The Yankees wasted a good outing from Mike Mussina, who has previously owned the Twins, losing 5-1 on Friday night. The game moved along quickly for the first six-and-a-half innings and the Yankees were just "off" enough--both offensively and defensively--to come up short.
The Twins' young right-hander, Scott Baker allowed just one run over seven innings, mixing pitches and change speeds effectively. He didn't throw hard, but had the Yankees off-balance all night. A lot of his pitches were just off the plate, just out of the strike zone, and the Yankee hitters anxiously jumped on them. There were a lot of harmless fly ball outs. Gary Sheffield flew out four times and saw less than ten pitches on the night (he swung at the first pitch in his first two at bats, and the team made six first-pitch outs in the first five innings). According to the New York Times:
"He was like a surgeon," Yankees Manager Joe Torre said. "He was down. He was up. Hitters like to zone in on location, and they were never able to do that.
"The thing he did the best was get ahead of a lot of hitters, and sometimes we just got caught in-between."
..."It's weird, because we need to learn how to win these close games," Johnny Damon said. "We need to learn how to push across runs. It just shows how good a pitcher can be when he's around the strike zone and doesn't walk anybody."
Mussina pitched well for most of the game--running into trouble in the third and later, in the seventh. Jorge Posada was thrown out at the plate attempting to tag on a fly ball to right. The replays showed that he was safe on a close play. The Yankee catcher was involved in another critical play later in the game.
In the seventh, with two men on and the Twins holding a one-run lead, Juan Castro popped a Mussina change up foul. Posada raced over towards the first base dugout to make the play but couldn't get there in time. Jason Giambi, who was playing back off the base was too late arriving as well. The truth is, Posada covered a lot more ground than Giambi did, yet if anyone was going to make that play it would have been the first baseman. In what was clearly going to be Mussina's final batter of the game, Castro worked the count full, then fouled off several pitches before slapping an RBI single to left.
It was just one of those nights. The Bombers put the first two men on in the eighth but Bernie Williams bounced into a double play--they went listlessly in the ninth, almost as if they had a plane to catch. Kyle Farnsworth pitched the bottom of the eighth and allowed two more runs to score.
I've complained about Farnsworth's thought-process in the past and last night was an ideal example of why the guy drives me nuts. Farnsworth's two best pitches are a plus fastball and a sharp slider. But you don't get the sense that he knows how to mix his pitches properly--he falls in love with dominating a hitter and makes things tougher on himself in the process.
With two men out and nobody on, Farnsworth was pitching to Torii Hunter, a right-handed hitter. He threw a slider for strike one and then got Hunter to wave at a nasty slider for strike two. Now, I'm thinking, okay, time to come up and in with the heat. Posada signaled for a fastball and you could see him motioning for it to be high and tight. Hunter is a free swinger, after all. Farnsworth shook him off.
C'mmon, Meat, I'm thinking at home. We're going to go through this Nuke Laloosh routine all year, aren't we? (Funny to consider Jorge Posada as the sage Crash Davis, huh.) But no, Farnsworth wanted to get him out on another slider. It would be difficult to throw one better than the pitch Hunter had just swung through. Sure enough, the next pitch was a slider, it wasn't as nasty as the previous one, and Hunter slapped the pitch into right for a double.
Justin Morneau, a lefty, was next. He had a great swing at a Farnsworth fastball that was low and right over the plate. The pitch was fouled straight back indicating that Farnsworth had gotten away with one--Morneau was right on it. He got strike two on another fastball, but this one was up and away, and he simply over-powered Morneau with it. So now, I'm thinking, maybe time for the slider, or another high heater. Instead Farnsworth threw another low fastball--seemingly identical to the pitch Morneau just missed--which was promptly slapped into left field for an RBI single.
Now, maybe Farnsworth's location was just off. Again, I'll admit that I'm ready to be critical of the guy so I'm not exactly even-handed when discussing him. He's clearly got good stuff. I just don't know that he's got much sense. And after a long night of lousy at-bats, it was the icing on the gravy so to speak. Farnsworth didn't lose the game for the Yankees, he just made it uglier.
No breaks for the Bomb Squad tonight as they face Minnie's ace, Johan Santana. Santana has not pitched well in his first two outings, which is just enough to make me believe that he'll be on tonight. Jaret Wright goes for the Yanks.