 27 was supposed to have sidelined him for 10 to 14 days but he was cleared to play on Saturday. In addition, Andruw Jones was left off the roster in favor of outfielder Brett Gardner and Nunez. Jones struggled badly in the second half and ended up hitting just .197. The Yankees also elected to go with a 11-man pitching staff that did not include 12-game winner Ivan Nova, veteran Freddy Garcia or reliever Cody Eppley. Late-season acquisition Derek Lowe was placed on the roster along with rookie right-hander David Phelps.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have a chance to deal a severe blow to the Orioles if they can win a second game at Camden Yards on Monday.

The Yankees have decided to go with 40-year-old left-hander Andy Pettitte (5-4, 2.87 ERA), who happens to be the all-time leader in postseason victories and boasts a 19-10 record with a 3.83 ERA in 42 starts. Pettitte was 2-1 with a 1.62 ERA in his three starts after being activated from the disabled list with a broken bone in his left ankle. He is 27-6 with a 3.52 ERA lifetime against the Orioles.

The Orioles will counter with a rookie right-hander from Taiwan in Wei-Yin Chen (12-11, 4.02 ERA). Chen wore down in September as evidenced by his 0-4 record and 5.05 ERA in his final six starts of the season. Chen started against the Yankees four times and was 1-2 with a 5.25 ERA.

Game-time will be 8 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by TBS.

 

Yankees Drown Sorrows With Deluge On Orioles

GAME 104

YANKEES 12, ORIOLES 3

Suffering through a miserable four-game losing streak is like a farmer suffering though a horrendous drought. But the Yankees, like the down-on-his-luck farmer, got the benefit of some rain at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday and they then showered the Baltimore Orioles with a torrent of runs that finally drowned their closest American League East pursuer.

Robinson Cano blasted a grand-slam home run and Derek Jeter drove in three runs as New York used a seven-run third inning to deliver a thrashing to a Baltimore team that was benefitting in the standings from the Yankees recent 3-8 slide in their last 11 games.

Phil Hughes (11-8) scattered nine hits, walked two and struck out two in giving up just one run in six solid innings in a game played in front of a paid crowd of 44,593 despite the fact that they had to sit through a steady downpour throughout the contest. Hughes is 6-3 with a 2.88 ERA in his last 10 starts and he now leads the team’s starters in victories.

The Orioles only scored off Hughes on a pair of one-out singles by Wilson Betemit and Mark Reynolds and an RBI groundout by Endy Chavez in the second inning, which at the time halved the Yankees’ lead at 2-1.

Meanwhile, Hughes’ counterpart, Zach Britton (1-1), seemed afraid to throw a fastball anywhere near the strike zone. Britton lasted just 2 2/3 innings and was tagged for seven runs on seven hits and three walks while he struck out three batters.

In his three career starts in New York, Britton has totaled just eight innings, giving up 20 runs (17 earned). That is a 19.13 ERA.

He gave up two runs in each of the first two innings. Curtis Granderson smacked his 29th home run of the season in the opening frame and Andruw Jones later scored in the inning on a Nick Swisher sacrifice fly.

In the second, Jeter stroked an RBI single to score newly acquired corner infielder Casey McGehee, who was making his Yankee debut. Swisher later made it 4-1 with a RBI single to left to score Jayson Nix.

Britton’s bad day ended in the third when Nix stroked an RBI double to the wall in left-center to score Russell Martin and McGehee to give the Yankees a 5-1 lead.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter brought in Kevin Gregg to face Jeter, but Jeter greeted Gregg with a two-run single to right. After Granderson singled and Swisher drew a four-pitch walk to load the bases, Cano launched a rocket into the second deck in right for the Yankees’ major-league best ninth grand slam of the season and Cano’s second.

The game was pretty much over at that point and many in the crowd left soon after.

The Yankees added a run in the eighth on a bases-loaded sacrifice fly by McGehee off reliever Tommy Hunter.

The Orioles scored single runs in the seventh and eighth off recently activated righty-hander Joba Chamberlain, who was pitching in his first game since June 5, 2011 due to Tommy John surgery on his right elbow last season and a displaced broken right ankle in March.

J.J. Hardy greeted Chamberlain with a leadoff home run in the seventh and the Orioles tacked on a run in the eighth when Chavez doubled off the wall in left to score Reynolds from first base.

