Mike Mussina threw a lot of pitches in the first couple of innings last night. He walked three, allowed four hits and gave up three runs in five innings. Not a terrific line, but he didn't look awful either. He was sharper in his final two innings of work. Cliff Lee was erratic early, and he gave up three runs in five innings. The Bombers took a 4-3 lead on Ruben Sierra's two-out single in the eighth, but Flash Gordon gave the run right back in the bottom of the inning.
This set the stage for yet another big home run by Gary Sheffield. With two men out in the ninth, Bob Wickman plunked Derek Jeter in the elbow. Jeter was hurt badly enough to leave the game (fortunately, the x-rays were negative and though he may not play tonight, he should be OK to go tomorrow). This put the Yankees in a tight spot as Kenny Lofton had led off the inning pinch-hitting for Miguel Cairo. With Jeter out, Gary Sheffield was going to get his second shot at third base this year. But before he changed positions, he yanked a slider into the left field stands to put the Yanks up 6-4.
Watching Sheffield up with the game on the line, I've come to expect him to not only come through with a hit, with a home run. The YES cameras actually missed the swing live as they had cut away to a shot of Joe Torre watching in the dugout. Sheffield had barely missed a similar pitch from Wickman early in the count, which he fouled back dislodging a portion of padding from the backstop. When the camera cut back to live action, we saw the ball fly over the left field fence. Surprised?
Mariano Rivera pitched a scoreless ninth and the Yankees gained a game on Boston who were shut out by Ted Lilly and the Blue Jays, 3-0. The Yankee lead stands at six-and-a-half games. Gary Sheffield played third but didn't get a ball hit to him.
Sound the Alarm?
Murray Chass reports in the Times that George Steinbrenner isn't flying off the handle over his teams' recent struggles:
"I'm not panicking at all," Steinbrenner said in a statement. "We've been down this road before and I have tremendous faith in my players, my manager and the leadership of the team. We will be O.K."
The comment is remarkable for its mellow tone and its absence of threats. It is remarkable for the calmness and serenity it projects.
Managers often say they have to maintain a steadiness in the face of adversity, lest the players see panic on their faces and panic themselves. But here is Steinbrenner wearing a stoic mask. What a development.
However, George King notes that Boss Steinbrenner called his inner-circle to Tampa to meet. The group included GM Brian Cashman. Without knowing the particulars, we can all imagine what went on behind closed doors in Florida. And it most likely wasn't a kinder, gentler George.
Alex Rodriguez continues to struggle and Mike Lupica rips him today in the Daily News. Rodriguez had an infield single last night, and was robbed of a hit by Omar Vizquel and a missed call by the second base umpire. He hit the ball sharply in his last at-bat but grounded out to third. Keep plugging away Rodriguez, we are behind you. Meanwhile, Jason Giambi still has a sore groin and now has a cold. He hasn't continued working out yet.
Getting Better All the Time
I enjoyed Paul O'Neill's infrequent stints in the YES booth last season mostly because of how he busted Michael Kay's chops. But as much as I admired O'Neill as a player, I find him hard to take as an analyst, if you want to call him that. He'll usually preface commentary by saying, "You know, when you're out there in right field..." followed by the standard ex-jock spiel. Oy. On the other hand, I'm really impressed with how thorough and professional Joe Girardi has been for YES. He's got a good sense of humor and he's extremely well-prepared. Maybe his work-ethic as a catcher has carryied over to his career as a broadcaster. Girardi seems like he's a cut above of his peers. He'll talk about a Cleveland hitter and let you know how he's done over the last week or so, as if he's actually sat down and watched tape of the games. Go figure. I'd be happy to hear more of him moving forward.