Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Battle of the Heavyweights - Round Two

The Rays and Yankees played the second game of their series in Florida on Tuesday night. The Bay Rays won the first one on a brilliant pitching duel between the two starters and each team's relievers until the Yankees had to cry, "Oh Sergio," in the bottom of the eleventh when Mitre gave up a quick gopher to Reid Brignac. Tuesday's game had much the same script except for the starting pitching. Garza was bad for the Bay Rays and Nova flamed out in the fifth like the Chevy his name brings to mind.

The Yankees took a quick 5-0 lead on Matt Garza who had little command in his brief outing. Garza was relieved by Jake McGee making his major league debut and it showed. He walked the first two batters he faced to allow the sixth run. McGee did record a strikeout to end his inning and Garza's final line.

Then the Bay Rays came up in the bottom of the fifth. Nova had been flirting with disaster all night and somehow kept squeaking out of it. There was no squeaking out of the fifth as the Bay Rays put on a light show and before Nova knew what hit him, his lead was gone, his day was done and his win was history. Boone Logan didn't help any with a three run blast given up to Aybar when he came in to rescue Nova. Nova would have probably preferred a St. Bernard.

Strangely, Joe Maddon left McGee in there to start the top of the sixth and after a first batter walk, Maddon thought better of his decision and brought Hellickson in. This rookie thing with great young starters finishing out the year as relievers isn't working with Hellickson. It worked for David Price two years ago, but Hellickson is lost in relief. He gave up a couple of hits, including a game-tying double to Cano to knot the game at 7 each. The threat ended though because the Yankees were futile in their attempts to hide Kearns and Curtis who stunk up the bottom of the order and left several men on base.

From there it was a bullpen masterpiece. Qualls, Benoit and Soriano shut down the Yankees and Logan (after the homer), Chamberlain, Wood and Robertson blew away the Bay Rays. The game again went into extra innings but only because Curtis Granderson made an unbelievable diving catch in center to save the game. Granderson sped after the ball and extended fully and it was a fantastic play.

Maddon had no choice but to shut down Soriano after an inning and had to turn to Wheeler. The first batter he faced was Jorge Posada pinch hitting for Cervelli. And the old veteran, who can still hit, crushed a Wheeler offering up and over the restaurant in dead center--a mammoth shot. Wheeler escaped further damage. That left the game in the hands of Mariano Rivera.

The first batter Rivera faced was Carl Crawford, the last person any Yankee fan wanted to see start an inning like that. And sure enough, Crawford got on first with no outs. Uh oh. Rivera blew his last save opportunity and this one didn't feel anywhere close to being a lock. Everyone in the building and those of us watching on television expected Crawford to steal. But Longoria swung at the first pitch before Crawford could go and made a quick out. Crawford didn't wait around after that and was soon on second base.

That brought up Matt Joyce, a great-looking young hitter. Joyce battled Rivera and got the count in his favor, but the old and still buck reliever induced Joyce to lift a medium distance fly to right. The catch was made by Greg Golson, a September call up and defensive replacement. Crawford, who didn't steal third like the Fan expected, tagged up on the fly to go to third. But Golson threw a rocket that roped on a line to third and short hopped Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod made a great adjustment on the ball and scooped and tagged in the same moment and Crawford was out. Just like that, the game was over. Crawford looked stunned. Those of us that were watching were stunned. The Yankees were jubilant and fists were pumped all over the infield.

Of course we can debate the old saw about never making the last out at third base. But the Bay Rays live and die by playing aggressive. If you were to bet odds on how many times Crawford would make it to third in that situation, the odds would be in Crawford's favor most of the time. It just wasn't meant to be. The other side of the argument is that it was a meaningless 90 feet. Crawford would have easily scored on a single from second. But those points are all moot.

These heavyweights have played two extraordinary games and split them. What thrilling games! The Yankees regained a half game lead back into first and the two teams will go back at it tomorrow afternoon. What thrilling baseball! And this was just one game. The Padres won a thriller. The Phillies increased their division lead because Livan Hernandez proved us all wrong one more time. September baseball is like nothing else on earth.

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