It was a beautiful day for baseball yesterday as fifty former Yankee players (including seven current Yankee coaches and two YES broadcasters) suited up for the team's 59th Old-Timers Day. As usual, Don Mattingly and the Hall of Fame quartet of Reggie Jackson, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra and Phil Rizzuto got the biggest response from the crowd, which on this day was 54,000 strong.
As the Old-Timers' game itself got underway, however, some charcoal-gray clouds rolled in, forcing the Bomber alumni off the field as a down-poor began after a mere an inning and a half. What little action there was saw deep hits by Oscar Gamble, Kevin Maas and Venezuelan League Batting Champ Luis Sojo boost the "scrub team" Pinstripers to a 4-0 lead against a Yankee pitching rotation of Ron Guidry, Goose Gossage and Mel Stottlemyre. Pinstriper Stan Bahnsen retired Mickey Rivers, Wade Boggs and Don Mattingly in order in the bottom of the first, stranding Reggie Jackson in the on-deck circle. When the rain forced the players off the field after the top of the second, Reggie took a few pantomime swings in right field and threw his palms to the sky in exasperation.
The rain blew over in time for the regular game to start on time and the real Yankees got out to an early 2-0 lead on Cleveland starter Scott Elarton on back-to-back solo homers by Gary Sheffield (taking a "half-day off" at DH) and Alex Rodriguez in the bottom of the first. Rodriguez's tater was an opposite field job that just cleared the right field wall, while Sheffield's was an absolute moon shot that cleared the visiting bullpen in left field.
The Indians then proceeded to score seven unanswered runs against spot starter Darrell May. Jose Hernandez and Jhonny Peralta countered Sheffield and Rodriguez in the top of the second with back-to-back homers of their own, Hernandez's a two-run job following a Casey Blake single. Hernandez, who started at first against the lefty May in place of the left-handed Ben Broussard, then drove Blake home again with another dinger in the third. Cleveland then rallied for two more in the fifth, with Travis Hafner--who was 0 for 5 with three walks in the first two games of the series--delivering an RBI double to drive May from the game. Hafner then scored on a single off reliever Scott Proctor that gave Jose Hernandez five RBIs on the day.
The Yankees finally got one back in the bottom of the fifth when Robinson Cano cashed in a lead-off Ruben Sierra double with a two-out RBI single to run the score to 7-3. The Yanks and Tribe then exchanged 1-2-3 innings and, after both teams stranded men in the seventh, many Yankee fans, including my companion for the day, Jay Jaffe, headed for the exits.
Tanyon Sturtze pitched a 1-2-3 top of the eighth for the Yankees and then things got interesting. After seven stellar innings from Elarton, Indians' manager Eric Wedge gave the ball to Bobby Howry for the bottom of the eighth only to watch him give up a lead-off single to Cano and a seven-pitch walk to Sheffield. Howry then fell behind Alex Rodriguez 3-1, nearly hitting him in the hip with his first pitch, but recovered to get Rodriguez to pop out to Hernandez at first. With lefties Hideki Matsui and Jason Giambi then due to hit, Wedge went to an old Yankee favorite, Arthur Rhodes.
Now, I don't know if Wedge knew this or not (he should have), but bringing Arthur Rhodes in to a game against the Yankees is like trying to put out a grease fire with gasoline. Rhodes has a career 6.75 ERA against the Bombers, nearly two and a half runs worse than his career mark, and easily his worst against any team against whom he has pitched more than ten innings. Entering yesterday's game, Rhodes had issued 43 walks and surrendered 14 home runs to the Yankees in 77 1/3 career innings.
That doesn't include his 12.00 postseason ERA against the Yankees that includes his eighth-inning melt down in Game 2 of the 2000 ALCS, the three-run home run by David Justice in Game 6 of the 2000 ALCS that sent the Yankees to the World Series, and the game-tying home run by Bernie Williams in Game 4 of the 2001 ALCS that erased the last lead the Mariners would hold in that series. Rhodes entered all three of those games with a one run lead. The Yankees won all three.
With the A's last year, Rhodes made two one-inning appearances against the Yankees, allowing a home run in both. In the first, Rhodes entered with the A's already trailing 4-1. In the second, he blew yet another one-run lead, this one in the ninth, as the Yankees went on to win 4-3. Arthur Rhodes should have a warning label on the back of his uniform that reads "Not For Use Against Yankees."
Yesterday afternoon, Rhodes came in with two on, one out, and a four run lead. His first pitch to Hideki Matsui was a ball outside. His second floated into Matsui's happy zone and wound up bouncing off the face of the mezzanine level in right field for a three-run homer.
Rhodes did manage to get out of the inning with further damage, but the Yankees, who had trailed since the second inning, were back in it. All they needed was to hold the score at 7-6 and manufacture a run in the bottom of the ninth. This was a job for Mariano Rivera. Unfortunately, Joe Torre sent Tanyon Sturtze back out to do it.
