Sunday didn't start or end well for the Yankees, though they did have a seven-inning oasis in the middle of it all.
The day started with the announcement that both Mike Mussina and Carl Pavano had been placed on the disabled list, leaving the starting rotation in shambles behind Andy Pettitte. Pettitte then took the mound and four of the first five A's he faced reach base, the first on Derek Jeter's sixth error of the year. With just one out in the bottom of the first, the A's had a 2-0 lead and two men on. The Yankee bullpen, which had marched each of it's seven members out to the mound the night before, began to collectively weep.
Pettitte then rallied to strike out Bobby Crosby and get Todd Walker to ground out to short. From there things started to look up. Pettitte settled down, pitching around a pair of singles in the second, stranding a two-out triple by Eric Chavez in the third, and setting down 13 of the next 14 men he faced after Chavez. Oakland starter Rich Harden was even better, but the injury-prone righty left the game due to shoulder stiffness in the seventh, opening the door for a three-run Yankee rally. The Yanks added another run in the eighth, handing a 4-2 lead to Mariano Rivera in the ninth, Mo's first save opportunity of the season.
Mo got Chavez to ground out on an 0-1 pitch, then, after failing to get a called strike three call on Bobby Crosby, got the Oakland shortstop to fly out to right for the second out of the inning. Mo's next pitch bore down and in on Todd Walker, but Walker was able to flare it out to left for a two-out single. Walker then moved to second on defensive indifference as Jason Kendall swung through a high fastball to run his count to 1-1.
It all seemed innocent enough, but then Rivera's location deserted him. The 1-1 pitch to Kendall was supposed to be low, but instead was up and inside for a ball. The 2-1 pitch was also supposed to be low, but floated up high for ball three. The same thing happened on the next pitch, but Rivera got a generous high-strike call to run the count full, much to the consternation of the Oakland bench. Rivera's next pitch also missed a couple feet high of Jorge Posada's target, but Jason Kendall fouled it off. Mo seemed to find his slot on his next to pitches, both down in the zone, but Kendall spoiled both by fouling them off. On the fourth 3-2 offering, Posada again called for a pitch down and in, but once again Rivera's delivery floated up high for a ball, putting the tying run on base and bringing Marco Scutaro to the plate as the winning run.
Scutaro had faced Rivera just twice before, walking once and striking out once. On this occasion, Rivera's first pitch to Scutaro is a low called strike. The next runs inside and Scutaro fouls it off to the third-base side, breaking his bat in the process. That puts the count at 0-2. Once again, Jorge Posada calls for a pitch down in the zone. Rivera kicks and delivers but the pitch that leaves his hand is a meatball right down the middle. It's as if he set it on a tee, and Scutaro doesn't miss it. What he does do is almost jump out of his shoes and thus swings a hair early, sending the ball soaring down the left field foul line. Rivera spins and leans back, willing the ball to go foul. Instead it clangs off the foul pole, giving the A's a 5-4 victory.
Equally furious and dejected, Rivera collapses at the waste and picks up a handful of dirt, then spins and storms off the mound tossing the dirt into the infield grass. After the game Mo, always a master of the obvious, said he couldn't put the ball where he wanted to. Unfortunately, Scutaro, who now has seven game-ending RBIs to go with his career 83 OPS+, could.
The loss put the Yankees a game under .500 for the season and left them to contemplate the loss of Mussina and Pavano rather than revel in the job well done by Pettitte. The Yankees called up Chris Britton prior to yesterday's game to add a fresh arm to the bullpen. Double-A lefty Chase Wright will take Pavano's start on Tuesday after dominating in his first two starts with Trenton (which also happen to be the only two regular-season starts above A-ball he's ever made). Wright was chosen over Tyler Clippard and Steven Jackson, two triple-A hurlers would be on sufficient rest on Tuesday, in part because he's on the 40-man roster. I'll have more on Wright in my preview of Tuesday's game. Mussina's spot, meanwhile, will likely be taken by Jeff Karstens, who is scheduled to make a rehab start today for Tampa. Assuming all goes well, he'll start Saturday's game. Chien-Ming Wang is still on schedule to join the rotation on April 24, and Mussina will be eligible to come off the DL on April 27 for the opener of that weekend's series against Boston. The Yankees don't expect Mussina to miss more than the minimum. As for Pavano, well . . .