I won't lie to you. When the Blue Jays had two men on with nobody out in the third inning, already up 4-0 lead, I started preparing myself for the Bombers to end the evening four-and-a-half games in front of Boston. Emily wasn't home yet so I let out a few cherce words, a couple of primal screams. After all, the Red Sox can't seem to lose these days, and it looked as if Jon Lieber wasn't going to make it through five innings. I wasn't the only Yankee fan groaning. Larry Mahnken was holding his own upstate New York:
We know that this is a slump, that this is not the real Yankees we're seeing out there. We know this is a slump because the numbers being put up by their players are even worse than even the biggest pessimist could have predicited, and that we can be almost entirely certain that these players will almost all put up numbers better than the past week and a half over the remainder of the season, and for most, those numbers will be appreciably better. We know that, considering the unusual fact that nearly the entire team has entered a slump at the same instance, the slump is likely to end soon, if gradually. And more than this, we know that because of the relative ease of the remaining schedule, the possibility of the Yankees dropping the final 5½ games of their lead and more is exceptionally unlikely, regardless of the events of the past week and a half. Even if Kevin Brown is out, that would have a much greater impact on their postseason fortunes than their chances of getting there.
But I am an emotional being, and often my logical conclusions are vetoed by my impatience, and I have, to a degree, lost faith in the entire Yankees lineup. Only Sheffield has my confidence, when anyone else comes up, particularly with two outs, I feel as though an out is certain. Of course this feeling will pass, but as I watched the game last night, this depair took over, and 4-0 felt like an insurmountable mountain.
But Jon Lieber rebounded, worked his way out of the further trouble in the third, and went on to retire 13 Blue Jays in a row. Meanwhile, the Yankees were without a hit through the first four innings. The Jays confident young pitcher David Bush, who throws a fastball, curve and a change up, was cruising. However, a throwing error by shortstop Chris Woodward to open the fifth initiated a rally. John Olerud and Miguel Cairo hit back-to-back singles to load the bases and then Kenny Lofton--who started in right field--slapped a single to left scoring the Yankees first run. Bernie Williams flied out, which scored Olerud and then Cairo came home on a bloop single to center by Jeter. It was a daring piece of base running by Cairo--who made two nifty defensive plays in the game--because had the ball been caught he would have been doubled off easily. Then Gary Sheffield walked to load the bases. So Alex Rodriguez had another golden opportunity to break out of his slump. Yanks down by a run, bases juiced, one out. But on the 2-0 pitch, Rodriguez grounded into a double play to end the inning.
And there was much angst in the borough of the Bronx. Rodriguez smiled in disbelief and gritted his teeth. The Yankees would eventually tie the game on another RBI single by Lofton--who had three hits on the night--but it didn't get much better for Rodriguez, who came up with a runner in scoring position in the seventh (a walk and a stolen base by Sheff). Rodriguez grounded out to short. Oy veh.
Lieber pitched into the eighth and was removed with one out and Carlos Delgado due up (Carlito launched a tremendous dinger off Lieber back in the first). The southpaw C.J. Nitkowski replaced him and retired Delgado on one pitch (ground out to Jeter). Next, he fell behind Eric Hinske 3-0 before throwing three consecutive strikes on the inside corner to get out of the inning. Hinske took the first two and swung threw the third. It was Nitkowski's best outing for New York to date.
Jason Fraser pitched the ninth for the Jays and walked Derek Jeter on a 3-2 pitch to start the inning. Then Sheffield smoked a double to left. Ken Singleton chuckled on the YES broadcast that Sheff hit the ball so hard he made the left fielder look like an infielder. "Three steps and it's by him." Second and third, nobody out and here comes Rodriguez. I figured the Jays would walk him to set up the double play. But considering how badly Rodriguez has struggled, they chose to pitch to him. "They're dissing him, that's a diss," I yelped to Emily. Rodriguez swung through a fastball and then fouled another heater off. Down 0-2, he was in a tight spot. But Fraser made a mistake and left another fastball up, over the inside part of the plate and Rodriguez smacked it into left for a base hit.
Both Jeter and Sheffield scored. Rodriguez threw his bat to the ground as he moved to first and peeked over at the Yankee dugout. He was so overcome that he held his fat ass to a single. There is little doubt that he should have been on second. As Matsui batted, Rodriguez started toward second several times, unsure of himself. The count went full, and Fraser balked Rodriguez to second. (Rodriguez should remember to keep Fraser on his Christmas list.) Godziller nailed the next pitch to center and Rodriguez scored putting the game out of reach.
As he entered the dugout, smiling and looking relieved, Rodriguez stumbled down the steps and almost wiped out. As you can imagine, this was a source of great amusement for his teammates. First, Willie Randolph busted his chops and soon enough, Derek Jeter was letting him have it too. Jeter sat on the bench flanked by Sheffield and Rodriguez. Jeter was doubled over in laughter. Rodriguez looked slightly pink and very much like a little kid. As great a player as he is, Rodriguez looks far more vulnerable than either Sheffield or Jeter do. He comes across as a classic younger brother. He may be a superior talent to Jeter, but there is something about him that suggests he needs validation and acceptance in a way that Jeter or Sheffield do not. Anyhow, watching the Yankees kid Rodriguez was a sight for sore eyes. There was a temporary halt to the angst in the Bronx, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching Jeter lead the chop session.
Mariano Rivera continues to look strong and breezed through the Jays 1-2-3 in the ninth. The Yanks maintained their five-and-a-half game lead over the Red Sox who beat the Tigers in Boston last night.