Grady Sizemore, 0 for 4 against May and Proctor on the day, lead off by creaming a 2-1 pitch that Alex Rodriguez miraculously plucked out of the air for the first out. Gulp. Coco Crisp then followed with a single. Surely now, after a bullet of an out and a single, Joe would bring in Mo to get the final two outs and strand Crisp's potential insurance run, particularly with the Indians' best hitter, Travis Hafner due up.
Sturtze quickly fell behind 2-0 and Hafner launched the next pitch into left center for a double, plating Crisp and giving the Indians a 8-6 lead.
The costliness of that run became immediately apparent when, with Bob Wickman (looking very much like a Yankee Old-Timer himself) on for the save, Ruben Sierra (who started in right field) lead off the bottom of the ninth with his third home run of the year, a no-doubter that landed in hands of a fan in Section 39 of the right field bleachers, just on the other side of the tunnel from yours truly (in the replay, if you know where to look, you can see me shoot my hands into the air in celebration, though you can't see my face, nor the fu manchu "Goose-stache" I was sporting in honor of Old-Timers' Day).
Sierra's homer should have tied the game, but instead the Yankees still had one more run to manufacture. Bernie Williams, who pinch-hit for Melky Cabrera following Sierra's second consecutive double in the seventh, did his part by following Sierra's shot with a single. With Tony Womack in to run for Bernie, Derek Jeter laid down a sac bunt, but Indians' catcher Josh Bard slipped when trying to make the play, allowing Jeter to reach with an infield single as Womack cruised into second.
So there it was, the Yankees had the tying run on second and the winning run on first with no outs in the bottom of the ninth. All they needed was a clean sac bunt from Robinson Cano and a productive out from Gary Sheffield and the game would be tied. Cano's at-bat proved to be the turning point of the game.
As Wickman wound up to deliver his first pitch, Cano squared to bunt, but pulled the bat back only to take a fastball strike right down the middle. Then Joe Torre inexplicably took the bunt off and put on the hit-and-run. Considering the "buntability" of the first-pitch, one could argue that the hit-and-run was Torre's plan all along, and that Cano was given a sign to fake the bunt on the first pitch to draw in the infield. With both runners having gotten good jumps, Wickman's second pitch was far outside, but Cano lunged to foul it off. As Cano has not shown himself to be a particularly adept bunter, Torre then let Robinson hit away down 0-2. What Torre failed to consider, however, was Cano's tendency to ground the ball to the right side and the fact that Cano would likely be trying to pull the ball in the hope of moving Womack over to third. After taking two balls to even the count, Cano did exactly that. He moved Womack to third via a grounder to the right side, a 4-6-3 double-play grounder, to be exact.
The Yankees now needed a hit to tie the game. Gary Sheffield took five straight pitches to draw his third walk of the day to pass the baton to Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez's pop out in the previous inning had cost the Yankees the run they were now desperately trying to score, as he likely had swung at ball four prior to Matsui's homer off Rhodes. Now, with that tying run 90 feet away (and nearly picked off thanks to the baserunning adventures of Womack during Sheffield's at-bat), Rodriguez swung at the first pitch he saw from Wickman, grounding it weekly to Peralta at short who flipped to second to force Sheffield.
Having won the first two games of the series and with Randy Johnson taking the ball today, yesterday's game was one the Yankees could afford to lose. Certainly their expectations going in, with May making the spot start, had to be low. But given the opportunities they had to get that extra run late in the game (a one-out Sierra double stranded at second in the seventh, Rodriguez's pop out on ball four in the eighth, the failure to get a sac bunt out of Cano in the ninth, and Rodriguez's first pitch swinging to end the game with the tying run on third), and more damningly, to prevent the Indians from scoring that extra run in the ninth, it has to be seen as a game they shouldn't have lost. The blame for the fact that they did lose it should be put squarely on the shoulders of the manager. Joe Torre's players came through with two stirring late-game rallies and a pair of clutch home runs, but his failure to use Rivera in the top of the ninth, or to have Cano lay down a straight sac bunt in the bottom of the ninth cost his team the game.
It was a gorgeous day in the Bronx. Some of the greatest players in team history were present and the Yankees scored seven runs on four homers, including shots from their three, four and five hitters. But much like with the rain-shortened Old-Timers' Game, the end result was a stinging disappointment. The key difference being that the cloud burst that ruined the pre-game festivities was unavoidable, the loss that followed was not.
Prior to this series the Cleveland relievers as a group were pitching like Roger Clemens:
Through their first three games against the Yankees they've been pitching more like Sean Henn:
7.50, 6 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 3 HR, 4 BB, 1 K, 2.17 WHIP
Melky Cabrera had a rough day in the field yesterday, battling the late-afternoon sun (a by product of the 4:00 start) and getting poor jumps on a pair of balls hit directly over his head, allowing them to drop just out of his reach. Cabrera does indeed have a cannon for an arm, but the jury's still out on his defensive instincts.