For true drama, it would have been fitting if Al Leiter pitched against El Duque Hernandez yesterday. Now that would be an endurance test. Instead, Hernandez was done-in by a few mistakes, and was also thoroughly out-pitched by Shawn Chacon as the Yankees handed the White Sox their seventh consecutive loss. Final score: New York 5, Chicago 0. The Bombers gained a game in both the AL East and wildcard standings as both Boston and Oakland were defeated.
After retiring the side in the first, El Duque started the second by throwing a pitch behind Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez wiggled as if suddenly being attacked by a bee; his response was almost comic. Rodriguez has handled El Duque in the past, so this was the Cuban righthander's not-so-subtle message to beware. El Duque was immediately warned by the home plate umpire Larry Vanover.
"I didn't think it was an accident. He has too good of command. There was a purpose for it and I'm not sure what it was," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "But I thought Larry Vanover did the right thing."
Rodriguez got under a fly ball and flew out to centerfield. Hideki Matsui was the next batter and he took a 2-2 fastball on the outside corner for a ball. El Duque walked off the mound and went directly to Vanor for a discussion--Vanor's strike zone was incredibly stingy--not something you see every day. (Heck, even Jason Giambi of all people, would argue balls-and-strikes before the game was through.) At the end of the inning, three-up/three-down, the two spoke again and everything looked to be okay between them. But when Duque returned to the dugout he smashed his mitt down on the top rail.
Things fell apart two innings later. Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams started the fourth with consecutive singles. Then El Duque got Gary Sheffield to hit a grounder to the pitcher's mound. Duque pounced on the ball, turned expertly to second and threw. The only problem is that neither the shortstop and second baseman were at the bag (it was the shortstop's ball), and the ball sailed into the outfield. Duque grab at his head with both hands and screamed. His throw had been right on target. There just wasn't any target to catch it. Jeter scored and Williams advanced to third. Next, Rodriguez worked a full-count and then laced a slider down the left field line for a 2RBI double (lookit this perfect swing). He advance to third on a balk--Duque close to losing his poise. But then Matsui whiffed, AJ Pierzynski picked Rodriguez off, and Giambi struck out to end the inning.
The Yanks picked up single runs in the fifth (sac fly by Bernie Williams) and the seventh (RBI single by Tino Martinez). El Duque was unfairly charged with a second error when Matsui supposedly beat out a ground ball in the sixth. Duque's foot clearly touched first base but Matsui was ruled safe. By this point, it's lucky Hernandez didn't get himself tossed. It was almost absurd. Talk about "Not my day." It was as if some higher power was testing Duque's sanity yesterday.
His offense did not help in the slightest. Chacon pitched well again for the Yanks, but the White Sox did not pose any threat whatsoever. Their best opportunity came in the third inning. With two men on and nobody out, Timo Perez was up and it seemed as if he was going to bunt the runners over. But after he fell behind in the count, the Sox put on the hit-and-run, which resulted in Perez weakly lining into a 6-4 double play.
Otherwise, Chacon put the White Sox to sleep all afternoon. The game did not have much in the way of tension, and the crowd could not do much but sit on their hands. There were some frayed nerves, especially with El Duque, and I had the feeling that something might boil over, but it never happened. The White Sox have the feeling of a club that is going so badly that they'll start a fight just to get their blood moving again. I thought Pierzynski was going to be at the heart of something yesterday. He pumped his fist emphatically when he nailed Rodriguez off third, and when he grounded out to Chacon in the eighth, he gave the pitcher a little shoulder block. Chacon tagged him out but pushing his mitt into Pierzynski's back and the two exchanged words. But nothing came of it.
But sure enough, after the game, Pierzynski, who is the Bill Laimbeer of the American League, said:
"We have no fight right now...Maybe we need to get in a fight or something. Do something to get us going."
The White Sox sure need to do something to wake themselves up. Unfortunately, it'll be a tough day to get tough what with Randy Johnson on the hill for the Yanks today. I'd like to see 'em try something. Forgive me, but I just can't see Contreras mastering the Yanks twice. I'm not sure what to expect out of Johnson, but at this point I'll be disappointed if the Yanks don't leave Chicago with a sweep.