Chamberlain, showing signs of a lack of velocity on his fastball, surrendered two runs on four hits and a walk with no strikeouts in his 1 2/3 innings of work.

With the victory, the Yankees improved their season ledger to 61-43 and pushed their lead over the O’s in the division back to 6 1/2 games. The Orioles are 55-50.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Though Hughes gave up nine hits in 6 innings, those totals are a bit misleading because he Orioles did not hit the ball hard that often off Hughes. Most of their hits were bloop or broken-bat hits that fell in perfect spots in the wet outfield. The Orioles could not have thrown them into better spots. Hughes used a pair of double plays and some excellent defense from his teammates to keep the O’s from climbing back into the game.
  • Cano was in an o-for-14 funk entering play on Tuesday. In the final two games of the three-game series, Cano went 3-for-6 with two home runs and six RBIs. He now has 24 home runs, which is second on the team to Granderson, and 62 RBIs, which second on the club to Mark Teixeira.
  • Jeter’s three-hit game give him 137 hits on the season, which is most in the American League. In his last seven games, Jeter is 13-for-30 (.433), which has raised his season average to .316 and moved him ahead of Cano (.312) for the best batting average on the team.
  • Nix, making a spot start at third base against a left-handed starter, took advantage with a 3-for-4 game, including a double, two runs scored and an RBI. Nix has five hits in his last 11 at-bats and has driven in six runs in that span. He had only seven RBIs in limited play up to that point.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

After losing eight of 11 games I am not going nitpick this victory. The team could have easily lost and brought the Orioles to within 4 1/2 games of the lead, Instead, they moved them back to 6 1/2 games back. Hughes pitched well again and the team was 7-for-13 with runners in scoring position.

BOMBER BANTER

McGehee, 29, was acquired in a last-minute trade deadline deal with the Pirates for right-hander Chad Qualls on Tuesday. He arrived on late Tuesday and started the game at first base in place of Teixeira, who is nursing a sore left wrist. McGehee was 0-2 but walked twice, scored two runs and drove in a run on a sac fly in the eighth. Manager Joe Girardi said the veteran corner infielder would backup at first base and also will get some starts at third base until Alex Rodriguez returns off the 15-day disabled list from a broken left hand.  . . .  Ichiro Suzuki made his first major-league regular-season game start in left-field and made a spectacular leaping catch at the wall in the sixth inning on a ball off the bat of Reynolds, which saved a run from scoring. Suzuki also extended his hitting streak to nine games with an infield single in the fourth inning.  . . .  Swisher was used as the designated hitter on Wednesday, which means he has not played right-field July 20, when he left a game at o.co Stadium in Oakland with a sore left hip flexor. Girardi said Swisher could start in right-field on Friday. Jones played right-field on Wednesday and was 1-for-3 with a sac fly RBI.

ON DECK

The Yankees will get a well-earned day off after suffering through a spate of key injuries and losses lately. They will open a three-game weekend home series with Seattle Mariners on Friday.

Left-hander CC Sabathia (10-3, 3.57 ERA) will get the ball for the Yankees. Sabathia has not won a game since July 17 and he is coming off an outing in which the Boston Red Sox tagged him for six runs in six innings on Saturday. He is 11-4 with a 2.42 ERA in his career against the Mariners.

The Mariners will counter with right-hander Kevin Millwood (4-8, 3.90 ERA). Millwood ended a streak of 10 starts without a victory on Saturday with a good effort against the Kansas City Royals. In the past 10 seasons, he is 3-6 with a 4.40 ERA against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast regionally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

Orioles Seem To Have Stranglehold On 5th Place

As spring training camps open it is time to look at the American League East competition for the New York Yankees. How will the other teams fare as they gear up to dethrone the 2011 division champions? Do these teams have the pitching? Is there enough offense? Let’s see.

PART 1 – BALTIMORE ORIOLES

The 2011 season began with a lot of optimism because of the great job Buck Showalter did in turning around the Orioles at the end of the 2010 season.

But 2011 was much like every season for the Orioles since 1999. It fizzled into frustration in a hurry. They finished with a record of 69-93 and they were a distant fifth in the A.L. East, 28 games behind the Yankees.

This coming season promises to pretty similar because the Orioles have not made a lot of changes to their roster. With the exeption of Jeremy Guthrie, Luke Scott and Derrek Lee, this pretty much the same group that floundered through much of 2011.

