When Bernie Williams pinch-hit in the ninth inning last night, I held my breath and hoped that the Yankee veteran would come through. There were two outs and men on the corners with the Yanks down a run. Williams lashed the first pitch he saw from Dustin Hermanson. By my count it must have been the fifth or sixth ball a Yankee batter had hit on the screws during the game. Unfortunately, like the other hard hit balls--with one exception--it went directly to a White Sox fielder. Bernie's liner was caught by the first baseman Paul Konerko, the game was suddenly over, and Chicago had won, 2-1.
"You can hit the ball but you can't steer it," said Yankee announcer Jim Kaat. It was just one of those nights, one where the Yanks couldn't buy a break. Both Jose Contreras and Shawn Chacon pitched exceedingly well. Contreras was filthy, mixing his pitches, working efficiently. When he is on, he can be overpowering. (El Duque may be the better pitcher, but Contreras has much nastier stuff.) Chacon worked in-and-out of trouble, but turned in another admirable performance. For a low-scoring affair, the game wasn't exactly crisp, but it was exciting. Tony Womack and Hideki Matsui made nice catches for the Yanks, Derek Jeter turned a difficult double play in the first, and Aaron Rowand continues to suck up everything hit to the gap in right-center and left-center field.
For the most part it was a clean loss for New York. The rub was Joe Torre's decision to let Alan Embree start the ninth inning. After Embree got the Yankees out of trouble in the eighth, he gave up a long solo home run to Konerko on a 3-2 pitch to start the ninth. Alex Rodriguez's dinger in the bottom of the inning made it close but not close enough. The Yankees lost a game in the AL East standings as Boston beat Texas in extra innings. They remain three-and-a-half behind Oakland in the wildcard, who were pounded by the Vlad and company last night.
The YES cameras showed Rivera warming up as the Yankees batted in the bottom of the eighth--an inning that will be remembered for a suburban teenage fan jumping from the upper deck into the netting behind home plate (ah, the medicinal wonders of booze). Kaat assumed Mo would pitch the ninth. I thought bringing Rivera in would make perfect sense too. Instead, Embree remained in the game and gave up what proved to be the difference in the game. George Steinbrenner was in the house and, ever the gracious loser, criticized Torre after the game:
I'm not pleased with the manager...I don't know about why they left the lefthander in," Steinbrenner said, dressed in his vintage blue blazer. "He had a good inning and they kept him in there. He should never have pitched to Konerko - he's their best hitter."
Steinbrenner vocalized what a lot of fans must have been thinking--or shouting at home. Considering how well Chacon pitched, it was a difficult loss. But credit Contreras for pitching like an ace. Speaking of which, Randy Johnson will not start Tomorrow against Texas, Scott Proctor will instead.
This is the first time I've seen the White Sox all season and I have to say that I don't dislike them as much as I expected to. Of course, having Rock Raines on the coaching staff helps. They are not a flashy or overly cocky team. I like their second baseman Iguchi. He is solid, and put together some tough at bats that reminded me of Edgardo Alfonzo when he was in his prime with the Mets. Nothing special about the White Sox offensively, but their pitching sure has been good.
Another critical game for the Yanks this afternoon. How much more can we expect out of Aaron Small? Hopefully, just a little bit more. Plus a healthy dose of offense.