I love taking my mom to the stadium. A huge (or actually, very tiny) Yankee fan, she gets a big kick out of attending games and cheers louder than I do once she's there (which should surprise no one who knows her). About a month or so ago, I realized that there was a Yankee home game on Mother's Day which was part of my season package, and Becky and I agreed that she would take her mom out separately so that I could take my mom to the game.
Then, some time last week, I realized that Kevin Brown would be the scheduled starter. Worse yet, he would be taking the mound against the A's young ace, Rich Harden. As a result, despite my best intentions, I was not particularly looking forward to yesterday's game.
Indeed, things got off to an ominous start. Brown worked a deceiving 1-2-3 inning in the first. Mark Kotsay lead off with a hard-hit fly out to left. Jason Kendall followed with a sharp grounder that would have been a typical Brown base hit through the middle had it not been for an excellent back-handed play by Robinson Cano, who just nabbed Jason Kendall at first with an off-balance jump throw of the kind Derek Jeter often makes in the hole at short. Brown then fell behind Eric Chavez 3-0 before recovering to a full count and getting Chavez to fly out to Womack in left.
Rich Harden had a much more convincing 1-2-3 in the bottom of the inning, ratcheting his fastball up to the upper 90s and finishing the inning by striking out Gary Sheffield swinging.
In the top of the second, Brown was up to his old tricks. Scott Hatteberg cracked Brown's second pitch for a sharp single to center. Bobby Kielty then walked on four pitches. Brown's next pitch, to Erubiel Durazo, was another ball. Durazo then singled on a 1-1 count to load the bases with no outs (Hatteberg had started back toward second, as Brown had checked him back before the pitch, and thus was unable to score). Brown's first pitch to Keith Ginter was a ball about head high to the 5'10" second baseman.
Brown was back in his own personal hell, and the Yankee Stadium crowd was letting him know about it. Then Mel Stottlemyre came to the mound. Said Stottlemyre after the game:
"I told him the way to minimize damage was to stay down throughout the rest of the inning. He said, 'I just threw a pitch down, and it was a base hit.' I didn't think the ball that Durazo hit was down [it was thigh-high, Brown is most effective at or below the knees -CJC], but I didn't want to argue with him. I told him the only thing I could think of: 'He's a low-ball hitter; this next guy is a high-ball hitter.' I was lying, [but] his stuff is so electric when it's down. I wasn't trying to feed him a line of bull; I just thought that was our best chance."
After Stottlemyre returned to the dugout, Brown fell behind Keith Ginter 2-0 and 3-1, but got him to miss his next pitch to run the count full.
So there he was, up to his old tricks, bases loaded, no outs, full count. At the rate Kevin Brown was going, it wouldn't have been melodramatic to say that his season, or even his career was riding on the next pitch (okay, maybe a little melodramatic). Brown wound up and threw. The pitch was chest high and Ginter swung and yanked a sizzling line drive down the third base line . . . right at Alex Rodriguez! One out, and a tremendous break for Brown and the Yankees.
Next up was Eric Byrnes. Brown poured in two called strikes. Byrnes then fouled off the next pitch, took a ball, and fouled of three more 1-2 pitches. Brown then unleashed a sinker on the outside corner that dove blow Byrnes' knees and the Oakland left fielder swung over it. Two outs! Still scoreless!
Next was Marco Scutaro, who is second on the A's in on-base percentage. Ball one. Strike one, looking. Ball two. Foul, strike two. 2-2. Another sinker at the knees, this one over the plate: called strike three!!! Brown pitched out of it!!!
Pitching out of a bases loaded jam is impressive no matter who does it and no matter how. Even Sandy Koufax at his peak pitching out of a bases loaded jam would be a remarkable accomplishment. Mike Mussina's greatest moment as a Yankee, despite two Cy Young-quality seasons and four postseason wins, remains when he came out of the bullpen and pitched out of a bases loaded jam in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS against the Red Sox. That Kevin Brown was able to do it after the way he's pitched thus far this season was nothing short of shocking. If Brown manages to become a useful part of the Yankee rotation this year (I'm still dubious, but if) the top of the second of today's game will stand as the moment he turned it all around.
In the top of the third, Brown worked another 1-2-3 inning against the top of the Oakland order. In the fourth he again allowed the A's to load the bases, but alternated baserunners and outs (Hatteberg bunt single, Kielty strikeout looking, Durazo single, Ginter fly out, Byrnes hit by pitch to load the bases), which allowed him to get out of the inning with a simple Scutaro fly out to center.
