The Yankees did it again, defeating the Mariners 4-3 behind eight strong innings from Randy Johnson, some clutch hitting by their worst hitters, and yet another Tino Martinez homer to push their current winning streak to three games, their longest of the season.
With last night's win, the Yankees move past the Mariners and within 1/2 game of the A's as they slowly claw their way back to respectability in the American League. You can thank the starting pitching for that. Here are the lines of the Yankee starters in their last four games:
And here are Randy Johnson's per-start averages on the season:
7 1/3 IP, 6 H, 3.25 R, 1 HR, 1.5 BB, 7 K
I'd take that every time out, but Johnson will likely pitch even better than that from here on out, as that average line includes three of seven starts in which he gave up five or more runs.
Last night, Johnson showed little ill effects from the tight groin that prompted the Yankees to skip his last turn, or from the resulting ten-day layoff. He got his fastball into the mid-90s and his only real mistakes were a one-out walk to the Mariner's ninth-place hitter Wilson Valdez in the third and a sixth inning homer on a 3-1 count by Adrian Beltre. Otherwise, he threw 65 percent strikes and one of his two walks was intentional, putting Richie Sexson on with a man on second and two outs in the eighth to face the shell of Bret Boone instead.
For the Yankees part, they didn't play as cleanly as they did in their two shutouts against Oakland. Derek Jeter made a throwing error in the first on an admittedly difficult grounder up the middle that carried him into center. Tony Womack was picked off first to end the third and in the top of the seventh broke back instead of in on a Wiki Gonzalez jam shot to left, which allowed the ball to drop in for a single. In his defense, Womack has played a nearly perfect left field, has made strong, accurate throws back to the infield, and in this instance was reacting to the full swing Gonzalez took on the pitch, a mistake any left fielder could have made and one Johnson easily pitched around.
What's more, Womack was one of the key offensive performers of the game. In the bottom of the first he drew a five-pitch walk (his second in as many games) and came around to score on singles by Sheffield and Matsui. Then in the eighth, with the game tied at 3-3, he followed a Rey Sanchez pinch-hit single (for Cano; Sanchez is now 7 for 16 on the season) and a perfect Jeter sac bunt, which the Captain nearly beat out, with what turned out to be the game-winning hit, a bouncing-ball single to the right of second base that plated Sanchez.
With all of that said, I have something to confess: I'm not hating Tony Womack. Yes, I understand that he's only slugging .318 and has a .228 GPA. And, yes, I would still take Placido Polanco over him one-thousand times over. But I can't bring myself to dislike the way Womack plays on a day-to-day basis. Despite past struggles, he played well above average defense at second base (leading the league in double plays when he moved to left, if I recall correctly) and has seamlessly shifted into left field. He's a heady baserunner (though he's currently just 2 for 4 in steals and did get picked off today) and hustles at all times.
Most of all, despite the fact that he doesn't draw many walks, Tony Womack is not a hacker. In case you haven't noticed, Womack does work the count. Thus far this year he's seen 4.05 pitches per at-bat, which is nearly equal Jason Giambi's career average of 4.06. Of all the Yankee hitters, only Giambi (who refuses to swing the bat) and Andy Phillips (at 4.06) have seen more. Derek Jeter, who is second in the AL in walks, has seen just 3.78, and the true hackers including Ruben Sierra, Rey Sanchez and Robinson Cano are below 3 pitcher per at-bat. What's more, Womack saw 3.95 pitches per at-bat last year, so this is not a sample-size fluke.
Let me reiterate, this is not to say that the Yankees should have signed Womack this winter, or that I'm glad he's here now, or that they shouldn't make every effort to replace him, but simply that, unlike Enrique Wilson (who admittedly was a vastly inferior ballplayer by any measure), it does not anger me to see him in the Yankee lineup and I am not pained by his play or horrified by his occasional successes. This Tony Womack Brand Kool-Aid goes down smoother thanks to the fact that he's hitting .345 with runners in scoring position, but on some level I at least understand why he keeps getting starting jobs from teams that don't pay as much attention to the numbers as they should. He does appear to be a very useful player, even if he's actually not.
What does anger me right now is Jason Giambi's continued lack of performance. After an 0 for 3 night last night (complete with a strikeout looking), Giambi's batting line has dipped to .195/.386/.325. That .386 OBP is awful nice, but his GPA is just .255 and he's striking out once every 2.66 at-bats. Giambi has just four extra base hits on the season in 101 plate appearances and he hasn't had a hit of any kind since the Angels were in town almost two weeks and 14 Giambi at-bats (and 9 Ks) ago. Taking away his three home runs (the last of which came three weeks ago) and he has just three other RBIs.
I can't imagine that Bernie Williams could be any worse than this. Bernie brings the added risk of the double play, but also the added possibility of getting hot. Giambi seems beyond that as he's not even attempting to hit the ball any more. That said, his ability to work walks and the ever-present threat of the big bomb (even if illusory) would make him a decent lefty pinch-hitter for the time being.
Giambi's failures and the struggles of Andy Phillips set Tino Martinez's recent hot streak in greater relief. Now hitting .259/.354/.529 (.292) on the season, Tino homered again last night for the third consecutive game, giving him seven on the year and tying him in tenth place in the AL with Melvin Mora, Manny Ramirez and Vladimir Guerrero.
Once again, my mom claims to have been responsible for Tino's homer. As she told me excitedly on the phone moments after Tino had rounded the bases, she had just flipped on the game and saw Tino at-bat with two strikes. She then called out "It's okay, baby, I'm here, you can do it now!" and on the next pitch Tino blasted a two-run shot into the right field seats. Here's hoping mom's watching again tomorrow.