Short Hops: Just Asking ..Strangely, Mariano Rivera did not pitch the 10th inning of a must-win game
Let's set the stage.
Trailing 3-0 after being dormant all night, the Yankees offense had staged a stirring rally in the eighth capped by Mark Teixeira's bases-clearing three-run double in the rain - a hit that looked to be his defining "Yankee moment" after an April of offensive struggles, one so reminiscent of Jason Giambi's 14th-inning, near-dawn, walkoff grand slam against the Minnesota Twins in the pouring rain back in 2003.
Every Yankee fan felt it. Every fan there at the Stadium in the Bronx, or watching on television, or listening to John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman on the radio while driving somewhere in the rainslick city.
And not just fans. All throughout the city people who knew and cared nothing about baseball must've figured something was up. Here in my apartment building, the hard-of-hearing lady next door and the persnickety woman downstairs had to take sudden notice of me whooping away as I slapped multiple, double-fives with my wife. It's been a frustrating spell for Yankee fans. Five straight losses to the Red Sox, Jorge Posada injured, Brian Bruney injured, a bullpen as volatile as nitroglycerine, the bridge to Mariano Rivera strung with booby traps.
The team needed it. We needed it. Teixeira's Yankee moment. One that would spark the Yankees to a desperately needed victory after three consecutive, demoralizing home losses, one to the Los Angeles Angels, and then that awful second sweep by the Boston Red Sox. Embarrassment here at home, in New York, in the Bronx.
Even though the downpour delayed the game, you figured, you had to figure, the Yanks were going to pull this one off. Cut ahead to the resumption of play. Designated hitter Hideki Matsui steps to the plate with two outs but fails to drive in the winning run, sending the game to the ninth inning knotted at three.
Disappointing. You feel a slight leeching of momentum from the soggy metropolitan atmosphere. But you still figure it's going to happen. Games like this, it has to happen.
In comes Rivera at the top of the ninth, having last appeared on April 30 to notch a single-inning save against the Angels. After surrendering a line drive single to Rays catcher Dioner Navarro, Rivera dispatched Tampa Bay's next three hitters - B.J. Upton, Carl Crawford and the dangerous Evan Longoria - with relative ease, throwing a total of 18 pitches to end the frame.
At the bottom of the ninth the Yankees strand two base runners to send the game into extra innings, and we think we see Rivera head into the clubhouse. We hope we're seeing wrong. We know the destruction capable of being wrought by every other member of the Yankee 'pen. We really hope we haven't seen what we think we've seen, but Rivera is done for the night.
So we're at the top of the 10th. The score tied 3-3. And Girardi calls on lefty reliever Phil Coke to match up against left-handed slugger Carlos Pena, who hasn't been hitting much except when he hits home runs, of which he already has 12. I know, we know. Aside from the disabled Bruney, who by the way still felt "something" in his elbow when he played catch the other day, Coke's been the most reliable member of the relief staff. But in a staff that is the second-worst in the Major Leagues, ranking 29th out of 30, reliability is a relative term.
You look at his stats this morning, you see that in the 11 2/3 innings he's thrown in 2009, Coke has given up eight runs, five of them earned. That's not great. It really isn't. What's great, who's great, is Mariano Rivera. In fact, Rivera is the greatest closer in the history of baseball.
He's had five days' rest. Thrown just 18 pitches in the ninth.
It's early in the season, but it isn't that early. It can't feel early when you've just been swept twice by the Boston Red Sox, lost both of series you've played with them, and then lost a catcher who is the heart and soul of your team to injury. This is a win the team needs.
So here we are. Start of the 10th. Score tied 3-3. Up after Pena for the Rays are the righty Pat Burrell and switch-hitting Pat Zohbrist, who's playing right field. If Pena gets on base, the next guy to hit will be righty shortstop Jason Bartlett. That's two righties with Zohbrist sandwiched in the middle.
If Pena gets on.
The choice is Rivera or Coke.
Rivera is 39 years old and he's is coming off shoulder surgery, but he's the greatest ever. He's had those five days' rest. Aside from that line drive Johnny Damon maybe should've caught out in left, he's looked sharp and lethal tonight as a Mokume-gane sword.
The Yankees need a win, and they've got Jeter, Damon and Teixeira coming up to take the first three cracks at it at the bottom of the inning. Exactly who they'd want right there.
But Girardi goes lefty-to-lefty and chooses Coke versus Pena. And Coke throws a four-seam fastball for ball one. I turn apprehensively to my wife.
"Another fastball like that and Pena's going to hit a homer," I say.
I wish I'd been wrong.
I wish that pitch, which Coke later insisted was well-executed, had been a Rivera cutter bearing in on Pena's hands rather than a four-seamer he could hook out to middle right.
But I wasn't wrong, and Pena homered, and despite another Yankees push at the bottom of the inning, that was really the game. At home, in extra innings, a team should win the game. A game the Yanks oh-so-badly needed.
So my question, the one nobody talked about afterward or pressed Girardi on, but that I bet will be asked a thousand times on sports talk radio today, is simply this:
"Joe, why didn't you go with Rivera in the 10th?"
Get Well RemDawg
The Boston Red Sox announced yesterday that former Sox second baseman and longtime NESN game analyst Jerry Remy will be taking an indefinite leave of absence from the broadcast booth due to complications from cancer surgery.
I am sick and tired of cancer.
Remy is a great guy and one of the best broadcasters in the business. I love listening to his commentary almost as much as I hate the team he works for, and that's saying a whole lot.
May your absence from the booth be a brief one, RemDawg. My thoughts are with you and your family.
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