The Yankees blew out the Devil Rays in the first inning last night, driving Tampa starter Tim Corcoran from the game before he had recorded the inning's second out, then touching up his replacement Brian Stokes for a four-spot. The first time through the Yankee order, only Jason Giambi, who made his first start in four games at first base, made an out, flying to left. The rest of the inning went like this: single, steal, walk, homer, walk, steal, fly out, double, single, single, pitching change, single, K, walk, double, K. Two of the three extra base hits came off the bat of Bobby Abreu, who came to the plate with five men on base during the inning and drove all of them home along with himself on a three-run homer in his first at-bat and a bases-loaded double in his second trip. All totaled, the Yankees sent 13 men to the plate, ten of whom reached base, nine of whom scored.
From there, the story of the game became Hideki Matsui, who picked up an RBI single on a bloop to center in his first at-bat since May 10, then proceeded to pick up three more singles and a walk, while scoring two runs, finally leaving for a pinch runner in the eighth having yet to make an out. Matsui looked great at the plate, keeping his weight back and powering through the ball, hitting mid-90s fastballs with authority and hooking a foul home run into the upper deck in right.
While the offense was feasting--they'd score three more in the third while Bobby Abreu came just a few feet short of a grand slam, flying out with the bases loaded to end the fourth--Mike Mussina kept the Devil Rays fasting, setting down the first ten Rays in order and leaving after 6 1/3 scoreless innings having allowed just five hits. Moose threw 70 percent of 87 pitches for strikes, striking out five and walking no one.
T.J Beam kept Tampa off the bases in relief of Mussina in the seventh and eighth while Torre turned to his bench, resulting in an eighth-inning defensive alignment that included only Melky Cabrera from the starting line-up.
The only blight on the game as far as the Yankees are concerned was Octavio Dotel's performance in the ninth. In to get the final three outs with a 12-0 lead, Dotel had nothing, surrendering four runs on a walk to pinch-hitter Shawn Riggins in just his second major league plate appearance, singles by rookies Dioner Navarro and Ben Zobrist, and doubles by Ty Wigginton and Jorge Cantu. Final score: Yankees 12, Devil Rays 4.
On the YES broadcast, Jim Kaat speculated that Dotel, who had thrown just 5 1/3 innings over eight appearances prior to last night, is in the typical dead-arm period that most pitchers experience during spring training. Given that Dotel went through a sequence in that inning in which he threw five straight pitches into the dirt in the left-handed batters box, I'd have to agree. Certainly one hopes that's what's going on with Dotel, as it provides hope that Dotel still might come around before Joe Torre has to decide his playoff roster. Whatever the cause, Dotel has really struggled with his control since being activated, and has now walked seven men in his 6 1/3 innings, one more than he's struck out.
In other news, Gary Sheffield did indeed take live batting practice before the game, taking 32 swings. He's also continuing to work out at first base, and he and Torre are now saying that Sheff could be activated during this homestand.
Finally, Philip Hughes, Tyler Clippard and J. Brent Cox, the three double-A pitchers who many hope will form the core of the Yankee pitching staff of the future along with Chien-Ming Wang, were in uniform in the Bronx for last night's game. The three will not be added to the active roster (only Hughes is on the Yankees' 40-man), but the Yankees wanted to give them all a taste of the big leagues as Hughes and Cox especially could find themselves a part of the big league roster next year.