First of all, the Yankees beat the Blue Jays 9-2 last night. With that they won the series, giving them wins in nine of their last ten series. Prior to that, the Yankees had won just ten of their first 26 series. The Yankees were 38-41 (.481) prior to these last ten series, and are 25-9 (.735) since. With one game left in the cupcake portion of their schedule, the Yankees have gone 20-7 (.740). They are now 63-50 (.558) on the season and a half-game behind in the Wild Card race behind the Tigers (who also won last night). Revisiting my post-All-Star-break math, if the Yankees go 12-11 against the contenders left on their schedule (Detroit, Cleveland, Boston, Seattle, and the Angels), and win all of their remaining series against the cupcakes (Orioles, Devil Rays, Royals, and Blue Jays), they'll finish the season 92-70. Based on their current winning percentage, the Tigers are on pace to win 91.2 games. If the Yankees can do better than 12-11 against the good teams (especially in their whopping eight games against those Tigers), the Wild Card should be theirs.
Second of all, Roger Clemens was aces last night, allowing just two hits through six innings while striking out six and walking just one. Oh, he also hit a batter.
You see, Jesse Litsch threw at Alex Rodriguez in Monday's game as likely retaliation for the Rod Said "Ha!" incident. The only problem is that Litsch missed. Last night's starter Josh Towers is known for his excellent control, so he didn't miss when throwing at Rodriguez's knees last night after allowing an RBI triple to Bobby Abreu which broke the scoreless tie in the third. Rodriguez didn't take kindly to Towers reopening what he had figured was finished business after Litsch's pitch on Monday and informed Towers of such. Just to be sure they were clear on the matter both teams came out onto the field to make sure they understood. With that cleared up, Rodriguez took first base and everyone else took their seats, but apparently Towers had one more point to make and Rodriguez summoned the teams back out to the field to make sure things were properly resolved. The umpires, apparently displeased by the length of these deliberations, warned both benches that they would not be allowed back on the field to debate the subject any further and thus when Clemens drilled Alex Rios in the back with his second pitch of the seventh inning, they asked him to leave the field. Having thrown 90 pitches and with his team up 7-0, Clemens was happy to oblige, thanking home plate umpire Angel Hernandez effusely on his way toward the Yankee dugout.
Incidentally, those other six runs scored thanks to a two-RBI double by Jorge Posada that immediately followed the initial discussions, a Melky Cabrera triple that was plated in the fourth, and three more runs that scored in the sixth. That sixth inning started with Shelley Duncan singling to drive Towers from the game. Cabrera, who had doubled and tripled in two trips to that point and would add another double later, attempted to bunt Duncan over to second, but Blue Jays catcher Gregg Zaun pounced on the ball and fired to second where, just as John McDonald was about to receive the ball, Duncan barreled in with a flying drop kick slide that not only knocked the ball into shallow right, but knocked the glove off McDonald's hand and McDonald on his keister. The best part about Duncan's slide, other than the fact that all hands were safe and the Yankees rallied to score three runs in the inning, was that it was perfectly legal. McDonald was on the bag, as was the slide. No one felt the need to converse about it.
Jim Brower replaced Clemens in the seventh and proved that he's still not a major league-quality pitcher (he's the "2" in the game's 9-2 final). Joba Chamberlain did quite the opposite in getting the final six outs.
Chamberlain, who walked just 2.75 men per nine innings in the minors, walked two and allowed a single, but didn't allow a run and struck out two. The walks were the result of nerves and, as both Torre and Chamberlain said after the game, his flying open a bit early on his fastball. That's unlikely to persist. What will persist is his mid-90s velocity on that fastball and the nasty break on his curve and slider, the latter of which nearly corkscrews down and away from right-handed batters. All I really needed to know about Chamberlain, however, I learned from the way he handled his very first batter in the major leagues.
Rey Olmedo is hardly what you'd call a major league hitter, but he was the first man Chamberlain faced in a major league game. With the switch-hitting Olmedo batting lefty, Chamberlain's first major league pitch was a 96-mile-per-hour sinking fastball that just missed the outside corner. His next pitch was the same but lower and a bit further outside, 2-0. He then poured a 95-mile-per-hour fastball right down the middle at the knees for a strike and again just barely missed outside with a 96-mile-per-hour belt-high fastball. So here he is behind 3-1 on his first major league hitter. Chamberlain takes the throw back from Posada, looks in and shakes Posada off once. Then twice. Then a third time. Finally, he calls Posada out to the mound. With his glove over his mouth, he meets his catcher at the base of the mound and starts telling Jorge what he wants to do as Posada's still jogging toward him. Jorge responds briefly. Chamberlain nods, pats Posada on the chest protector, returns to the rubber and fires a 95-mile-per-hour sinking fastball that catches the outside corner for strike two, then breaks off a wicked 12-to-6 curve (or was it a splitter?) that starts out at the letters, dives to the knees as Olmedo swings over it, and finishes in the dirt. Straight nasty. Welcome to the big leagues, Joba. Get comfortable.
Oh, and there's a new home run champion of all time, and it's Barry Bonds. In a wicked bit of irony, Bud Selig wasn't there because he was meeting with chief steroid investigator George Mitchell. Seriously.