Alternate title: Ich Bein Ein Yankee Title I was going to use if the Yankees lost: B.J. Upton on the Grassy Knoll
Strange, sloppy, entertaining game today, on a gorgeous sunny afternoon in New York. Which of course I spent mostly inside in my dark apartment, because: Ian Kennedy! In the end it was worth it, as Kennedy was largely excellent in a drama-filled game that wound up 9-6 in favor of the Yankees.
The Yankees' newest starter is slim – and I keep seeing him described as “baby-faced,” but don’t you have to be older than 21 for that to be noteworthy? – and freckled; I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that Ian Patrick Kennedy may perhaps be of Irish descent. He also looked very nervous, though of course if he hadn’t you’d want to send Guidry out to check him for a pulse. He’s got a smooth delivery that is, as advertised, somewhat reminiscent of Mike Mussina’s.
Kennedy had an easy, six-pitch first inning, helped (as he would be later in the day) by the Devil Rays’ impatience, and (as he would not be later in the day) by a nice play on a hard-hit fly to left by Matsui. In the bottom of the inning Alex Rodriguez homered, scoring Bobby Abreu to give the Yanks a 2-0 lead, and it was beginning to look like a storybook game.
But Kennedy seriously struggled in the second inning, quickly giving up two singles; he seemed to be having trouble throwing his breaking stuff for strikes. Alex Rodriguez made matters worse, dropping Brendan Harris’ easy popup, which should have been the second out. John Wilson then doubled, clearing the bases and tying the game, and after a strikeout Kennedy walked Josh Paul. At this point Joe Torre lumbered out of the dugout and, in a classic psych-out of the kind rarely seen from him in recent years, asked the umpires to confiscate and check Akinora Iwamura’s -- supposedly because its flat top led the Yanks to think it may have been sawed off, but really, I'd imagine, to buy his pitcher some recovery time. Iwamura, who has been using that style of bat all year with no complaints from the Yankees or anyone else, looked confused and somewhat rattled as his translator tried to explain the situation (how do you say “they’re just fucking with you” in Japanese?). In any case, Iwamura struck out to end the inning, and would do so twice more during his 0-for-4 afternoon. Kennedy labored again in the third, but got out of it without any damage, and that seemed to settle him down – because from there on out he pitched beautifully.
In the bottom of the third, with two on and Alex Rodriguez at the plate, Joe “Tit for Tat” Maddon asked the umps to check and confiscate his bat. Weak, Maddon; at least get them to check the pitcher for Vaseline or something - show a little imagination, you know? But A-Rod, to his credit, looked more amused than anything else, and proceeded to single to left with a brand-new bat. Matsui was walked to force in the go-ahead run – this might be a good time to point out that D-Rays starter Edwin Jackson was not pitching well today – and a Giambi groundout got another run home. The Yankees added three more in the fourth when Abreu was walked with the bases full – as you might expect, that was Jackson’s last batter – and A-Rod doubled in Jose Molina and Derek Jeter.
Kennedy took it from there, more or less cruising through his last four innings, allowing just a solo home run to B.J. Upton in the sixth. He went seven innings, allowing three runs (only one earned) on five hits and two walks, with six strikeouts. In fact, he struck out the last batter he faced – Rays backup catcher Josh Paul, who looks like he’s watched the Thurman Munson Yankeeography a few too many times – on three called strikes. I don’t know what more you could ask from a 21-year-old rookie in his first-ever ML start, thrown into a pennant race after one season of pro ball. As he walked off he cracked his first smile of the day, was hugged by Ron Guidry, shook hands with Phil Hughes, and nearly had his arm broken by the ever-enthused Shelley Duncan. Shelley, no – not the pitching hand!
"One of his strengths is his demeanor," said Dave Eiland, the pitching coach for the Triple-A Scranton Yankees. "I guess you'll never find out for sure until you put a kid in that situation. But all indications are that he'll be able to handle it just fine.''
In the eighth, with the Yanks up 9-3,Wilson Betemit came in for A-Rod – who was rubbing and flexing his shoulder after stealing a base in the Xth, though afterwards he said he was fine – and Jeter was taken out for September call-up Alberto Gonzalez (didn’t take him long to find work! Sorry, couldn’t help myself), possibly because Jeter had been nailed in the back, somewhat suspiciously, by Rays reliever Juan Salas to lead off the sixth. Luis Vizcaino came on to pitch, but had nothing today, and in conjunction with some shaky Yankee defense in the outfield, he proceeded to make things interesting very quickly. Tamps lined one pitch after another into the outfield, until the score was 9-6, and Joe Torre decided – wisely, I thought – not to fuck around, bringing in Mariano Rivera to nail down the last out of the inning. Which he did, inducing a quick ground ball. And in the ninth, he struck out the side.
Meanwhile Seattle lost again – that’s some pretty harsh market correction going on over there – and so the Yankees now have a two-game lead in the Wild Card race. I’d like to say I saw this coming back in late May, but I’d be lying. Who knows what’ll happen in September – nothing would surprise me at this point – but regardless, let’s take a minute and appreciate a season in which the Yankees came back at least temporarily from the dead, and now have a roster that includes 12 home-grown players – Kennedy, Hughes, Wang, Pettitte, Rivera, Chamberlain, Jeter, Posada, Duncan, Cabrera, Cano - most of whom are thriving.