The day after his best bud Andy Pettitte broke the Yankees' three-game losing streak by shutting down the Tigers over eight innings, Rocket Clemens turned it into a winning streak with six strong frames of his own. As has been his way this season, Clemens used up a lot of pitches and gave up a fair number of hits, but he clamped down with runners on base yesterday afternoon, didn't walk anyone, and used a particularly crisp and accurate fastball to rack up eight strikeouts, four of them coming with runners on base.
One of those strikeouts started an extremely rare 2-1 double play in the third inning. With one out, rookie Cameron Maybin on first via his first major league hit, a groundball through Robinson Cano's vacated second base position on a hit-and-run play, and Brandon Inge on third, Marcus Thames battled Clemens to a full count. Maybin took off on the next pitch, which Thames swung through for Clemens' sixth strikeout of the game (91 mph fastball up and in). Jorge Posada then fired to second, but Clemens cut the ball off and charged Inge, who had taken off for home when Posada released the ball. Inge was a dead duck as Clemens applied the tag for the final out. According to the FOX broadcast, the last time a runner was caught stealing by a throw to the pitcher was a whopping 21 years ago, when the Cardinals Vince Coleman was nabbed by the Giants Bob Melvin and Juan Berenguer in the fifth inning of this game (note how the play-by-play differs from the play in the second inning of this game, on which a runner was thrown out at home trying to advance on a wild pitch with the pitcher covering the plate), and even that wasn't a double play. I find it both difficult to believe and very disappointing that no pitcher has caught a runner by cutting the throw from his catcher with runners on the corners and the man on first stealing second in 21 years. I am, however, encouraged by the fact that, in this case, the play was entirely premeditated as Posada and Clemens had conferenced at the mound before the previous pitch.
Despite nailing Inge (and nail him he did, Clemens almost knocked Inge into the Tiger dugout with the tag) and stranding eight other men, Clemens left the game trailing Detroit. In the fourth, Clemens got into a one-out, bases loaded jam and escaped after allowing only one run on a sac fly. In the fifth, the rookie Maybin led off the inning by hitting what looked like either a lame splitter up in the zone or a rare curveball (Clemens' fourth if not fifth best pitch) to dead center for his first major league homer and just second career hit. The Yankees, meanwhile, had managed just one run off quadruple-A journeyman Chad Durbin, who was making just his third start since mid-June.
Durbin allowed just three hits and a walk through the first five innings, one of those hits being a solo Jorge Posada homer to the retired numbers in the second inning. He then allowed three more hits to start the sixth, including a two-run Bobby Abreu tater off the left field foul pole that would give Clemens the win. The Yanks then scratched out two more in that inning against relievers Tim Byrdak and Jason Grilli and shut the door with Farnsworth, Vizcaino, and Rivera each pitching a scoreless inning to wrap up the 5-2 win.
For what it's worth, Farnsworth looked as good in the seventh inning yesterday as I've seen him all year. It took him ten pitches to get leadoff hitter Sean Casey to fly out, but he came back from that to strike out Gary Sheffield and Magglio Ordoñez, the two most dangerous hitters in the Detroit lineup, on a total of eight pitches, finishing both off with high heat in the upper 90s. The last pitch to Ordoñez was 98 mph, but the third strike to Sheffield was the most exciting as it was 97 miles per hour and literally head-high. In his last four outings, Farnsworth has allowed just one baserunner, no hits, and struck out five in four scoreless innings. That's his best multi-game stretch of the season.
The Yanks look to take the series this afternoon in a matchup of excellent young pitchers who have struggled of late. Chien-Ming Wang has allowed 20 baserunners and 13 runs in his last two starts totaling just 8 2/3 innings. Most of that was his disaster outing in Toronto, but his last start was one of just three others in which he's allowed five or more runs this season. Jeremy Bonderman was actually excellent in his last start in Cleveland (7 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 8 K), but before that he put together a 11.28 ERA across his previous four, all losses. Like Wang, most of that damage came in a single disaster start (Bonderman's came in Anaheim), but he still posted an 8.10 ERA in the remaining three starts from that rough patch.