Five unearned runs, that was margin of victory for the A's last night as they took the opening series from the Yankees with a 9-4 victory. The Yanks did well to get out to a 4-0 lead after three against Dan Haren, but from there the A's hurlers tightened up and the Yankees' pitching and defense fell apart.
Chien-Ming Wang got his ground balls (9 of 12 outs in the field came on the ground) and came through with strikeouts, K-ing three in his 4 2/3 innings for a 5.79 K/9, but he also walked three and allowed seven hits in that short span. From what I could tell watching the game on MLB Gameday (due to a misbehaving cable box), he left too many pitches up in the zone.
It all came apart in the fourth after a ground out and a single when Derek Jeter bobbled a would-be inning-ending double play ball for the Yankees' first error of the night. Dan Johnson followed by working a full-count walk and Milton Bradley singled home the two runners that should have been retired by the double play. Wang then got the final two outs, but not before a third run scored on the second out of the inning.
In the fifth, Wang had a stirring confrontation with Frank Thomas with one out and men on the corners, eventually getting Thomas swinging for the second out, but then a pair of walks loaded the bases and forced in the A's fourth run and Tanyon Sturtze was brought in to get the final out.
With his starter out of the game after five and the score tied, Joe Torre turned to Jaret Wright in the sixth. One could have argued for two innings each from Farnsworth and Rivera had Farnsworth not pitched the night before. Another option would have been to stay with Sturtze, who only needed three pitches to finish the fifth, but all of that would be second guessing. As it stood, Wright looked sharp in his final two spring starts and seemed like as good a choice as any. Indeed, Wright made Torre look good by pitching around a walk for a scoreless sixth then recording a 1-2-3 seventh against the heart of the A's order.
With the game still tied and the bottom of the order coming up, it seemed safe to let Wright have one more frame, but Milton Bradley started the eighth with a triple just beyond the reach of Johnny Damon in center and scored when Robinson Cano booted a would-be Jay Payton groundout. A pair of singles plated another run and drove Wright from the game with men on first and second and none out. Mike Myers then did his job by striking out Kotsay and Torre turned to Farnsworth to keep the A's lead at 6-4. Farnsworth's first pitch was wild, sending Jason Kendall to third, and his next three were out of the zone, loading the bases, which Frank Thomas then cleared with a two-out double to run the score to 9-4, chasing Farnsworth from the game.
And that was that. Unlike Tuesday night, the Yankees left just four men on base and Joe Torre's pitching changes were logical and timely. Last night's loss was no fun, but the loss in and of itself doesn't bother me all that much. It does, however, make Tuesday's ninth-inning defeat all the more bitter. Last night was a winable game, but the pitching and defense kicked it away. If the players lose, so be it. Tuesday night, however, was a game the manager lost, and that's inexcusable, especially when his team has an opportunity to take a series from a team as good as the A's. As it stands, the A's took two of three from the Yankees without Mariano Rivera throwing a single pitch.
In other news, Dr. Robert Watkins did not recommend surgery for Carl Pavano, which is good news for his career, though perhaps bad news for the Yankees who won't be able to recoup his salary via the insurance policy on his contract. This news makes me no more confident that we'll see Meat in action anytime before September call-ups. Pavano has returned to his core stabilization program and is throwing off flat ground in the hope of getting back on a mound next week. Brian Cashman insists it's not, but that sounds an awful lot like square one to me.