Brown then allowed a lead-off single in the fifth to Mark Kotsay after which he sat down the last nine batters he faced in order. All totaled he posted this line:
7 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 4 K, 65 percent strikes
It was his best performance since August 5 of last year (also against Oakland) and paired with his second-most-recent start (7 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 5 K, 63% strikes) would lead one to believe that there actually is hope for Kevin Brown this season.
What made Brown's outing even more impressive is that he never had a comfortable lead, despite the fact that Rich Harden was having trouble throwing his blazing fastball for strikes. Harden repeatedly reached 97 and 98 miles per hour on the Stadium radar gun, but it seemed as if every pitch he got above 95 MPH was a ball. As a result, he walked four men, uncorked two wild pitches, and hit Gary Sheffield in the arm.
Two of those walks helped the Yankees load the bases in the second inning, but the second (to Jason Giambi, making his first start since being hit in the head with a pitch in Tampa and turning in yet another no-contact game: 2 BB, 2 Ks, one looking) came with two outs, leaving Robinson Cano to ground out to second (as is his wont) to end the inning. In the third, Derek Jeter lead off with a single, moved to second on a wild pitch, and was bunted to third by Tony Womack. But Jeter was unable to score on a Sheffield groundout to short, and was stranded by an inning ending worm burner to first by Groundzilla.
Alex Rodriguez broke the scoreless tie in the fourth by blasting Harden's first pitch into the far reaches of Monument Park. The Yanks then added another in the fifth after Jeter was retired by a tremendous stab, spin, and throw by Scutaro on a hot shot up the middle (the sort of play Jeter has never, ever made). Womack followed Jeter with a full-count walk(!). Harden then plunked Sheffield, and Slumpzilla came through with a resounding RBI single to right.
That was about it. Harden then got Rodriguez to ground into a 5-5-3 double play and allowed just a one-out double by Jeter over his remaining two innings.
With a 2-0 lead and Brown at 106 pitches, Joe Torre brought in Tom Gordon to start the eighth to shrieks of horror from yours truly. Amazingly, despite facing a pair of lefties, Gordon worked a perfect inning, throwing first-pitch strikes to all three batters, cranking his fastball into the mid-90s, and not allowing a ball out of the infield (groundout, Chavez swinging K, groundout).
With Harden at 107 pitches, Ken Macha responded in kind with Kiko Calero, who poured in a pair of called strikes to Mastui only to lose him on an eight-pitch walk. Alex Rodriguez then followed with an 0-2 single after swinging and missing at Calero's first two pitches. Calero then fell behind Tino Martinez 3-0 and the Yankees turned the hot-hitting first baseman loose on the next pitch, which Tino parked in the front row of the right field boxes for a three-run homer. Tino is now 11 for 32 (.344) with four home runs since Andy Phillips' first start at first base.
Before Calero could catch his breath, Jorge Posada followed by creamolishing 1-1 Calero pitch into the upper deck in right, a genuine moonshot. Jorge is now 7 for his last 23 (.304) with two doubles and a pair of homers.
Thus, despite my concerns, it was a great day to have mom at the ballpark. The players and coaches on both teams (and throughout baseball) were wearing pink sweatbands on their wrists and pink ribbons over their hearts in connection with a breast cancer charity. In place of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame," Bob Sheppard himself sang "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" to all of the moms in the house. With the Yanks up by the eventual final of 6-0 after the back-to-back shots by Tino and Jorge (and isn't that great to see for fans of the faded dynasty), mom and I got some good boogying in during the resulting pitching changes, primarily to the Isley Brothers' "Shout." Brown, despite appearing ribbon-less, turned in his best pitching performance of the year, and the Yankees won following another win for just the third time all year, winning just their third series of the season.
What's more, mom claims to have used her powers of telepathy/telekinesis to guide Tino's homer and Scutaro's game-ending pop-out to third off Tanyon Sturtze. At the very least, she called both (I could see her gesturing out of the corner of my eye before the respective pay-off pitches), and her celebration after each, particularly the Tino homer (general rule: mom's loooove Tino), was genuinely wide-eyed and ecstatic.
Afterwards we headed on down south of Union Square for some delicious Korean barbeque at a place I was introduced to by Jay Jaffe's fiancée. Then, bellies full, we took the train home during a gorgeous pink sunset. It doesn't get much better than that. Happy Mother's Day, Mom.
Tonight the Yanks start a three-game series with the Mariners by sending Randy Johnson back to the hill in an attempt to win their third straight for the first time all season. After that, they'll head back to Oakland for another weekend series with the A's who, after getting shut out these last two games, are dead last in the majors in runs scored. Speaking of which, in a pessimism contest between myself and Ken Arneson on IM yesterday, Ken predicted almost the exact result of yesterday's game (minus Calero's implosion).