Jaret Wright and Horacio Ramirez are pretty evenly matched, but go figure that their pairing would result in a pitchers duel. That's exactly what happened last night, with the Braves clinging to a 1-0 lead after six frames, that run scoring in the second when Jeff Francoeur singled home Andrew Jones' lead-off double.
Jaret Wright completed the sixth inning for the first time since June 2, equalling his longest outing of the year, allowing just three other hits, all singles, and two walks while striking out four. Ramirez, meanwhile, had held the Yankees scoreless on four hits and a walk through the end of the sixth despite striking out just one.
With Wright at 90 pitches and three lefties due up in the seventh, Joe Torre brought in Ron Villone, who promptly doubled the Braves lead by surrendering a lead-off home run to Adam LaRoche on his first pitch of the night. Villone then got the next three men to ground out and the Yankees finally broke through against Ramirez, getting LaRoche's run back in bottom of the seventh on singles by Jorge Posada and Melky Cabrera.
Cabrera's RBI single was proceeded by groundouts by Bernie Williams and Andy Phillips, which pushed Posada to second and third respectively. The contrast between Phillips' and Cabrera's at-bats was a telling look at the frustrating nature of baseball that so tortured Paul O'Neill during his 17 year career. The first pitch to Phillips was a fastball inside that Andy laced past Chipper Jones at third, but just foul. Phillips then swung through a slider inside to fall behind 0-2. He then fouled a fastball straight back to stay alive. Ramirez then tried to get him to chase a breaking pitch low and away, but Andy laid of that one and two more up and away out of the zone to run the count full. Ramirez finally came back inside where Phillips could really rip one and after fouling off Ramirez's seventh pitch, Phillips laced another shot between Jones and the third base bag only to have Jones backhand the ball and fire to first for the out. Phillips' at-bat was the hardest any Yankee had made Ramirez work all night, but despite getting the pitch he wanted and hitting it well, Phillips had nothing to show for it. Cabrera then came up and hacked at the first pitch he saw, a slider that looked headed for his front shin, producing a weak looping grounder that headed straight for Jones, only the ball took an odd last hop and Chipper booted it, conspiring with favorable official scoring to give Cabrera an RBI base hit. Such is baseball.
Villone came back out to start the eighth, but was again greeted by a hit, this time an Edgar Renteria single. After Chipper Jones lined out to left, Joe Torre brought in rookie T.J. Beam to face Andruw Jones. It was an impressive move on Torre's part, trusting a rookie to face one of the league's top hitters late in a one-run game (though I wonder if he would have done it up by one run rather than down by one run). The tall, lanky Beam rewarded Torre's faith by striking out Jones on a sequence of hard, mid-90s heaters for the second out. Unfortunately, Beam forgot about Renteria on first and while Beam worked to the next batter, Brian McCann, Renteria practically waltzed over to second. Behind McCann 2-1, Beam intentionally walked the lefty to face righty Jeff Francoeur. Beam got ahead of the free-swinging Francoeur 1-2 only to have Francoeur pick the 1-2 pitch practically out of the dirt and loop it into shallow center for another RBI single. Mike Myers came in to get the lefty LaRoche for the final out.
Again down two runs, the Yankees failed to do anything with a lead-off single by Derek Jeter in the bottom of the eighth when Jason Giambi was unable to beat out a squibber down the third base line, Alex Rodriguez struck out swinging on a slider down and in from Ramirez and Jorge Posada launched a pitch to deep left that settled into the glove of Ryan Langerhans for the third out.
Still, Joe Torre didn't back off, going to Kyle Farnsworth in the ninth. Unfortunately, Farnsworth's recent struggles continued. Pinch-hitter Marcus Giles lead off with a single and moved to second on a wild pitch. With one out, Wilson Betemit singled to left and third base coach Fredi Gonzalez sent Giles home. From deep in left field, Melky Cabrera fired a strike to Jorge Posada that had Giles beat easily, but Posada, likely anticipating Giles' arrival, flinched, booting the ball and allowing Giles to score. Betemit moved to second on the play. Farnsworth then struck out Renteria on a full count, but his second pitch to Chipper Jones skipped past Posada for a passed ball that moved Betemit to third. That prompted a mound visit from Ron Guidry. As Farnsworth and Posada waited for Gator to arrive, Farnsworth turned his back on Posada and walked off the back of the mound. When Guidry arrived, Farnsworth returned to the mound and Posada stormed off toward home plate. After Guidry returned to the dugout, Jones doubled Betemit home and Joe Torre replaced Farnsworth with Matt Smith. Smith intentionally walked Andruw Jones, unintentionally walked Brian McCann, and struck out Francoeur to end the inning.
Down 5-1 in the bottom of the ninth, Melky Cabrera hit his second career home run with two outs, but that was all the Yankees could muster against newly appointed closer Jorge Sosa to fall 5-2 after beating the Braves by the same score the night before.
For what it's worth, Cabrera's homer was his first from the left side of the plate and was a convincing short-porch shot on a pitch down and in. Cabrera finished the night having gone three for four, driving in both of the Yankees' runs and scoring one of them. Cabrera and Jorge Posada combined for five of the Yankees' nine hits. On Monday night, Jason Giambi drove in all five of the Yankees' runs, scoring two of them and he and Andy Phillips combined for five of the Yankees' nine hits. For those inclined to read something into that, those similarities are fun, but meaningless.
This afternoon, the Yankees get their third exciting pitching match-up in four days with a hot Chien-Ming Wang taking on John Smoltz in the series' rubber game. Weather permitting, of course.