I recently returned from a trip to Taiwan, on which more later. (I’ve braced myself, and I’ll try not to take it personally when the inevitable slew of “Go back to Taiwan! Quick!” comments appear below.) I had no trouble following the Yankees while I was there, because ESPN Taiwan shows every game, first live (at 7 am or one in the morning), then repeated at least two or three times throughout the day. But it’s all in Chinese of course – with the occasional “wow” or “home run!” thrown in, or “ooh la la!,” which I think is like the ESPN Taiwan version of “booya!” - so I may have missed a few subtleties; if so, please don't hesitate to correct me.
Strangely enough, this is the Yankees’ first series against the Tigers since last October’s Series of Unfortunate Events, and things didn’t go any better this time around: Tygers 8, Yankees 5, and it wasn’t even as close as the final score would indicate. Is there an Onion jinx?
Last night’s Yankee starter was Mike Mussina, who I’ve always enjoyed watching (and listening to, even when he’s grousing about something), but who does, increasingly, strike me as a grouchy 85-year-old trapped in a 39-year-old’s body. When not yelling at the Tigers to get off his damn lawn, Mussina struggled with his control, and that combined with bad luck put the Yankees in a big hole before the first commercial break. Mussina allowed a single, and an A-Rod error allowed Sheffield to reach base. (By the way, if you were curious about the crowd’s reaction to Sheff: he was booed, but as far as I could tell, not too intensely. The Yankee pitchers seemed not to want any part of him, not that I blame them, and he went 0-for-3 with two walks.) With two on, Magglio Ordoñez up, and one out, the situation was unlikely to end well; sure enough Ordoñez and the fuzzy thing living under his batting helmet walked, and Carlos Guillen promptly knocked a grand slam just over the right-field wall. Mussina offered no excuses after the game and refused to blame the error: “I lost the game for us in the first inning… I have to do my job when it’s my turn to play, and today I didn’t do it.”
In the bottom of the first, Derek Jeter singled and reached second on a wild pitch. I’d like to take a minute here to appreciate the anonymous Yankee fan sitting in the front row on the third-base side, who made what happened next possible. Hideki Matsui popped up and Brandon Inge, an excellent fielder at third, threw himself into the stands to try for the catch. He would have made it, too – he had it timed perfectly – but a spectacled, slightly nebbishy young guy in a blue button-down shirt jumped, just barely got his fingers behind the ball right as it headed into Inge’s glove, and flicked it away. He was the anti-Steve Bartman. It was masterfully done, and perfectly legal – he never touched Inge, didn’t do anything obnoxious or dangerous, but single-handedly saved the Yankees from an out; and on the very next pitch, Matsui singled to plate Jeter. As it happened, that run didn’t really matter, but you never know... had things gone slightly differently, it might have been decisive. So, well done, anonymous Yankee fan. I guess not everyone who sits in the front row is a soulless corporate tool.
The way the Yankee offense has been playing lately, three runs are hardly insurmountable, but the pitching staff just couldn’t hold it there. Mussina was hit hard again in the top of the second, making it 6-1. He then settled down – a combination of better location and better luck, as several well-hit balls found gloves - and an inning later the Yankees got two back on a Bobby Abreu homer; but that would be as small as the margin ever got. It was a frustrating loss, in large part because Tigers starter Justin Verlander seemed vulnerable all night – lots of balls (not in the good way), deep counts, long at-bats, and a massive pitch count, with 90 thrown by the 4th inning. To his credit he held things together and slogged his way into the sixth inning, throwing 119 pitches in the process.
Unfortunate juxtaposition of the game, brought to you by Michael Kay: “He could tell you what his plans were for the 7th, 8th, and 9th inning - for pinch-hitting, hitting and running, the way he'd use his pitchers - in his office before the game. If there's such a thing as a genius in baseball, Billy Martin was a genius in baseball. He was a genius … and there you see Ron Villone beginning to throw...”.
Anyway. The Tigers added a run in the 5th, on singles off Mussina in his final inning of work, and in the 7th, with a Pudge Rodriguez home run off Villone. One interesting note: with two on in the bottom of the sixth, Joe Torre pinch-hit for Johnny Damon with Shelley Duncan. Now, Damon’s been very gracious about his recent lack of playing time, saying he’ll fill whatever role the team wants, anything to help - but man, that’s got to sting a little.
The Yankees staged a mini-rally in the ninth off Todd Jones – with the Padres' recent release of David Wells, Jones is perhaps now the reigning Major League Pitcher Who Looks Least Like a Professional Athlete, and I love him for it. The Yanks scored twice with two outs before Jason Giambi struck out to end the game; too little too late, though I suppose it at least it made the final score more respectable.
On a very sad note, we learned in last night’s comments that passionate Banter commenter Jim Dean passed away July 27th – while watching the Yankees, in fact. Jim needs no introduction to any regular reader of this site; as many people noted during the game, he was a strong presence here, and he will be missed. My condolences to Kate Dean, and the rest of Jim’s family and friends.