STARTERS

One big reason is that the Orioles banked their future hopes on a collection of young starting pitchers like Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman. They progressed through the minors but none of them have established themselves as major-league quality starters. And if you want to compete in this division, you have to have good starting pitching.

The Orioles compounded that issue by trading their best starting pitcher, Guthrie, to the Colorado Rockies for starter Jason Hammel and reliever Matt Lindstrom. As a result, the Orioles’ “ace” is former Rangers right-hander Tommy Hunter, who was 4-4 with a 4.68 ERA in an injury-shortened season.

The Orioles, led by general manager Dan Duquette, are now shifting their sites overseas and the team signed two pitchers from the Japanese League in Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada.

Chen, 26, is a left-hander from Taiwan who has compiled a 36-30 record and a 2.48 ERA in four seasons with the Chunichi Dragons. He also has pretty good stuff with 500 career strikeouts in 631 1/3 innings.

Wada, 30, is another left-hander and he has overcome two injury-plagued seasons to compile a combined 33-13 record with a 2.29 ERA in the last two seasons with Fukuoda Softbank Hawks. While Chen has better stuff, Wada is considered to have better control.

Both figure prominently in the Orioles plans for 2012 and both likely will be in the rotation this season, depending on how they progress in the spring.

Hammel, 29, was 7-13 with a 4.76 ERA last season with the Rockies. The tall right-hander figures to be slotted as the No. 4 starter.

The Orioles still have high hopes for Matusz, Britton, Arrieta and Tillman. But it appears Britton and Arrieta are going to get most of the attention this spring. The lefty Britton suffered a shoulder injury last season and he finished the season 11-11 with a 4.61 ERA. Arrieta was 10-8 with 5.05 ERA.

BULLPEN

The bullpen was a strength of this team when Koji Uehara was around but he was dealt to the Rangers at the trade deadline last July.

The closer job is up for grabs between incumbent closer Kevin Gregg, who saved 22 games but blew seven chances and was 0-3 with a 4.37 ERA, and Jim Johnson, who saved nine games and was 6-5 with a 2.67 ERA. Lindtsrom, who saved 23 games for the Astros in 2010, can also be shifted into the closer role.

The rest of the bullpen will likely be made up with lefty Darren O’Day and former starters Alfredo Simon, Brad Bergesen and Jason Berken.

STARTING LINEUP

A few years ago, the Orioles seem to invested their future into second baseman Brian Roberts, right-fielder Nick Markakis and center-fielder Adam Jones and have built around those players.

Unfortunately, Roberts has suffered through injury after injury and Markakis and Jones have underperformed expectations.

With the Orioles lack of ability to attract high-priced free-agent talent, the Orioles have to rely on that trio as the core of the team again.

The Orioles may also begin getting what they expected out of catcher Matt Wieters, who hit 22 home runs and won a Gold Glove for his defensive work behind the plate. The former No. 1 pick also is showing some signs of leadership on the team.

Shortstop J.J. Hardy finally shook off injuries that plagued him since he was with the Brewers in 2008 as he hit 30 home runs and drove in 80 runs.

Third baseman Mark Reynolds was pretty much as advertised. He did not hit for average and struck out 196 times but he also hit 37 home runs and drove in 87 runs.

Former Rangers first baseman Chris Davis is pretty much a carbon copy of Reynolds at first base only he does most of his striking out from the left side.

The Orioles will likely platoon veterans Endy Chavez and Nolan Reimold in the outfield and look for the Orioles to make a late bid for a DH.

They could re-sign veteran Vladimir Guerrero or chose from among Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui to replace Scott.

BENCH

Former Yankee Wilson Betemit will be the top reserve on the infield and middle infield reserve Robert Andino will return to provide glovework behind Roberts and Hardy. Former Rangers backstop Taylor Teagarden will be the backup to Wieters.

The Orioles could use the spring to look for some veteran help in the outfield to bolster their bench a bit.

ANALYSIS

With Jones, Wieters, Hardy, Reynolds and Davis the Orioles seem to have plenty of firepower. Plus when Roberts is healthy and Markakis is going good, they can get on base and steal a base or two. But the overall offense may be too geared towards power over putting the ball iin play and advancing runners.

