Coming off a brutal start in Boston, Sidney Ponson didn't allow a hit until the fifth inning of last night's tilt against the Angels. In fact, the only baserunner he allowed in the first four frames came on a rare walk to Howie Kendrick, who never got past first base.
Garret Anderson got the Halos' first safety with a leadoff single up the middle to lead off the fifth. After Kendrick flied out to right, Ponson loaded the bases with walks to Juan Rivera and Jeff Mathis, but got out of the inning by getting Chone Figgins to pop out and Maicer Izturis to fly out to Johnny Damon in left. That was the only threat the Angels mounted in Ponson's seven innings of work. Mark Teixeira led off the sixth with the Angels' second single of the game, but Ponson got Vlad Guerrero to hit into a double play and retired the next four men in order.
With Ponson at 96 pitches, Joe Girardi decided to count his blessings and call on his bullpen. Though he had only allowed two hits, Ponson had walked four, thrown just half of his pitches for strikes, struck out just one, and been helped considerably by a variety of nice defensive plays, including a leaping stab of a screaming line drive over his head by first baseman Wilson Betemit, a couple of nice jump catches at the wall by Bobby Abreu (yes, really), and a fantastic running catch heading back toward dead center by Melky Cabrera.
No runs on two hits through seven innings is good no matter how one gets there, but as well as Ponson pitched, Angels starter Ervin Santana was better. Allowing just five singles through eight shutout innings (there were no extra base hits in the entire game), Santana struck out eight Yankees and walked just two.
Damaso Marte matched Santana's eighth inning in relief of Ponson with a dominant frame in which he threw ten of 15 pitches for strikes and struck out two of the three men he faced, all of them hitting right-handed. That passed the game on to Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning.
Much has been made of Rivera's "struggles" in non-save situations this season, but that's only in relation to his total dominance in pursuit of saves. Entering last night's game, Rivera had a 2.70 ERA and a 0.90 WHIP with 24 Ks against 2 walks in 20 innings in non-save situations, which is about as good as you could expect even the Great Rivera to be no matter the situation. That said, Mo couldn't keep things going last night. Rivera started the ninth by walking Mark Teixeira on five pitches. Vlad Guerrero then went with a pitch low and away, flicking it into right field to move pinch-runner Reggie Willits to third base. Rivera then got ahead of Torii Hunter 1-2, but after ball two, Hunter singled past an attempted kick save by Rivera to plate the first run of the game and give the Angels a 1-0 lead. Without having gotten an out, Rivera had blown the game, and he still had runners on first and second.
Mo then struck out Garret Anderson and got Howie Kendrick to ground into a double play to give the Yankees some hope of getting to Francisco Rodriguez in the bottom of the ninth, but it wasn't to be. Facing Alex Rodriguez to start the frame, the Angels' closer got strike one with a wicked slider that Alex swung over. He then came down and in with a couple of fastballs for balls, and Alex spat on another slider for ball three. The 3-1 pitch came right down the pike, drawing a hearty swing from Alex, only to dive into the dirt at the last second, a wicked slider reminiscent of Joba Chamberlain's best. Then, on 3-2, Frankie threw Alex a changeup. Thinking it was another slider, Alex took it, but the ball didn't break. Instead it nicked the outside corner for ball three. Alex had no chance. Jason Giambi followed by just getting under Francisco's worst pitch of the night and skying out to center. Rodriguez then got Robinson Cano to fly out on a 2-1 pitch to end the game, 1-0.