That's it. I'm fed up. Maybe I'm a couple of days late, but as Alex will tell you, I tend to be both level-headed and optimistic when it comes to my favorite ballclub. Still, after attending last night's 6-2 loss to the Devil Rays, I want my $5 (actually $13 and change thanks to Ticketmaster) back and an apology, not from the Boss or the skipper, but from the team.
The Yankees have now completed five series on the young season and won just five games. They are tied with the Devil Rays and Royals for the worst record in the American League, and have not recorded consecutive wins since the first two games of the season (which had an off day between them).
On the whole, the problem remains the pitching, the Yankees have the third worst ERA in the majors (only the D-Rays and Rockies are worse, and that's according to the stats before last night's 6-2 loss to the Rays). Their team ERA (prior to last night's game) was 5.65, but they've allowed a staggering 6.5 runs per game (including last night) thanks to some very costly errors and their pitchers' inability to pitch around them.
Last night, despite a noble effort from Randy Johnson, was the 2005 Yankees at their worst. Worse even, in my opinion, than Saturday's brutal 7-6 loss in a game they lead 6-2 in the seventh inning.
For me it all started with the Captain. Derek Jeter went 3 for 4 last night with two singles and a double and a nice play on a sharp grounder off the bat of Toby Hall to end the second, but if you ask me he gets a big pair of goat horns. Following a 1-2-3 first inning from Johnson, Jeter lead off the bottom of the first with a single, an apparent indication that the Yankees were ready to pick up where they left off the night before. Then, on the first pitch to Bernie Williams, Jeter got thrown out trying to steal second. It wasn't even close. That was the real omen. In the seventh trailing 3-2 with runners on first and second and no outs, Jeter ground into a rally-killing double play. Then in the top of the eighth with no outs and men on the corners, he failed to turn a rally killing double play, flubbing Aubrey Huff's grounder completely and opening the door to a three-run Devil Ray inning.
I'm not pointing to Jeter as the reason for the team's struggles. He leads the team in batting average, on-base percentage, walks and runs scored and remains, second perhaps only to MVPatsui (who leads the team in slugging and hits), the batter I want up with the game on the line. But his play last night was emblematic of the team's dismal performance.
Other lowlights include a 1 for 14 performance by the 2-5 hitters (though Matsui and Sheffield did walk once each), highlighted by an 0-for-4 by Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez's worst at-bat came in the sixth when, with one out runners on first and second and his team down by one, he hacked at a 1-0 pitch low and away, lifting a weak fly to center that was too shallow to advance the runners. In Alex's words, "he gave that at-bat away trying to be a hero." Same old story.
Another Yankee rally was killed in the fifth when, after a lead-off walk to Posada, Joe Torre, in the words of reader JohnnyC, "put on a hit and run with Posada of all people on first and gave Martinez no choice but to offer at a pitch almost at his ankles . . . double play, of course." In Torre's defense, the Posada/Tino combination is a double play waiting to happen (just ask Dan M and his dad), thus the desire to get the "runner" in motion. Also, it required a spectacular play from Julio Lugo, cutting in front of second base to field the ball and tagging Posada on the way by, all in one motion, to turn the DP. Still, the two outs motivated a worse turn of events. Tony Womack followed the double play with a single and Jeter followed Womack with a double. Luis Sojo, smelling the tying run and likely overconfident of Womack's considerable speed, sent Womack home from first on Jeter's hit where Womack was gunned out (Huff to Cantu to Hall) by several strides, ending the inning.
On the other side of the ball, the most distressing performance came from Tom Gordon, who entered after Jeter's error in the eighth with men on the corners and one out to face pinch-hitter Travis Lee. Gordon got ahead of Lee 0-2 then gave up singles on consecutive pitches to Lee and Jorge Cantu, allowing both inherited runners to score. He eventually got the two outs he needed, but one came only because Lee tried to stretch his single into a double and was gunned out, in true ex-Yankee style, by several lengths at second. Gordon has now turned in three consecutive awful appearances. I for one would like to see him and Felix Rodriguez switch roles until Flash can get himself straightened out. That I'm advocating for a man who, in his second most recent appearance, failed to retire a batter should give you some indication of what ails the Yankees (though it should be noted that the relievers as a group have actually outpitched the starters).
Speaking of starters, Randy Johnson nearly duplicated his last start at Fenway, check it out:
4/14 @ Bos: 7 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 3 HR, 2 BB, 9 K
4/19 v TB: 7.1IP, 6 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 2 HR, 0 BB, 8 K
In both games he threw 68 of 103 pitches for strikes. Yes, the exact same number of pitches and strikes (good for 66 percent strikes).
In his last two starts, Johnson has struck out 17 men in 14 1/3 innings and walked just 2, posting a 0.91 WHIP. Really the only thing not to like about those lines are the runs and homers, and the latter is the primary reason for the former (of his six runs allowed last night, three were on homers and two were inherited runners that Gordon allowed to score, in the Boston start all five runs came on homers).
Reader brockdc speculates (if I may infer some from his comments) that the homers are the result of a "missing 4-6" miles per hour on Johnson's fastball. According to ESPN's scouting report, "Johnson no longer regularly cranks it up to 99 MPH. He may hit 98 on a good night, but pitches at 90-96 MPH." According to the Yankee stadium radar gun, he was in the 94 MPH range last night, which, if it can be trusted, would eliminate that theory, since the ESPN report is based on last year's performance, when he was the best pitcher in baseball and allowed a homer once every 13.6 innings.
That 2004 homer rate is the good news. Johnson, who has now allowed 5 homers in four starts (actually in his last two), has never allowed more home runs than games started. Though the same was true of "Home Run" Javy Vazquez prior to last year, Vazquez averaged .81 homers per start through his 2003 season, whereas Johnson has averaged just .63 on his career, a number that has remained fairly consistent in recent years despite the loss of a few MPH off his fastball.
Frustratingly, the Yankees will not get to play a rubber game with the Devil Rays and will instead travel to Toronto to start a two-game road trip in the oddest quirk of this year's schedule.
In the first game, Carl Pavano takes on Ted Lilly. Here's a quick tale of the tape on these two using their career totals through 2004:
The Blue Jays are paying Lilly $3.1 million in his final year prior to free agency. Pavano earned $3.85 million from the Marlins in 2004, his last year before free agency, and is now earning $9 million from the Yankees in his first year of a four-year, $39.95 million contract with an option for a fifth year. If I'm Lilly's agent, I have these numbers memorized.