The Orioles, as a team, strike out way too much and it cost them because their pitching is not that strong.

The Orioles are gambling on two Japanese League pitchers and two journeyman American starters (Hunter and Hammel) to give them time to develop their young pitchers like Britton and Arrieta. The jury is still out on Matusz, who looked like a surefire star in the making in 2010.

Without a consistent starting rotation, any effort Showalter makes in the bullpen could prove futile. A good bullpen only limits the damage. The bullpen should be strong but it is obvious they are going to tire quickly if they are constantly coming in the fourth or fifth inning.

Barring another Showalter miracle, this team is headed for more frustration in 2012. They simply can’t compete with the big boys (Yankees, Rays, Red Sox) and they merely hold their own against the Blue Jays. If I were a betting man, I would suspect that the Orioles will finish fifth again.

It is a spot for which they are built.

ON TUESDAY – PART 2  TORONTO BLUE JAYS

 

Yankees’ Power Reigns Over O’s In Rainy Bronx

GAME 140

YANKEES 5, ORIOLES 3

At first, it looked as if Baltimore and New York would never play. Then it looked, once it started, that it would never be completed. But it was started after a four-hour delay and it was completed in windy, swirling deluge of rain over three hours.

Francisco “Babe” Cervelli and Brett Gardner hit back-to-back home runs off Orioles starter Tommy Hunter in the bottom of the seventh inning to break a 3-3 tie and give the Yankees, who proved to be the better thoroughbreds in the slop, collected their sixth straight victory in front of a very few brave fans left to witness the end at Yankee Stadium on an early Wednesday morning.

Cervelli’s home run, his third in his last 18 at-bats after hitting only two career home runs before Aug. 30, actually looked as if it might be reversed because a fan touched it on its flight down. Originally called a home run, Orioles manager Buck Showalter asked the umpiring crew review it via instant replay.

After a short delay, crew chief Gary Darling came back onto the field and indicated it was a home run. It was Cervelli’s fourth of the season and the 199th of the season for the Yankees.

Gardner followed with a lined shot off a 2-0 fastball down the rightfield line that struck the foul pole, which drew no argument from Hunter or Showalter. It was Gardner’s seventh home run of the season and he becomes one of the unlikeliest of the Yankees to hit the team’s 200th home run of the season.

The bullpen then made the two runs hold up as David Robertson and Mariano Rivera each threw a scoreless inning to give the Yankees their ninth win in their last 10 games and allowed the team to maintain its 2 1/2 game lead over the Boston Red Sox in the American League East.

Cory Wade (4-0), who pitched one-third of an inning in the seventh was credited with the victory. Rivera notched his 39th save of the season and the 597th of his career. He now trails all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman by just four saves.

Hunter (3-3), who beat the Yankees in a 12-5 game in Baltimore on Aug. 26, did not fare as well in this game.

He was tagged for a solo home run by Jorge Posada with one out in the bottom of third inning to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead.

The Yankees added to it in the fifth, when the the wind and wet conditions ended up costing the Yankees a two-run home run but gave them a run anyway.

Posada reached first on an error by Mark Reynolds at first base. Cervelli then launched a blast into leftfield that was knocked by the wind blowing in like a gale towards home plate. However, the ball hit off the heel of the glove of leftfielder Matt Angle at the wall for a two-base error that allowed Posada to score.

Yep, “Babe” Cervelli would have had two home runs on any other night.

However, Yankees starter Phil Hughes could not hold the 2-0 lead. In the sixth, Vladimir Guerrero stroked a one-out single to center and one out later Matt Wieters hit a hanging curveball in to the rightfield bleachers. It was his 17th home run of the season and it tied the score at 2-2.

The Yankees reclaimed the lead the next inning as Derek Jeter singled, Curtis Granderson walked and Mark Teixeira drove in Jeter with a single that hit at the base of the wall in right. However, the Yankees paid for leaving runners on first and third with no out. Robinson Cano popped out weakly to short and Nick Swisher followed by hitting into an inning-ending double play.

The Orioles then struck back in the top of the seventh with reliever Hector Noesi on the mound.

Robert Andino led off with a single and Angle used a sacrifice bunt to get him to second. Noesi struck out J.J. Hardy swinging and manager Joe Girardi elected to bring in lefty reliever Boone Logan to face the left-handed hitting Nick Markakis. But Markakis greeted Logan with a double to the gap in right-center that scored Andino to tie the game back up at 3-3.

Hunter gave up five runs (four earned) on five hits and two walks and fanned six in 6 2/3 innings.

Hughes, who was auditioning to remain in the starting rotation for the Yankees, gave up two runs on five hits and one walk and he struck out five in six innings.

The Yankees’ season record is now 87-53. The Orioles fell to 55-85.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Isn’t it odd that Cervelli finds a power stroke just as the Yankees are taking a closer look at 21-year-old catching prospect Jesus Montero? Posada’s days as a catcher with the Yankees over and the veteran also is in the last year of a four-year contract and he is not likely to return in 2012. Starting catcher Russell Martin signed only a one-year deal with the Yankees and he could very well go elsewhere as a free agent next season. So Cervelli may be trying to make sure whatever happens this off-season, he is still in the picture as a catcher for the Yankees. Cervelli, 25, has raised his season average to .275. But he is being paid mostly for his defense and his handling of the pitching staff.
  • Gardner’s home run came amid a pronounced slump the outfielder has been going through since Aug. 18. Gardner entered the game on a dreadful 9-for-64 (.141) slide that dropped his average from .286 to .266. The constant hot and cold streaks have ruined what could have a great season for Gardner because he stole another base on Tuesday to raise his league-leading total to 43.
  • Despite Montero’s two home runs on Monday off a right-handed pitcher, Girardi played a hunch and started Posada at designated hitter against Hunter instead. The reason was Posada had hit his last home run off Hunter at Camden Yards on Aug. 26. Well, the 40-year-old veteran victimized Hunter again with his 13th home run, a lined shot over the auxiliary scoreboard in right.
  • Rivera stands five saves away from becoming the major leagues’ all-time saves leader, but he also is just one save away from posting 40 or more saves for the eighth time. In fact, Rivera has posted 50 or more saves twice, with his 53 saves in 2004 his all-time high. Rivera last posted 40 saves in the Yankees’ 27th world championship season in 2009 when he recorded 44 saves.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Robinson Cano had his nine-game hitting streak snapped. Cano’s impatience at the plate reared its ugly head again because he was 0-4 and saw a total of 11 pitches. He swung and made outs on the first pitch he saw twice. To be fair, he did have a line drive down the first-base line in which Reynolds robbed him of a hit. But when Cano makes outs it usually is on pitches that are out of the strike zone.
  • Granderson is also dealing with really his first prolonged slump of the season. Since his two home runs and four RBIs on Aug. 28 against the Orioles in Baltimore, Granderson is 3-for-27 (.111) with 13 strikeouts. He was 0-for-3 with three strikeouts and a walk in tonight’s game.
  • Posada committed a rock-head play in the bottom of the seventh that cost the Yankees a run. Posada hit a grounder to Hunter, who threw wildly to first and the ball rolled past first and into foul territory down the line. Posada ran past the first-base bag and was safe. However, he took one step towards second and then walked back to first. But before he could step on the bag, Andino retrieved the ball and threw to Reynolds, who tagged Posada out. Darling, the first-base umpire, correctly called him out. Cervelli homered five pitches later.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees recalled five more players from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Among them were Noesi, who pitched in the seventh inning, and fellow pitchers Andrew Brackman and George Kontos. In addition, infielder Ramiro Pena and outfielder Greg Golson also were added to the roster. To make room on the 40-man roster the Yankees designated Lance Pendleton for assignment.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have a chance to extend their winning streak to seven games and sweep the Orioles on Wednesday.

In order to do that the Yankees will have to hope for the appearance of “Good A.J.” Burnett (9-11, 5.25 ERA) is coming off a game in which he gave up just two runs in 5 1/3 innings against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. He did not get the decision but the Yankees won the game 4-2. Burnett was hammered for nine runs in five innings the last time he faced the Orioles on Aug. 26. Burnett is 12-6 with a 4.96 ERA against the O’s in his career.

The Orioles will start rookie left-hander Zach Britton (9-9, 4.22 ERA). Britton gave up two runs in six innings against the Rays last Friday. Britton has won his last three starts, including a 2-0 defeat of the Yankees on Aug. 28. He is 1-1 with a 3.77 ERA versus the Yankees in his short career.

Game-time will be at 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

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